Managing our stream of strong emotions is like having charge of maintaining and channeling a powerful river.
If we fail to look after the river by clearing away debris and removing obstacles to the natural flow of water, then over time there will be log jams, overflow of the riverbanks, and uncontrollable flooding that destroys or hurts the surrounding environment.
Like the river, if we fail to manage our daily flow of emotions, if we allow them to accumulate by repressing or denying their troubling nature, if we distract ourselves from painful emotions with television, video games, drugs or alcohol, then eventually the buildup threatens to overflow our boundaries or banks.
Like the neglected river, our emotions then overflow, breaking the banks and log jams we have allowed to accumulate through neglect or denial, causing suffering to others, and compounding our own frustration, fear and anger. Like being the diligent custodian of a river, Meditation has proven to help manage the flow of our emotions and it does this in a two-stage aspect.
We have learned that meditation involves primarily pausing the mindlessness of our distracting lifestyle for a period. Because this aspect is what most people have difficulty achieving, yoga and mediation teachers have strived for ways to impart a method to their students to achieve this. Controlled breathing is often cited as a prelude to this state of mindfulness, so I offer my own samples to method on this Link.
The second aspect of mediation involves looking deeply while in the state of mindfulness. This state brings with it enough energy to discover the true nature and origin of the thoughts, emotions and feelings that we experience during mindlessness. By discovering the truth, we are able to direct those troubling thoughts and feelings toward love, compassion and understanding of ourselves and others.
The trouble with emotions and feelings is, some of them are so powerful we think we can’t survive them, so we deny (or repress) them until they explode, causing hurt and suffering to ourselves and others.
Simplified, emotions come, stay for a while, and then leave. Prolonging the “stay” interval through resentments and obsessing, or through distraction or denial, causes a logjam of needless suffering that will eventually overflow unmanageably, but if we practice looking deeply while mindful, we can uproot the sources of painful emotions.
If we know how to breathe our way to mindfulness for periods of 20 minutes or so, then the chaos will roll away, leaving us with awareness that we can survive the storm.
If we practice emotional maintenance, we can experience surviving strong emotions and we can rest assured that the next time they come, we can survive them again.