Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Crazy Man in the Basement

The intimacies offered me in conversation and pastoral counseling as well as my own self-knowledge have convinced me that many and perhaps most of us live with a crazy man or a crazy woman in our basement. Perhaps that was the intended metaphor of Charlotte Bronte’s Gothic novel, Jane Eyre, that had a deranged relation imprisoned secretly in an upper room or attic. Yet I think my “crazy person in the basement” concept suggests something more basic to our nature than our upper regions, more visceral than conscious.  This is the one stoking our furnace and fueling our engine down below, so to speak. When one escapes, the host makes news, and endures judgment from those of us who think “we are not like them.”

What occasions this rumination was watching an entertaining romantic comedy about a British retirement home for gifted musicians entitled, Quartet (2012).  A character’s frontal lobe has been damaged and so cannot edit himself, bluntly expressing indelicate feelings, observations, and thoughts coming from, one could say, his crazy man in the basement.

What you read on this blog I carefully edit, because writing my posts is like working without a net—after all, I have no editor or copyeditor as I have had with all my other writings. Thus I read and review each post multiple times to make sure it says what I want it to say as well as to avoid misunderstandings.

But my whole life—and I would suggest others’ lives—is a product of similar, careful editing. I cannot speak for others, but Christ, culture, and Chris are primary editorial filters for me. I follow Jesus as spiritual guide, and he represents specific views of God, so Christ is also my God filter. Multiple cultures serve as editorial filters for me: spiritual, ethical, theological, literary, social, scientific, liberal, marginal—the list goes on. Most in need of explanation is “Chris,” but all this means is that my life must reflect and reveal what I believe about myself, and I believe this is common for most of us.

The crazy man in my basement is one who resists Christ, culture, and Chris. This is the one I sometimes meet when I become angry or anxious, infatuated or lustful, greedy or envious or vengeful, obsessive or pious, one who is fearful and fearless, vulnerable and arrogant, clueless and clever.

Christian mystics from the Desert Fathers and Mothers to the more contemporary Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating have recognized that the crazy man or woman in the basement rears his or her unwelcome head as our spiritual lives progress. Like the demons who asked Jesus, “What have you to do with us?” so our shadow selves emerge in the presence of God’s light, needing redemption and healing. This is considered a natural progression in spiritual growth.

Some keep the crazy person in the basement, often secretly, preventing their shadow side from encountering Jesus’ or God’s TLC.  Some externalize and scapegoat the crazy person, attempting to restrain the demoniac as the Gerasenes did, or allowing him to exile and stone himself naked and vulnerable among tombs, failing to recognize that “he is us.” (See Mark 5:1-20 and my post, listed below, “Exorcising Demons.”)

I believe what is needed is an honest encounter with the crazy man or crazy woman inside each of us. Only then may we come to ourselves, and through spiritual practices and the help of a spiritual community, spiritual director, or soul friend (anamchara), find our right minds.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Chris - a very valuable post. Another author who has a good deal to say about confronting one's shadow self is Cynthia Bourgeault.