Navigating the Depression Bardo

One tiny adjustment can usher you all the way out.
Image courtesy of adobestock.com

It’s different for everyone, and there are as many ways to deal with depression as there are people. Some need pharmaceuticals. Others, therapy. And others swear by less conventional methods: soul retrieval, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, or cuddling, or even a practice called “bouldering.” (Swear to God, it’s a thing. Google it.)


But those are all tools aimed at the the big D, not the “bardo” that comes after it. In Tibetan Buddhism, the time between death and rebirth is called the bardo. The Depression Bardo, as I’ve named this other state, comes just after the worst of the depression has subsided, but before you feel solid. You wander around, and the horrible is gone; but you’re still identified with the depression and can’t imagine who you’d be without it.


I’ve been there. Several times.


For months, I carried around a big load of darkness. (It runs in my family so I’ve developed skills for getting through these waves.) But when I noticed some red flags (don’t wanna eat, get out of bed, or even Be Here), I reached out for help.


My doctor, my wife, and my therapist all came through — doing what they could to help steady my boat. They adjusted medication, dragged me into the sunlight with puppies, helped me be tender with myself.


Soon, I was functional again; and few days into the Depression Bardo that followed, an insistent little idea kept showing up. It was simple.

“Do it all the way and with dignity.”

The coffee was brewing, and the dishes in the dishwasher were clean. I pulled out my own plate and went on to the next step, and the little voice said, “Do it all the way and with dignity.” That meant, don’t just take out your own plate. Unload the dishwasher and put the dishes where they belong. Then make breakfast. Which I did.


After breakfast, I put my plate in the sink. I’ll take care of this later, was my thought. But again, “Do it all the way, and with dignity. Just finish the small things you start. It’s not hard, and it’s not rocket science.” So I rinsed the plate and put it in the dishwasher, wiping down the sink while I was at it. And the counter. What did it cost me, an extra five seconds? Ten?


This burgeoned out to bigger areas in my life. I paid some bills, and I filed them and swept my office floor clean, opening the windows to the fresh air. I made my bed, and I made it with clean sheets. I put a load of clothes in the wash, and I took the dry ones out of the dryer. And folded them. And put them away.


These are givens in a healthy person’s life.


But if you’re in a Depression Bardo, they can feel like (and are) real accomplishments. As I move through my day in this way, I feel a growing sense of integrity after each completed task. Dignity takes up a shy kind of residence in my bones. I feel good about myself.


So if you are coming out of a major crisis, or even if you’ve never been depressed but you feel that nagging something missing at the margins of your day, try this simple little practice.

  1. Make a list of tweakable half measures you’ve been taking.

  2. Choose one or two to work on today.

  3. Feel your way into what doing them ‘all the way’ would look like. What would it mean to do them with dignity?

Then see what happens.


Example: You come in the door from work, only this time, instead of tossing the keys roughly onto the shelf, you put your keys quietly, mindfully where they belong. Did you feel it? Were you present for it? Make enough of these tiny adjustments and chances are you will notice a sizable uptick in your energy levels, your mood, your general well-being.


Treat yourself like you matter. And like a pebble in a pond, this attitude inevitably ripples out to your close ones and your colleagues.


Start today.


Bring a more dignified grace to your tiniest actions. Then watch the world around you shift for the better.


May all beings benefit and be happy and free.