A fast-flowing river that is narrow in places would be a good place for this contemplation. Bloody Bridge River, in the Mourne Mountains, would be ideal.
Find a place where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes, listening to and watching the river. Now get up and try to stop the river flowing. You could try placing stones and boulders in the river’s path. Can you do it?
Now sit down again for a few minutes and do not allow any negative thoughts or emotions to arise. No sad memories. No anxious thoughts. No anger. No irritation. No envy. Instead direct all your attention to the tumbling water.
How did you get on?
Which was easier to stop: the river or your negative thoughts?
Now look at how the water moves in the river. The river is fast-flowing but notice how not all the water moves quickly. There are areas by the banks where the water is ‘dead’, where it hardly seems to move at all. There are also places where the water swirls endlessly in eddies, going round and round but never seeming to progress downstream. This is because rocks protruding from the irregular banks interrupt the flow of the water.
In my experience it is impossible to stop the emergence of negative thoughts. Despite my best efforts to remain focused on the present moment, pangs of sorrow or worries about the future arise. Perhaps, with practice, it will not always be so. But in the meantime, by straightening the banks of my mind through meditation I am learning to allow these negative thoughts to flow through quickly, before they do harm.