Turning On the Light in the Basement

Going WithinSometimes in therapy it can feel like you’re going backward instead of making progress. Sometimes, it might appear that you’re much sicker than you thought. Well, you might be, but then again, you probably aren’t. It’s just that when you finally catch a glimpse of all the stuff you’ve been avoiding, you may be shocked at what you see.

It’s like turning on a light and going down into the basement: You had no idea that it’s so dirty, full of cobwebs, dust, and dirt. But nothing’s new — it’s been that way for years. You’ve gotten used to the way it is and hadn’t realized so much had built up.

Actually, it’s a sign of progress to be willing to see the truth of it. When you face how messy it’s become, you and your therapist can get in there and straighten it out. If we hadn’t turned on the light and seen what’s what, we wouldn’t be able to move forward in our work of tossing out old rubbish, deciding what to keep and what not, and taking out the trash once and for all.

We’ve all seen horror movies where we shout at the heroine, “You fool! Don’t go down there!” It can be frightening to stand at the top of the stairs looking down into the gloom and darkness because we’re afraid of what’s inside ourselves. It helps to enter these worlds with someone who’s not afraid, someone who’s been to the basement before and even goes there frequently — a skilled psychotherapist to lead the way.

Once we get there, what will we find? Memories, tears not shed, decisions made about how life works that need to be re-made, painful feelings we repressed, other people’s pain, all things that Jung referred to as the Shadow.

To continue with this analogy, when the basement is clean, the whole house benefits. You are no longer afraid of what’s inside or have to avoid going there. Often the result of this inner housecleaning is a freeing up of energy that was previously used to ignore the work that needed to be done. So turning on the light in the basement, while not necessarily pleasant at first sight, is a freeing endeavor.

People often ask how long it takes to get a nice clean basement. No one can say for sure, but most probably longer than you would like. Then again, if you don’t get started, it will never get done.

© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth


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Catherine Auman is a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in transpersonal psychology, also known as spiritual psychology.

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