More on cultivating emotions

Emotion as a river

waterfall and gorge

Rivers create their own valleys. Water flowing over rock and soil cuts channels, which grow deeper with every passing year. The contours of the channel then define the course of the river. The river creates the banks, and the banks create the river.

Similarly, our emotions follow patterns. Our emotions give rise to thought, and our thoughts reinforce our emotions.

For example, when we’re in an irritable mood, our thoughts tend to find fault. The sense of being surrounded by faults reinforces our irritability. So our emotions shape our thoughts (the river bank), and our thoughts influence our emotions (the river). It’s disturbingly circular.

If this analogy is correct, then how do we ever escape from a mood once we get into it?

The answer is that there are other influences on our emotions and that we have a certain amount of control over these. What a relief! This means that we can act to change our emotional states and escape from the kinds of ruts in which we often get stuck.

There are several of these:

  • Your environment
  • Your body
  • Your thoughts
  • Your will
  • Communication

We can use each of these in our meditation practice in order to help us break old emotional habits and to develop greater positive emotion.

It’s tremendously encouraging when we realize that we’re able to change how we feel. No longer do we have to be victims of our own emotional responses. No longer do we have to be compelled to repeat old and unhelpful patterns of feeling and action. With mindfulness — and with the tools for change that lovingkindness meditation offers us — we become happier and freer.