Depression is a Highly Intelligent State of Being.

Via on Mar 17, 2011

“Depression is the Most Dignified Energy of All.” ~Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I’m depressed. It came on almost a week ago after a series of challenging circumstances finally got the best of me.

Now, the normal things that used to bring me inspiration or just regular old contentedness seem dull and pointless. Riding bikes, being in the sun, eating good food… it all just adds to my depression, reminding me that the things that usually bring joy no longer do.

It’s not even that the things I used to love seem bad, they just seem empty… nihilism empty, not shunyata empty.

Finally, today, I discovered a passage from a talk by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche that I found helpful. It’s no cure, but it has brought me some relief. In it, he describes depression in depth, and somehow his accuracy is comforting. To know that what I’m experiencing is common, workable, dignified, intelligent, and even buddhamind endows my experience with a kind of sacredness. It shifts the landscape of my dull, muted mind and injects it with a little bit of sparkling inspiration.

If you’re feeling depressed, I hope this helps you too…

The following talk is adapted from the seminar “Buddhadharma Without Credentials,” and was held at the New York Dharmadhatu in March, 1973.  You can find the whole talk online here.

Student: What about depression? All the things you are talking about seem to be energies, emotions of energies, but a state of depression seems to be a negative energy, or absence of energy.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: Depression is one of the very powerful energies, one of the most common energies that we have. It is energy. Depression is like an oxygen tank which wants to burst, but is still bottled. It is a fantastic bank of energies, much more so than aggression and passion which are kind of developed and then let out. They are in some sense frivolous, whereas depression is the most dignified energy of all.

Student: I’m not quite satisfied. You say it’s a bank of energy. How do you take the money out of the bank or does it just stay in the vault?

CTR: Well, try to relate to the texture of the energy in the depression situation. Depression is not just a blank, it has all kinds of intelligent things happening within it. I mean, basically depression is extraordinarily interesting and a highly intelligent state of being. That is why you are depressed. Depression is an unsatisfied state of mind in which you feel that you have no outlet. So work with the dissatisfaction of that depression. Whatever is in it is extraordinarily powerful. It has all kinds of answers in it, but the answers are hidden. So, in fact I think depression is one of the most powerful of all energies. It is extraordinarily awake energy, although you might feel sleepy.

Student: Is that because it wipes everything away? Could it be a kind of emptiness, a sort of doorway to meditation. I mean, in that kind of depression there is the feeling that nothlng is happening at all.

CTR: Well, that’s it. That’s quite a profound thing. It has its own textures. Let’s say that you feel extraordinarily depressed, and there is no point in doing anything. You seem to be doing the same thing all over again. You give up the whole thing but you can’t. And on the whole, you are extremely depressed and trying to do something is repetitious. And trying not to do something is also irritating. Why should you do something? The whole thing is absolutely meaningless. You feel extremely down. Trying to get into the things that used to inspire you makes more depression, because you used to get off on them and you can’t anymore. That’s very depressing and everything is really ordinary, extremely ordinary and really real, and you don’t really want to do anything with it. It’s an extraordinarily heavy weight pushing down. You begin to experience that your ceilings are much heavier than they used to be, and the floor becomes much heavier than it used to be. There is a whole wall made out of lead, compressing you all over the place; there is no outlet at all. Even the air you breathe is metallic, or lead, or very thick. There is no freshness at all. Everything that depression brings is really, really real and very heavy. And you can’t really get out of it because the idea of getting out of it itself brings further depression, so you are constantly bottled and pushed in that situation and you would like to just purely sit around.

Student: Well, if the whole thing gets worse, then just trying to step out, which seems to be the only answer, is a suicidal approach. Things get very heavy and very slow. Meeting inspiring friends, who used to be inspiring friends, becomes depressing. When you try to put on a record of the music that used to inspire you, it also brings depression. Still nothing ever moves. The whole thing is black, absolute black.

CTR: But, at the same time, you are experiencing tremendous texture, the texture of how the stagnation of samsara works, which is fantastic. You feel the texture of something. That entertainment didn’t work. This entertainment didn’t work. Referring back to the past didn’t work; projecting into the future didn’t work. Everything is made out of texture, so you could experience depression in a very intelligent way. You could relate with it completely, fully. And once you begin to relate with it as texture of some kind, as a real and solid situation which contains tremendous texture, tremendous smell, then depression becomes a beautiful walkway. We can’t discuss it really. We have to actually get into heavy depression and then feel about that.

Student: Unite with the depression.

CTR: Yeah, you become the depression.

Student: What about extreme physical panic or discomfort, the nausea, the headache, thinking you’re going to pass right out, and sometimes the sweat, the cold sweat, the shortness of breath where you can’t catch your breath.

CTR: It seems to be psychosomatic. According to the Buddhist way of viewing physical health, any sickness that comes up is a hundred per cent, if not two hundred, psychosomatic. Always.

Student: So you just keep going back to that point?

CTR: Yeah, back to mind, back to the heart. There is a Zen writing called “Trust in the Heart.” You should read that.

Student: So what you’re saying is that everything that I experience and everything that I think as “I-experience” is really buddhamind, experiencing itself?

CTR: Yeah, without fear. That’s the lion’s roar. That is lion’s roar*.

*According to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the lion’s roar is the fearless proclamation that whatever comes up in our state of mind, including powerful emotions, is workable.

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30 Responses to “Depression is a Highly Intelligent State of Being.”

  1. Chris S. says:

    I shouldn't be reading any more topics on depression, but was drawn by the title…an intelligent state of being. I would rather view depression as an intelligent emotion that is letting me know that my current pattern of thoughts are not matching the beliefs of my inner being who is never depressed. The trick is having access to better thoughts while having those feelings of depression. But the mind is powerful and I always try to reach for the best feeling thought, and go from there. By viewing depression as an energy, it gives me the impression that is something that we don't have much control of, but it is an interesting view that I had never seen before, although I think for me, best to think of depression as an emotion as I have a better way of getting to the root of the cause of it. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love this. I'm very good at getting mad at myself, impatient, when depression hits. I keep trying to figure out what's making me depressed, searching for a way out. Depression is my enemy. This offers new perspective that I hope to remember the next time depression hits! Thanks, Juliana.

    • Jacquo says:

      after suffering depression since my adolescent years I finally overcame it after reading a couple of books from Eckhart Tolle– The Power of Now and A New World. I would recommend the second one over the first. Learning in depth about the ego from just about any book may be of help. :)

  3. Dahlia says:

    To whomever selected the photo that goes along with this article, I must say, it's terribly insensitive and offensive.
    Suicide is not a joke, I have lost several loved ones to suicide, and am experiencing PTSD as the result of finding
    the loved one. This photo is also insensitive to people who are suicidal or have attempted suicide.

    • Jen says:

      Sounds like you need to learn to protect yourself better from the world. It's not up to the world to protect your sensitivities or to prevent you from being offended — that needs to come from you.

    • Pamela says:

      Agree – the photo is out of control. I want to recommend this article to others – but not with that photo!

  4. Juliana says:

    Nikki Thanks. Interesting

    Cynthia very interesting………..years ago i was severly depressed but until I learned to embrace it, become it and learn from it….I was not able to get out of it… thanks for posting this

    Clara merci!

    Clara je partage

    # J'ai le plaisir. ~Tobye

    Johnie Beth I can see where he is coming from, but never thought it was intelligent until the state of the world right now I felt a heaviness come over me and I am depressed b/c I am sad. When depressed and can't stand it anymore I read my spiritual material like ACIM and Ernest Holmes or Baba Ram Dass. Then I move on. I also meditate a lot when depressed that helps lift my spirit.

    Mary Freud said that too

    Tisha depressed is for lazy people they dont k now how to take care of themselves. what a bull!!

    Danielle and yet when you actually look at what is happening during depression brain cells are being destroyed

    Katherine ‎@Tisha: My sister told me the same in the months after my husband died. I don't speak to her anymore. I call that intelligent. :o)

    Johnie Beth Sometime it is intelligent to not to speak to a sister who not very smart on the uptake.

    Anita Thanks, very interesting. I think meditation is a great way to channel depression, I know when I'm feeling depressed I feel like I'm in a meditation anyway. It's not a satisfying meditation though, when I sit and close my eyes I feel like I can embrace the moment and know that I am doing something positive for myself and my mental state. Sometimes tears roll during the meditation, but it's the good kind of release, one I can't seem to find when I'm up and beating myself up about the way I feel. Thank you.

    Mary Fields Thanks!

    Michele thanks CTR, your words, makes things more workable, and today more workable!

    Tee Love To my Buddist friends or anyone that has had a friend/family with depression. This is a very interesting view point.

    Jen hmmm will meditate on this later :) thanks

  5. I feel like this deals directly with short term-or situational depression…what about someone who has yet to experience life outside of depression?

    • Juliana says:

      I'm no expert, but in my experience, sometimes short-term medication can give you a reference point of "life outside of depression." It can be really helpful in getting out of a deep habitual pattern and rewiring the brain, etc. Then working with stuff like the above and meditation or yoga and nutrition, etc would help to sustain ok-ness once you get off the meds. I'm a huge advocate for natural remedies and do not like western medicine at all, but to be fair, in certain situations and under certain circumstances it seems like it can be the best option.

      Hope that's at all helpful.

      • what kind of natural remedies?? I've done the prescription dance for a long time and nothing seems to work….med free now for a few months, and aside from trying to relearn how to live off of medication I would be open to trying something natural…I'm just closed when it comes to zombie pills thats all, but youre right in certain situations it is needed

        • Juliana says:

          Here is a list that's been helpful for me: diet (no dairy, limited sugar, lots of fresh veggies and fruit), exercise, sunshine, scheduling my day (and sticking with it), meditation and entering the Buddhist path (I started with a dathun-a 28 day retreat which reeeally helped), speaking to a therapist, going on a hike, hanging out with animals, volunteering, prioritizing taking care of myself (even if it means putting off work and taking myself for a hike), yoga, qigong, keeping my house, body, and clothes clean, taking probiotics and/or apple cider vinegar, reaching out to friends and family, giving myself space and patience to feel depressed. And I'm not talking about circumstantial depression. This has been helpful for me in coming out of deep ongoing depression.

          Hope some of this is helpful for you…



          • Thanks! I will definitely try what I have not tried already!

          • Andrea says:

            I would also highly recommend the book "The Mood Cure" by Julia Ross, and the inclusion of amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine, and L-glutamine (depending on the "style" of your depression). I have no affiliation with the book, just a big fan because it really helped me!

    • Jacquo says:

      I wrote a reply to Lynn Hasselberger's comment. I encourage you to check it out. Pharmaceuticals should never be a first choice, unless it is indeed ruled out that you gave a neurotransmitter imbalance. Many cases of situational depression are curable. "Psychothereapy" is a Latin-derived term that translates to "therapy using the mind", not "therapy of the mind". Best of luck!

  6. Cigdem says:

    This was very enlightening thank you so much! Is it me or the two links in the piece aren't working.. wish I could find more on the topic from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Thank you.

  7. Juliana says:

    more from

    Andrea I've long said that unless you are depressed because of a chemical imbalance, its really about a crisis of soul and spirit – when you deny who you are, what you want and are disengaged from true self.

    The Emotion Machine Depression is just a stepping stone.

    Albert OK then I am intelligent, now what?

    Juliana McCarthy read the article!

    Juliana McCarthy ‎:-)

    Aoife i cant agree with this, i wouldn't wish depression on anyone and when that fog descends it doesn't matter what anyone has to say about it.

    Juliana McCarthy It's not about wishing depression on anyone. It's about dealing with it in enlightened ways once it hits. No one is saying u should seek depression out…

    Free Hug Yoga I agree, it is just changing perspective, see the reality in different way, get out of the boxes. And, no wishes for depression at all, love and healing to everybody ♥

  8. I love this passage from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and also found it helpful when I experienced episodes of depression. I also wrote about it and my experiences with severe depression a few months back:… . I know that it is not easy to actually work with depression. I wish the best to you in experiencing a great spaciousness of heart to keep working with it.

  9. [...] feel like when love was sweet and good. Like a bounty hunter for sadness, ustrasana sought out the depression that had been lurking in my heart for months and stood by me while I faced the dwindling love that [...]

  10. Renate Smith says:

    I lost a brother to suicide and have severe depression pretty much since my conception. I have been VERY lucky in that I have found an incredible therapist and the right medication. I also use many alternative remedies: essential oils-exercise-massage-etc. I think that medication tends to get a bad rap, but it has saved my life time and again. Yes-I had to try about 10 different meds before I found the right fit, but it was worth it. Before I was put on medication I used exercise, vitamins, etc. I believe these will ease symptoms significantly, but only if you can get to the point where you’re healthy enough for there to be an impact. Medication and therapy provided that for me. Let’s not demonize medication when it CAN save lives. And I LOVE the approach of this article!!

  11. Larry R. says:

    This is a new article for me, though the article is over two years old. I suffered a major depression 13 years ago. I found myself in our local hospital among other patients suffering from various degrees of mental illness. I was able to finally focus on just me. My world had become so controlled by my involvements that I broke. The option of suicide surfaced briefly and that is when I knew that I required some professional help. While I was being healed by the social workers and the other marvelous folks I lived 24 / 7 with, my wife filed for divorce and complete custody of my 3 children. I chose then and there to use the power that came from being aware of the energy depression has and focus it towards good. I would smile more and talk more to strangers but most importantly I would be true to me, I am a human being and I love to be alive. no conditions.

  12. Andrew says:

    Very provocative. Somehow I missed this over the years. Thanks for putting it out there.

  13. Tara says:

    Thank you for posting this. Much love. :)

  14. timo kurt kuhn says:

    who wrotes the text he talked about: "the trust in the heart"? where can i get this?

  15. Mathieu says:

    Thanks. I'm in this situation this time… I'll try to have this perspective rigth now… :)

  16. Sandra says:

    Happiness is an Illusion.

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