In his new book, Comedy Sex God (as well as on his wonderful podcast and on his HBO show) the comedian Pete Holmes talks about the aftermath of the dissolution of his marriage. After his wife cheated on him and their subsequent divorce, he was hit with a long developing crisis of faith in the religion he had grown up with.
He describes this period as many nights on the road. Lots of work. Lots of drinking. Lots of crying. Lots of Counting Crows songs on repeat. And while that all seems very tough, the interesting part about it, he says, looking back, is how easy it was. How comfortably he slipped into this depression and came to feel at home in it. He almost looks back at the period fondly now, as if remembering a long morning under the warm covers.
This is something the Stoics were quite aware of as well, and why they urged us to be wary of our passions. It’s not that they felt that emotions were bad, it’s that they knew how easy it was to slip into them and be consumed by them. When we lose someone we love, grief is natural. It can also be tempting to simply take residence inside that grief as a way of protecting ourselves from ever getting hurt again. When we run into difficulty, it’s natural to be sad about it. And we can quite easily adopt this sadness as our new world view, when the braver thing is actually to make ourselves vulnerable again in the pursuit of something to be hopeful and happy about.
One of the key virtues of Stoicism is moderation. Not too little. Not too much. Just the right amount. It’s easy to overindulge your emotions, as Pete Holmes did for so long on the road as a comic. It’s easy to block them off entirely, as Stoicism has been wrongly criticized for advocating for centuries.
The truth is, neither absence nor abundance is the right path. Because neither is a path toward anything at all. And what is life but a path whose twists and turns are ours to carve with our own two feet.