Isn’t it important to just “be with” our painful emotions and not treat them as problems to be solved?

Q. I am concerned about a “going to the light” approach which I see in spiritual people. Isn’t it important to learn to just “be with” our painful emotions in a nonjudgmental way, rather than labeling them as “negative” and treating them as problems to be solved?

A. In the Course, it is crucial both to look at our inner darkness and to affirm the light. There is thus a delicate balance to be maintained, in which both sides are vital parts of a single process. In practice, of course, it is extremely easy to get this balance wrong, and to emphasize one side at the expense of the other.

The Course’s approach could be summarized as looking calmly upon our inner darkness and quickly answering it with the truth. Both sides are important. First, we need to look at our illusions calmly, dispassionately, without shrinking; seeing them for what they are, and also seeing them as something apart from us. Second, while this looking is imperative, we need to not dwell on our illusions, not wallow in them, but quickly respond to them with the truth.

The Workbook has many examples of this quick response. For instance,

Whenever any difficulty seems to rise, tell yourself quickly:

Let me recognize this problem so it can be solved. (W-pI.79.10:2-3)

As you can probably see, this approach is definitely one that treats our negative emotions as problems to be solved. The goal is not to be with them, but to dispel them as quickly as possible. True, the Course does advocate a kind of nonjudgmental stepping back from our negative emotions and observing them calmly, without fear. It certainly doesn’t want us to deny them. Yet it wants this looking to be followed quickly with applying the medicine that will heal our pain.

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