Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
There’s this scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm that’s always stuck with me. Here’s the premise: comedians Larry David and Richard Lewis are discussing meditation. Richard wants to start meditating, but is stressed about coming up with a mantra.
So Larry offers his old one: Jai-ya. Later in the episode, Larry starts meditating again and calls Richard to get the mantra back. The phone call goes like this:
Larry: Well, you know, I sorta had it first.
Richard: But you let me have it! Now it’s part of my whole being. My essence screams of this mantra, and it’s been working.
Larry: What about splitting it with me?
Richard: What is this, a timeshare in the Hamptons? You don’t split a mantra!
I remember watching this episode as a teen, scrambling to look up mantra, and then rolling with laughter. As silly as it sounds, this joke inadvertently introduced the concept of mantras to me and I’ll always think of Curb when they’re mentioned. So I guess it’s not too surprising that years later comedy podcasts would actually lead me to trying meditation for myself.
My journey began a few years ago. I’d just finished grad school, and after months and months of struggling to find a good writing position, I’d settled on a marketing job far removed from my passions because, well, money. The position, which was 99% staging and photographing cars, provided little-to-no human interaction and a lot of time spent outdoors, so I never left the house without my trusty earbuds. To keep spirits high in the 9-5 hours, I found refuge in podcasts hosted by and featuring comedians. With these podcasts, I had endless hours of hilarious conversation and positive vibes (for free.)
Over time, You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes became my go-to podcast. For the unfamiliar, the average YMIW consists of Holmes interviewing entertainers over 2-3 hours loosely around the three topics: comedy, sex, and God. The best way to describe Holmes is to quote his good friend and fellow comedian John Mulaney, who lovingly called him a “big, dumb golden retriever.” Far from dumb, Holmes does have an affability and childlike wonder that puts his guests at ease, and usually yields surprisingly deep conversations.
Looking back, my comedy podcast addiction couldn’t have come at a better time. At this point in my life, I was feeling unfulfilled with my reality, which led me to stressing out a lot. I stressed about my dwindling writing career (or lackthereof.) I stressed about my love life (see: career.) I stressed about my snowballing stress (ask me how!) I could go on, but basically this: I stressed and I stressed, and nothing good came of it. My time and energy were drained, and what for? I wanted to somehow transition my life to the one I’d envisioned for myself, but knew I needed help overcoming the anxiety and self-doubt that was clouding my focus.
Over YMIW’s 300+ episodes, a narrative began to form: Holmes, who was pretty successful by my standards, worried about the same exact things I did. He was very open about the fact that he cherry-picked insights and habits from his guests to help him become a better version of himself. One of the habits he took on over the course of his podcast run was meditation. If you listen to YMIW chronologically, you hear Holmes go from casually interested in meditation to devoted practitioner. Though he never preached it to his listeners, meditation was commonly brought up with Holmes’ guests. It turned out, a lot of other comedians were into it too. Like Casey Wilson, who told Holmes meditation helps her deal with social anxiety. Or Riki Lindhome, who began meditating after a long battle with depression. Or Natasha Leggero, who said meditation helps her be less selfish while remaining ambitious in her career.
“[Meditation gets me] more in touch with what I really think and feel,” Leggero said in her episode. “So then I feel like I can go out and, hopefully, be making the decisions that are best for everybody.”
The more unsolicited testimonials I heard, the more I thought: Hey, maybe meditation could help me too. Holmes’ podcast helped me realize that a perfect and Zen life wasn’t a prerequisite to meditate. There are tons of people out there who meditate simply just to function. I wish this realization was all it took; in reality, I went from “One meditation, please!” right into another stress spiral of: How do I start? Where do I go? Who do I need to know? So I Googled around for meditation classes in my area. I tried attending one, but ended up getting so much social anxiety I fled before it even started. I finally turned to my phone for help—my phone helps me get food delivered, do my banking, and land dates, surely it could help me find inner peace. Enter: Headspace. Undaunting and friendly enough for a manchild like me, it was perfect way to ease into meditation. I breezed through Headspace’s tutorials and never once felt pressured to put on robes, go on a retreat, or buy chakra crystals. Instead, it cut through the dread of introducing and maintaining a new routine into my life. After sticking with it for long enough, I finally began achieving that a-ha! moment of focus and perspective that I’d looked for this whole time
I don’t want to paint the picture that my meditation was a quick fix to my broken life. A more accurate summary would be that meditation was the catalyst that gave me the focus and energy to begin making much-needed life changes. I’m saying, you don’t need to have it all figured out to practice meditation. Your life can be a mess. That doesn’t negate your ability to do it. Personally, I just want to feel okay with myself. After all these years, I don’t expect the universe to hand these feelings over to me each morning. I want to ensure when my next feeling of calm is coming… so I meditate. For that, all I can say is: thanks for all the free podcasts, Pete.