This was a case study I wrote for school on Spiritual Emergence vs. Spiritual Emergencies. Researching and learning more about this phenomenon was a mind-bending, enlightening, emotionally draining experience. The more I discovered, the more material seeped into my dreams and expanded my own awareness of consciousness. I feel as though my research has led me to a pandora’s box of explosive information and I am just trying to find the lid so I can close it and process what the hell is going on.
“Don’t get me wrong, Jim is great character and I was lucky to get the part. But don’t think of that as me anymore.”
– Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey was born on January 17th, 1962 in a small town in Ontario, Canada. As a child, he spent a lot of his time alone in his room acting in front of the mirror and sketching in his art book. Carrey’s father, Percy, was a talented musician and comedian. Despite his love for music and comedy, his father was a conservative man and took a financially secure and reliable job as an accountant. When Carrey was in his early teens, his father lost his job, forcing the whole family to find work wherever they could. In a comedy skit, Carrey made this into a joke, “a lot of people don’t know this but when I was about 14 or 15, my father lost his job and I actually became homeless for quite some time. But of course, I grew up in Canada so I thought we’d gone camping.”
Behind the smiles and laughter Carrey learned an important lesson. At a commencement speech at the Maharishi University of Management in 2014 he eloquently summarises, “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Carrey went on determined to succeed as a comedian. After a series of terrible failures and being booed off stage, he became obsessed with figuring out how to win over an audience. He continued to ask himself again and again: what does the audience want? Finally, on one sleepless night, he found the answer: everyone just wants to be free from concern. This became the basis of his character, both on and off-screen.
Gradually, his new persona began to receive some success in the Canadian comedy scene. One night, while performing at a comedy club in Toronto, Carrey was scouted by comedian Rodney Dangerfield and was brought to Las Vegas as the opening act. Carrey quickly gained popularity in the U.S. and landed a role on the sketch comedy show ‘In Living Color’. He later went on to make a series of blockbuster hits including Dumb & Dumber, Ace Ventura, The Mask, Man on The Moon – catapulting him to superstardom. Carrey attributes his success to perseverance, but mostly to the power of manifestation. In a famous interview with Oprah he tells her that when he was starting out in his career, he wrote himself a $10 million dollar check for ‘acting services rendered.’ Ten years later, he discovered he would be paid $10 million dollars for his role in ‘Dumb and Dumber’.
Jim Carrey has reportedly been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and has been very open about his struggle with depression. He admits to previously taking Prozac in which he describes, “feels like a low level of despair that you’re in. You’re not getting any answers but you’re living okay and smiling at the office…but it’s a low level of despair.”
Carrey decided to stop taking Prozac and instead turned towards spirituality and art as refuge. He also eliminated all forms of drugs, alcohol, and coffee from his life. As a result, he doesn’t experience any more depression. “I had [that] for years, but now, when the rain comes, it rains, but it doesn’t stay. It doesn’t stay long enough to immerse me and drown me anymore.”
It was during the filming of the biographical comedy-drama, ‘Man on The Moon’ in 1999 when Jim Carrey plays comedian Andy Kaufman and experiences a disintegration of ego; a questioning of everything, and an emergence of what Carl Jung would refer to as the ‘Self’. Almost two decades later, Netflix releases the documentary, ‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’ which follows Carrey with behind the scenes footage during the making ‘Man on The Moon’. The documentary gives viewers a voyeuristic look as Carrey experiences a spiritual crisis and emerges almost unrecognizable as a bearded, modern-day philosopher. Carrey explains the precise moment back in 1999 when he got the role of Andy Kaufman. He was alone at the beach, watching a pool of dolphins swimming in front of him. Suddenly, he senses Kaufman show up, tap him on the shoulder and say, ‘sit down, I’ll be doing my movie.’ At that moment Carrey explains that he completely surrendered to it, “what happened afterward was out of my control.”
Once the filming of ‘Man on The Moon’ concluded, Carrey explains how he forgot the person he was before. It was as if the experience of playing Kaufman washed away his personality; a sort of rebooting of his mind to reveal a blank slate. He observes his own ego with poignant clarity. “Who’s Jim Carrey? Oh yeah, he doesn’t exist. There’s just a relative manifestation of consciousness appearing, and then somebody gave him a bunch of ideas; a name, a religion, and a nationality, and he clustered those together into something that is supposed to be a personality.”
The clean slate of Jim Carrey’s consciousness led itself to the therapeutic release of art. In the short film, ‘I Needed Color’, Carrey describes how during this time of emergence, he became obsessed with painting. “When I started painting a lot, there was nowhere to move in my home, paintings were everywhere. They were becoming a part of the furniture; I was eating on them.” The way Carrey talks about art, it sounds less like something he makes and more like something that happens to him. “Making art, in general, is not really a choice, I’m being painted, and I’m being expressed, and I’m being created, and there’s little me involved.”
This experience can be described as ‘creative flooding’. As Carrey explains, it’s in these circumstances when there is too much spirit to manage or cope, an individual may feel inundated with creativity. Both Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath are examples of other famous individuals who are likely to have experienced a similar feeling of creative flooding.
Jim Carrey’s openness to discuss his spiritual breakthrough has paved the way for others to do the same. Perhaps most notably, it has provided the current generation ripe with rising mental disorders, a chance to make sense of their pain and suffering and use it as a basis for transformation. Traditional psychology pathologizes and uses a reductionist method to deal with crises of the spirit. There is currently no agreed upon framework in which to make sense of ‘spiritual emergencies’ for people to turn to. This, of course, makes people feel misunderstood and isolated, exasperating the suffering, and may lead to a psychiatric facility or suicide.
It’s important first to understand and distinguish the terms ‘spiritual emergence’ and ‘spiritual emergency’. They were both coined by Stanislav Grof and his wife Christina Grof who were interested in examining non-ordinary states of consciousness in a clinical setting. The word emergency, which suggests a sudden crisis, comes from the Latin word ‘emergere’ which means ‘to rise’ or ‘to come forth’. Thus, spiritual emergencies are a crisis of the evolution of consciousness (Grof, S. & Grof C. 2017). Throughout their discoveries they learned that these experiences involved escaping the limiting boundaries of the ego, leading to elation and freedom. They also recognised that the culture the individual is in that will determine whether an experience is labelled as psychotic or spiritual. An emergence is an experience that feels like breaking out of the software programming of life and conditioning, as opposed to forgetting it entirely (psychosis).
As the pioneers of this type of spiritual research, The Grof’s had no explanation or information on which to base their findings on. Consequently, they referred to the phenomenon of spiritual emergence as “the movement of an individual to a more expanded way of being that involves enhanced emotional and psychosomatic greater freedom of personal choices, and a sense of a deeper connection with other people, nature, and the cosmos.” Spiritual emergence is generally experienced as pleasant and typically occurs at a slow enough pace to be properly assimilated.
A spiritual emergency, on the other hand, happens when an individual is flooded and there is too much information to take in resulting in a crisis. Lukoff, Lu, and Turner (1998) differentiate the two, “In spiritual emergence there is a gradual unfoldment of spiritual potential with minimal disruption in psychological, social, and occupational functioning. Whereas in a spiritual emergency, there is significant, abrupt disruption in psychological, social, and occupational functioning.”
According to Stanley and Christina Grof, spiritual emergencies can erupt from a result of ten different experiences: peak experiences, past-life experiences, channeling with spirit guides, Kundalini experiences, dark and night possessions, near-death experiences, UFO encounters, and drug and alcohol addictions. Carl Jung describes these spiritual experiences as mental and emotional disturbances in which the mind is attempting to find wholeness. Transpersonal psychologists, as a result, are trained in integrating what Jung refers to as the ‘shadow’ part of the self. Integrating shadow material means opening up the ego-consciousness to different parts of the psyche. These are the parts that may have been rejected and stored in the personal unconscious at some stage or have been forgotten as with the collective unconscious.
In the case of Jim Carrey, his spiritual emergence may have taken place as a result of reaching a ‘peak experience’. The term peak experience was first coined by Abraham Maslow and refers to the “core religious” or “transcendent” experience. The Grof’s refer to it as a “dissolution of personal boundaries and a sense of becoming one with other people, with nature, or with the entire universe.” The elements of peak experiences include a sense of unity, positive emotional associations, a transcendence of space and time, a sense of the sacred, paradoxical quality, a sense of the experience being “real,”, ineffability, and positive after-effects. Typically, the individual has a difficult, if not impossible time trying to explain the incident and its importance to others. It would be hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for Jim Carrey to experience such a profound spiritual awakening in the contrasting the world of Hollywood. It is also quite ironic that the process took place while filming a movie suitably titled ‘Man on The Moon’ in which he must have felt other-worldly, or even alien, during the process.
Managing a spiritual emergence can be facilitated with an experienced Transpersonal Practitioner. Unlike a traditional Psychotherapist who helps an individual become rational and self-governing, a Transpersonal Therapist extends this further by helping the individual expand into a higher state of consciousness. They help the client by labelling the experience for what it is and ensure they bring attention back to their body and the reality they are currently in. Normalising the experience, becoming present and expressing what they are going through in an educational and transformative way can facilitate integration and healing. Since the experience of a spiritual emergency can feel chaotic and terrifying, it’s important to provide a therapeutic environment that is quiet, with low light, close to or incorporates nature and perhaps even has soothing music. The goal is to help the client use the experience as a container or opportunity for healing, transformation, and growth.
Jim Carrey’s spiritual emergence has left fans and critics divided into bewilderment and acclamation. He has led the way for a spiritual transformation, allowing others who are thrashing against their own egos the opportunity to rise to a new level of consciousness. The pain and suffering he has endured led to a new sense of enthusiasm, compassion, and love for the human experience.
Finally, the man who spent his life wanting others to be free from concern has finally found that freedom for himself.