The Suit of Cups and the element of Water represents our emotions as well as the concept of cycles.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand how these two concepts are related. In fact, I was so ignorant that it was years after I began studying the tarot before it occurred to me to question this connection.
After meditating upon this concept for some time, here’s the understanding I’ve gained so far:
Let’s start with the idea of a cycle by looking at its implications.
First of all, a cycle implies movement. Things within a cycle is constantly progressing from one state to another.
Second, cycles move in a pattern. It is not random but follows a certain direction.
Third, cycles are repetitive. While each repetition is unique, they also resemble their previous revolution and can be used to predict the ones that will come after it.
Next, let’s look at the nature of emotions.
The emotional aspect of our lives fall under the element of water because it is receptive, meaning that it is responsive to external stimulus. In fact, the most notable quality of emotions is that they are a form of reaction. Our feelings are always triggered by something, whether it is our physical environment, interaction with other people, or thoughts in our heads.
Now, let’s apply the qualities of emotions to the concepts of cycles.
Just like cycles, our emotions ought to be constantly changing. It must change in accordance to our situations. When Buddhists speak of false attachment, they are addressing the futile effort of holding onto certain emotions even when the situation that has triggered those emotions no longer exists. On the other hand, we habitually try to reject unpleasant emotions (such as sadness or fear) even when the current circumstances calls for it.
Also like cycles, there are patterns to our emotions. Generally, we try to move away from negative feelings and towards positive ones. In addition, certain experiences and thoughts are followed by predictable set of emotional responses.
Lastly, our emotions repeat endlessly. We constantly feel and, over time, we will experience the same type of emotions over and over again.
Knowing all of this, the goal is to master our emotions. While we cannot escape this cycle, if we learn to master our feelings, we can guide our own path within the cycle. Just like fish swimming in a river, we may not be able to swim against the current, but we can move consciously within the current to avoid dangers and obstacles. And during the places where the river forks, we can choose which path to take.
Another way to view the mastery of emotions in relation to the cycle is to view the cycle as a wheel. Those hanging onto the edge of the wheel always feel chaotic and are constantly struggling to stay on top. To master one’s own emotion is to discover and move towards the center of the wheel. Once we discover our own center, we will not be unnerved by what we perceive to be negative emotions but know that all emotions serve to help us understand ourselves and our places in the world.
In other words, be aware of our own emotions by allowing them to run their course without judgement or resistance. Then, once they’ve served their purpose, let them go. As the wheel turns, another emotion will eventually surface. And so the cycle repeats.