All of what I’ve been saying presupposes that the depressed person has the energy and the will to admit to the possibility of change. Without that energy and will it’s impossible to take up meditation. So without those factors being present, what then?
From my friendship with Joan, I know that periods of emotional stability can be used to generate useful habitual behaviors that might ameliorate the depression when it comes. Developing a network of mature, caring, and genuine friends is one way.
I know also that my friend John was very appreciative of the kindness and support that he received when he was depressed. I first lived with him in a Buddhist retreat center in the country, which turned out to be a bad place for him to live because he didn’t have enough contact with other people and because the lifestyle is predisposed to introspection, too much of which is a contraindication with people who are depressed. When John moved back to a city, it was noticeable what a huge effect it had on him to have a larger collection of people to interact with.
One of my students, who has suffered extreme depression, has set up a number of very positive habits, such as eating healthily, exercising, meeting friends, and meditating. She also has established triggers that encourage her to seek help when certain experiences come around. So now she knows that when she starts to do certain behaviors and have certain thoughts, that it’s time to call the doctor, take some time off work, talk to her therapist, etc. When the helpful habits that have been established in times of wellness begin to crumble, it’s time to seek help.
The best kinds of habits to set up would be those that spill over into the depressed state – like having friends who will visit no matter what, or having healthy food in the house that can be easily prepared. Joan has found that having a dedicated space to practice meditation in – a space she likes going to – is very helpful. She has also found that doing some gentle physical exercise before meditation – yoga or tai chi – has an uplifting effect. It helps her to get over the feeling of lethargy. She still has problems with motivation, but these things seem to help.