In recent years, and especially on noticeable occasions throughout 2017, Jim Carrey has caused quite a stir with the remarks he has made in interviews regarding his identity and the meaning of life.
- When he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel in May 2017 , Jim made the statement “Don’t get me wrong. Jim Carrey is a great character, and I was lucky to get the part, but I don’t think of that as me anymore…I used to be a guy who was experiencing the world, and now I feel like the world and the universe experiencing a guy”.
- When appearing on the red carpet at the September 2017 New York Fashion Week (NYFW), Jim said, whilst walking around the presenter, “There’s no meaning to any of this, so I wanted to find the most meaningless thing that I could come to and join, and here I am…I don’t believe in personalities, I don’t believe that you [the reporter] exist, but there is a wonderful fragrance in the air…I believe we are a field of energy dancing for itself”.
Such statements have resulted in numerous news outlets all over the world calling Jim “crazy”, “weird”, and in need of help. However, what Jim has said in such contexts is not anything new, especially to those who have dabbled in spirituality and certain eastern practices, such as Buddhism or Zen philosophy. In fact, the type of things Jim touches on, such as having no identity and himself being the Universe experiencing itself, have been spoken since the time of the Ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi who lived in the fifth Century BC!
So if what Jim is saying is not anything new, why are his statements so confronting to Western audiences?
The sad truth is that most of the world is ‘asleep’ to the type of things Jim has talked about. One of my favourite philosophers is Alan Watts, predominately for the reason that he tried to connect the western view of the world with a more eastern perspective. The western view is predicated on individuality, ego and of mankind as being separate to one another and to nature. In the western model, the world is mechanical, predictable and therefore seen as something that needs to be brought to order – something to control. Human beings are viewed in the same light.
In the eastern view, however, existence itself is viewed as pain. Identity does not exist, because we are the same universal thing that is merely fragmented, and we hate the feeling of fragmentation. We are each apertures for the universe to figure itself out through conscious self awareness. We are not a drop in the ocean, as the western model views individuality, but we are instead the entire ocean symbolized as a single drop. Control itself is an illusion because everything is energy seeking a balance, and therefore there is only ever one universal energy that is always at play; figuring itself out on different frequencies.
Interestingly though, both the western and eastern view of the world are needed for us to be able to understand ‘reality’ and to ‘wake up’. There is a saying:
Western philosophy must be discussed. Eastern philosophy must be experienced.
Both philosophies give meaning to one another and end up representing two sides of the same yin-and-yang symbol. In Buddhism, the ‘middle way’ is the ‘S’ shape that runs in-between the symbol, and this represents the walk you talk in life; experiencing equal parts pleasure and equal parts pain, but giving neither dominance nor preference to either state. For example, I am sure you have laughed from your crying, and have hurt your stomach or jaw from laughing too hard. Both states simply are and they constantly move and rotate around you as your life unfolds. The unity of their duality allows you to learn from life’s experience.
Alan Watts talks about such truths much more eloquently than I can put into words. There are a plethora of YouTube videos available where you can listen to his recordings. A good starting point is the video The Real You. There is also, as something different to Alan Watts, the quirky example of west versus eastern philosophy in the humorous ‘Epic rap battle‘ of philosophers from both sides.
But to return now to Jim Carrey, although the man is very much ‘woke’, he is definitely not quite Zen in terms of his enlightenment. There’s a stage in such a journey where you have to both meet and abandon the somewhat nihilistic despair that Jim embodies. In Jim’s comments and interviews, he makes claims that life is meaningless and is ‘all for nothing’. Jim has rightfully abandoned identity and the notion of ‘self’, but his statements of life being for nothing, or things being pointless, are very much a literal interpretation rather than a spiritual one.
To paraphrase a Zen saying, “For those who understand, everything is just as it is. For those who do not yet understand, everything is just as it is”. In such a realization, ‘forgiveness’ of life, and our lack of control over it, are accepted. In this acceptance, the meaning of life comes from being alive, and so to claim that life is meaningless also suggests that a statement of the same nature would also be true. Instead, everything has its place for a reason. The acceptance that everything is ‘just as it is’ is the Zen state, which also comes from knowing that life and the physical world are somewhat dystopian. In an eastern view, nothingness is the Utopian state, yet we need the physical world in order to both realise and return to such a state.
From a western perspective, Socrates is often hailed as the father of modern philosophy. He was also, interestingly enough, famous for saying that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. Linguistically, even in our everyday speech, we reveal nothing as a somewhat truth to ourselves, but we are somewhat unaware that we are doing this. Nihilists, such as Jim, will say that life is ‘all for nothing’ and, for example, if I were to strip you of your name, your profession, your credentials, your family and friends, and every one of your accomplishments in this life, you would likely respond with ‘I’m nothing’ if I were to ask who you were. Centuries before Socrates lived, however, there were Indian, Korean, Japanese and even Chinese philosophers who alluded to nothing, or no-thing “nothingness” as a different type of wisdom.
For example, Laozi spoke about the beauty of nothingness as he said that things in life are most useful when they are empty – that the nothingness of an empty room, an empty bowl, and an empty mind (not the same type of empty mind we perceive in the west) is what makes a thing powerful. When we fill up the nothingness, the thing loses its worth. Conversely, if nothingness is in fact our true Utopian state, we also reveal it by saying such things as ‘I’m so happy I could die’. All joys seek eternity and, oddly enough, nothingness gives us just that. Nothing, as a state of being, is eternal, but it requires the eradication of existence itself which is everything.
Therefore, to tweak Socrates’ statement with an eastern lens, instead of saying that wisdom is knowing you know nothing, true wisdom is knowing that you are nothing. In this view, love is knowing that you are also everything at the same time. We are the same thing fragmented, and consciousness keeps rising, appearing and then disappearing as a way for everything to be re-made whole and return to a state of nothing; of pure love. Such eradication of the physical world was explored in my previous post regarding technology.