How to suffer like a total pro: Pete Holmes on ego, judgment, and feeling special
Suffering can buffer us, and make us more polished versions of ourselves — if we have the right attitude.
Pete Holmes is a comedian, writer, cartoonist, "Christ-leaning spiritual seeker", and podcast host. His wildly popular podcast, You Made It Weird, is a comedic exploration of the meaning of life with guests ranging from Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert to Seth Rogen and Garry Shandling.
PETE HOLMES: L.A., and we're here in New York. And something that I'll repeat in my head over and over is resist nothing, which seems so silly. But to me, it's a real key to happiness, is trying to-- again, Richard Rohr says, love is learning to say yes to what is. And that is one of the most fundamental spiritual-- I know people don't like that word, and we can talk about that and how I understand that. But one of the most fundamental principles of this thought prism is learning to say yes to what is. It is madness, as Eckhart Tolle says. It's madness to resist what's happening.
You know what I mean? Obviously, if you can change something, if something is unpleasant or physically painful and you can pivot, yeah, resist-- resist. I'm all for that. But if your flight is delayed, you can watch people start suffering. So there's an unpleasant thing happening-- a flight has been delayed. But the suffering happens when you start-- and you can watch this happen from what other people and myself call the witness place. You watch yourself constructing a story. And this is where suffering comes. It's your attachment to how you think things should be.
And of course, I still do this. Please, don't think I'm-- I'm sitting in a chair, I'm not floating. [LAUGHS] But you see the story begin to happen. And you go, Delta or United should do better. They're always doing this. That's the first level. And then you start going, I'm going to miss this thing, or, I'm going to be late to the dinner, and damn it, my ticket cost this much. This is the narrative that we build. Really, something has happened. The flight is delayed. Maybe it was completely preventable, but it's happening. So it's very useful-- I talk about in the book, one of my mantras that I repeat all the day-- not all the day-- all the livelong day isn't just resist nothing, but it's, yes, thank you. And I can't tell you what a shortcut to peace-- real peace, not story peace-- I'm being peaceful, but actual surrender peace is, yes, thank you.
Somebody, for some reason, brought my attention to somebody that was tweeting mean things about me. I don't know why I clicked the link. They were like, what's up with this person? They're tweeting mean things about you. I could have just deleted the email. I click on it. We have this weird masochistic-- so I click on it and I'm reading these, and it took me from such a nice place to such a bad place, until I said, thank you. Oh, wow, you just called bullshit on a really fundamental but flawed happiness system that I have running in my brain-- not my heart, in my brain. Which is that if people love me and if they think I'm really special and if they think I'm really smart-- oh, and this one thinks I'm good looking, this one likes my shirt. I must be worthy of love. Then somebody, just as valid and just as anonymous, says, I don't like him.
And then I start to suffer. There's a hole-- in the bowl that I hold my love, now there's a hole and it's dripping out. And I told my wife, Val, I told her about it. I was telling her how embarrassed I was that here I am with all this knowledge of these principles, but I can be taken down with a series of mean tweets. And I remembered in our discussion to say, thank you. I was like, oh, right. Suffering is like sandpaper, and it's buffing me and it called bullshit on me. And I was like, thank you. And as soon-- so here's the thought. This guy's being an asshole to me and I'm clinging onto it like this. Somebody doesn't like me. I wrote a book, maybe people won't like my book. Maybe they'll think I'm stupid and unworthy.
And who the fuck are you to write a book about God and comedy? Suck a bag of shit, you fucking ass. And I'm clinging to it like this, and you can feel it. This is obviously just a metaphor, but you feel it internally. As soon as you say, yes, thank you, it's still there, but you're giving it space. You're going, all right, what do you got for me? Because the night before, I'd gone to dinner with two friends. One of them I didn't really know. It was a friend of a friend of a friend. And I noticed at the dinner that this person wasn't really paying me much attention. It almost seemed like she was bothered that I was there. Then we went to a comedy club and I performed, and after the show, suddenly, I'm the coolest person in the world. She had 50 questions for me.
She was so excited. How do you do that? How much of that was planned? And I caught myself feeling special, but even more dangerously, feeling worthy of love. I was like, that's right. And my ego's going, you love me now, don't you? Haha! You didn't know you were having dinner with-- [SINGS HIGH NOTE] --this. And I told Val about that, too. I was like, what am I doing? I know that that doesn't matter, that I should be drawing my joy and my peace from a fundamental quiet place that is not circumstantial, that is not derived from someone liking my comedy. But there I was, feeling special. The next day, the tweets. And Val goes, ah, don't you see? As Maya Angelou said, you can't pick it up and you can't put it down. Don't take any of it. And this is for everybody, not just comedians and authors. This is for people.
You need to find a quiet place inside where just the fundamental fact that you are participating in reality is enough value and dignity to draw upon at any moment, and it's not because you had a good set and now they're interested in you. And just on the other side of the coin, you're not unworthy because somebody said you suck. Neither. Both are phenomenons in your consciousness, and you are the quiet thing witnessing. Look at Pete, he thinks he's special. Look at Pete, he thinks he's a piece of shit. Fuck both of that. That's all just the story. That's just me going Delta shouldn't let these delays happen. I'm going to tweet about it. It's all buying into something that's causing a lot of suffering.
So even though my book can seem a little woo-woo, maybe, to people-- I'm assuming it will, at the end of the day, it is very practical to step back and go, who's noticing this frustration? Who's noticing this ego buildup? And who's noticing this sadness? And when you can rest in that, it doesn't become about which set of beliefs you have, which church you belong to, which symbol system or god you like to envision. It doesn't have anything to do with any of that. It's about you experiencing flow and love and peace now, and that's as practical as having-- it's more practical than having a cup of coffee, because you get a headache later. [LAUGHS] So it doesn't have to be like, oh, we belong to-- I don't want anyone to belong to my group, I want people to suffer less. That's it. And I'm still doing it, I'm still playing the game.
But then I remember even what I say in the book. Yes, thank you. Oh, delay? Thank you. Because suffering is the only way we get things done. Richard Rohr says, "You only change through suffering, otherwise, why would you change? Why would you change?" It's working. You're going around being an asshole. [GARBLED WORDS] And it's working, it's paying out. You're getting a job, you're getting a car, you're getting love, you're getting food, you're getting whatever. You need to suffer. Something has to happen that needs to be something that takes you out of yourself and goes-- not just about Tony Robbins-ing yourself and being like, I've been selfish. Something that breaks you out of your identification with the story and your own belief in your worthiness that's based on other people's opinion of you.
Fuck that shit. Fuck that shit. 100 years, all new people. You've gotta be worth something more than just the thoughts of the mammals that happen to be walking around on this space rock right now. That sucks. That's a winless game. It's a waste of time.
- When you're going through a moment that tests your patience, even causes you to psychologically suffer, sometimes you have to step back and say, "Yes, thank you."
- Suffering is like sandpaper, and, if we choose, it can buffer us and make us better versions of ourselves.
- Also, it's critical to find a quiet place within where just the fundamental fact that you are participating in reality imbues you with enough value and dignity to draw upon at any moment. Regardless of exterior sentiments about you.
- What Freud and Buddhism agree on about the ego - Big Think ›
- Jordan Peterson's Rules for Overcoming Suffering - Big Think ›
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