Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

#9: Depression is different for everyone. Here's what it's like for me. | Top 10 2019

The countdown continues! In this video, comedian Pete Holmes likens depression to quicksand and provides a method to help you cope and with it.

PETE HOLMES: You woke up in a conundrum. You were born into a conundrum. And I don't care how we label it or lower our anxiety by going, well, it's this and it's not this, and it's that -- let's just talk about this shared mystery that we're soaking in. I want to be careful here, talking about depression, because I had a friend who was very depressed, and I remember talking to him, out of love, trying to explain some of these ideas, some of these ways that we can think and interpret our suffering. And sometimes when someone is suffering, the last thing they want is for you to go, 'Hey, there's another way to look at this.' That's later. None of this is to be imposed on anybody, and I don't want to belittle or just say, 'You know your brain is -- it's your attachment to your desire to not be depressed that's causing you--' no, none of that. That is not what I'm saying at all. We can give space to someone's depression. We can love them, we can honor -- we can just eat some noodles, we can watch some movies, whatever it is. We can just sit and not talk. That's real stuff. It's a real -- I don't know if you call it a disorder, a disease, but it's happening, and we don't need to coach people through with ideologies.

That being said, if you're in a place to talk about this, usually when you're not depressed, I found it helpful to step inside what I call the witness. And other traditions call that your soul. I believe science might just call it the phenomenon of your base consciousness. If you think about when you were born -- I have a baby girl now; she's not thinking in ideas yet. She doesn't know she's American. She doesn't know she lives in California. Just like a ladybug doesn't know it's Italian. You know what I mean? It's just awareness. So she's just there. But slowly over time, we build up what Jung and others called the false self. So we have the story of who we are. I'm a man and I'm a comedian and I'm a tall man, I have big teeth, and all these things, and I like the first two Batman movies, and I don't drink coffee, or whatever it is. So you build up this identity. And oftentimes, in that identity is where things like suffering are occurring, sometimes. I can't speak for everybody. But I will say that for me, when I've been depressed -- and I get depressed. I have irrational bouts of anxiety. I have random FedEx deliveries of despondency. Just like, "I didn't order this. Oh, well, keep the PJs on, cancel everything you're doing today. It's time to take a sad shower." That happens to me. So I'm speaking for me with full respect to other people's processes and their experience.

When I'm depressed, if I can get into that quiet space, it's the space that's noticing the thoughts. So if you think, 'I'm hungry' -- we always just think that 'I'm hungry' is the thought in the animal, and then we eat, and then it goes, 'Thank you.' Who's talking to who, really? I would say that the thought is talking to your awareness, your base awareness, your witness. So that's what's watching your thoughts. And if you can get into that, you see how impartial and unswayed by your life circumstance this witness really is. It's just there. It's neutral. It's just is-ness. It's just this. And it's just watching. It's compassionate, it's involved, it's invested. But it's not really as connected and tied to the events of your life story as you are, as your false self is. So when those depressions happen, I found it helpful -- and this is something Ram Dass taught me -- is instead of identifying with the depression and saying, "I am depressed" -- although, that is how I might say it to somebody -- what I'm thinking is, "There is depression. I am noticing" -- it's going to make me cry -- "I'm seeing depression." And you can almost -- it's not denial. It's real and it's valid. But you're a little bit less in the quicksand and you go, "Wow," -- This is Ram Dass, he's like, "I don't know if people get out of depressions like this one. Look at this one. This is too much." But who is noticing it? And Ram Dass asks, is the part of you that's noticing the depression depressed? Now, I asked my friend that who was depressed, and he said yes. So not everybody is there, not everybody can get there. Later he did, by the way. We talked about it later.

In my experience, I've had success in getting into the place that goes, there is an impartial part of me that's witnessing whatever the feeling is, and I can rest in that. Ram Dass talks about it being like a candle that's inside that isn't swayed or flickered by the wind. It's in a quiet place. And when you go in there, you don't resist the depression, you give it space. You observe it, you don't identify with it. You honor it, sometimes you medicate it, sometimes you go to therapy. I'm not saying we need to sit in a cave and heal ourselves. But I am saying that there is some relief to be had in not identifying as, "I'm this, I'm sad." I do it all the time. "There is sadness." I'm anxious. "There is anxiety. Look at Pete, he's anxious." And this is every great spiritual mystic through all time, they've all been doing this. Saint Francis called his body his corpse. He was like, 'I drag my corpse around, my corpse wants to eat.' You know what I mean? I don't like it because it puts it down. But I just go like -- I say to Valerie all the time, I go, "Pete's frustrated." You know what I mean? Not, "I'm frustrated, this is real. My parents should -- they should listen more, or, my dad still wants me to be a baseball player." Oh, look at Pete go. And then you're there and you're just like, you're not being flickered by the wind. Because that's always going to be there. And with practice, with meditation, with mindfulness, and with contemplation and study, literally reading about it, talking about it like this, when we're in it in real time, not necessarily later -- at the beginning, it goes like this. You're depressed and then later, you look back and go, oh, I think I was still this watching me. And then with practice, when it's happening, you can go, I can witness this in real time. I can go, that's happening. It's a phenomenon. It's real. It's to be honored, I understand. But it's not who I really am.

  • Big Think's #9 most popular video of 2019 illustrates that everyone's experience with depression is different, but for comedian Pete Holmes the key to living with depression has been to observe his own thoughts in an impartial way.
  • Holmes' method, taught to him by psychologist and spiritual leader Ram Dass, is to connect to his base consciousness and think about himself and his emotions in the third person.
  • You can't push depression away, but you can shift your mindset to help better cope with depression, anxiety, and negative emotions. If you feel depressed, you can connect with a crisis counselor anytime in the US.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

    Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

    Credit: Neom
    Technology & Innovation
    • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
    • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
    • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
    Keep reading Show less

    Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

    Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

    Videos
    • From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
    • "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
    • Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.

    Quantcast