Getting off the Emotional Roller Coaster with Polly at Omega

wave-and-rider-489x151To download an audio copy of Polly’s talk, visit Polly’s SoundCloud page.

Teaching at the Omega Institute with Anyen Rinpoche and John Tarrant on the topic of “Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster: What the Buddhists Teach” was enjoyable and engaging. Looking back at the course, and the 80 or so attentive people who attended, I am especially impressed by the ways we all stressed deep self-acceptance and self-compassion as the means of emotional healing.

Mindfulness practice, of course, is the necessary ingredient for getting our balance on the emotional roller coaster: allowing, experiencing, and letting go of painful emotions and feelings and not grasping on to the pleasurable ones (creating fear or addictions). Mindfulness is based in our daily practice of some kind of meditation technique that sharpens our capacity to stay aware and alert and, at the same time, allows us to relax (not push away or pull on what’s happening) in the moment. Of course, practicing meditation is meant to foster mindfulness in our walking-around lives, not simply on the cushion.

Often, though, it’s hard to remember a mindful attitude when we are out and about.

In my mind’s eye, I use the picture of a fir tree to remind me of mindfulness: straight trunk and gracefully hanging branches. With this alert and accepting attitude towards whatever is happening, you can then decide whether you want to express your feelings through language and action or not. Expression becomes a choice, instead of a knee-jerk reaction or a necessity.

The majority of natural human emotions are negative– perhaps designed by nature to help us notice threats and “improve” our circumstances– and so they creative tense and unpleasant experiences. We want to discharge or suppress them. Instead, we need to experience them as waves of sensation without too much internal narrative. Then we can see what we want to do next: express or let go of them. We all notice that many feelings are used to attack ourselves and others, most often ourselves. We will never measure up to our ideals! If we can work with our emotions, get more flexible in feeling them and not losing our balance, then we can befriend ourselves as well as others in our non-ideal state.

Here some wonderful lines from Leonard Cohen’s song, “Come Healing” that remind us all that we can never get things perfectly right according to our ideals:


O, gather ’round the brokenness

Bring it to me now

The fragrance of those promises

You never dared to vow


The splinters that you carried

The cross you left behind

Come healing of the body

Come healing of the mind