This weekend, I heard about a comic that performed exceedingly well on a show, and those damned feelings of jealousy and envy reared their ugly heads again.
It was weird, because I recognized that getting mad at myself for being an amateur was like criticizing an unfinished house for having dirty floors, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling of inadequacy, pain, and fear. Emotions, armed with all their neurophysiological pyrotechnics, seldom answer to reason.
Luckily, I’ve figured out how to handle these ego trips.
How I Feel Is Malleable
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing when I’m feeling down. Because these periods of unhappiness occur regularly, I decided to make a list of the joyous, restful, and rejuvenating activities that I can engage in to help get my head right.
So, in response to my feelings of negativity, I decided to take a walk in the forest. But before I could even get there, the feelings of jealousy were so poisonous that I just had to talk it out:
I felt much better after vocalizing my feelings. I was able to acknowledge that what I was feeling was simply part of a necessary curriculum that I had to take, teaching me the lessons that I needed to learn, preparing me for the road ahead.
As with most insights, it was only until I stood on someone else’s shoulders that I was able to see things clearly.
If you’re not familiar with Ram Dass, he was a Harvard Professor that got kicked out for doing research on psychedelics back in the 60’s. He travelled around the world, studied under Neem Karoli Baba, and wrote one of the most influential spiritual books of modern times, Be Here Now. I think every English major should have the book as required reading. The way in which he uses graphics and plays with the presentation of text is unparalleled.
Anyhoo, my favourite episode of his podcast is called Little Shmoos, where he succinctly describes how he recognized his ego-structure for what it was. The way he likens his ego to a painful suit that everyone else complimented him on really hit home with me.
I, like most of you, when I was born, went into what could be called Somebody Training. That is, my parents were Somebody, and they set about to make me Somebody as well. It’s called development of ego structure, and I developed this Somebodyness. I knew who I was – or who I thought I was.
I developed a set of models – thought forms – that defined who I thought I was and who I thought everyone else was and how I thought it all was. And I worked very hard at that, and I became so much Somebody that people came up to me and said,
An Uncomfortable Suit
Now, the predicament with Somebodyness was that it had been developed from outside in. I was trained to think of myself a certain way, through my parents, education, culture, and to get reassurance from the minds of other human beings that I was doing it right.
The problem was that, inside, it didn’t feel good. It was as if I was wearing a piece of clothing that didn’t feel right, and I was trying to change myself to make myself fit. I was trying to scrunch my body to fit, so that I could be the Somebody everyone wanted me to be. I’d be in pain and people would say,
So I decided if they all thought I must be happy, and I wasn’t happy, I must therefore be sick. That seems like a reasonable conclusion. So I went to a psychiatrist, and for a small pittance, he offered to teach me how to wear his suit, which was equally uncomfortable but in a different way; it was like a Double-Somebody.
Breaking Out Of Ego
And I think at that point I would’ve settled for that kind of discomfort, assuming of course that everyone else was as uncomfortable as I was, or else that I was so pathological, so neurotic, that there wasn’t any chance that I was going to be happy and that I should just live it out and reap all the rewards that society showered on me for being Somebody.
So that when the moment came that I took off the suit, when I, if you will, transcended ego and broke out of myself (in my case chemically), I had a series of awakenings at that moment.
It turned out that all the clues that I had in myself that I was sick, those weren’t correct, I hadn’t interpreted those correctly. Those were all signs that I wasn’t being true to my original self, and when I broke out I suddenly felt at home, comfortable, peaceful, I felt passionate, I felt connected to the people around me, and those are feelings that I never thought I would feel because I always felt alienated, separate, because as long as you’re in your thinking mind exclusively, your mind takes an object, you’re always one thought away from where life is – you’re always thinking about it.
Well, two hours later, when the chemical wore off, I went back into the suit, much to my chagrin, and spent the next many years trying to get rid of the suit, chemically, spiritually, all kinds of spiritual practices in India, Japan, etc.
…I basically had I neurotic personality, and um, it’s interesting to note in reflection that in all the years I was a professor of psychology, in all the years I was in [psycho]analysis, all the drugs I’ve taken, all the meditation I’ve done, all the spiritual teachers I’ve sat at the feet of, I don’t think I’ve gotten rid of one of my neuroses.
However, what has changed is, that before they were these huge big things, they were frightening, and they took me over, all of my fears and insecurities, and now they are sort of like Little Shmoos, or like little friendly beings and I invite them in for tea.
And instead of getting so caught in them, instead of taking myself so seriously, instead of taking my personality so seriously – I don’t shove it under the rug, I acknowledge it and it doesn’t have the power over me, because there’s another part of my identity that has been cultivated over time.
Resolving Feelings of Envy With Realistic Optimism
Now, just because I stopped feeling envious, that didn’t mean that I stopped feeling down about my comedy. In part, my jealousy stemmed from the fact that I recognized that I wasn’t as good as some of the other comedians that I was comparing myself too.
Luckily, as I walked slowly on the forest trail, I remembered a concept called Realistic Optimism, where you see the world as it is but then also recognize that you’re in the process of trying to move towards a desired outcome:
I say Fuck at the end because I stepped in mud.
Last night, I had the opportunity to see if I had actually learned how to effectively process the inevitable feelings of envy and jealousy. Jason Schlesinger, a local comic from Toronto whose energetic, ranting style is making him one of the most sought-after new talents in the city, killed. As the crowd erupted over and over again, I felt those familiar feelings of negativity creep in.
But this time, instead of getting caught in the loop of comparing myself to someone else and feeling inferior, I felt happy that he had found how to reveal himself to the audience. I reflected on the knowledge that he has worked extremely hard to get his act to where it is right now.
Most importantly, I didn’t get caught in the trap of seeing someone perform successfully and then trying to match their style of delivery and choice of material. I caught myself doing that last week, and was determined to nip that bad habit in the bud.
So, when it was my turn to touch the mic, I did my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still bombed, but I was really happy that I was able to say what I wanted to say. Furthermore, I ended off the set by telling all of the jokes that I thought wouldn’t work, and got a great response!
There’s a lesson to be learned there, something about developing an interconnectedness with the audience, showing vulnerability, showing realness, but I’ll let that marinate for a bit before drawing any conclusions. Hell, I’m not sure if there are any conclusions anymore. Maybe there are. Can maybe be a conclusion? I dunno. Let’s live with the question for awhile, shall we?