Attitude Adjustment

[info]toothlesshag , in a post that is unfortunately locked,  posited (rightly, I think) that you probably have more control over your life than you think. [info]greymaiden  added that while you may not be able to control everything, what you can always control is your attitude.  This got me thinking about attitude adjustment.

There is nothing groundbreaking about the idea that you control your own attitude and reactions; it’s the foundational idea of most of the pop self-help advice out there.  Most people acknowledge the principle with a sage nod of agreement.  Unless, of course, you bring it up while they are in the grip of anger or fear or stress, in which case they will inform you in no uncertain terms that it is so much bullshit.  How can they be expected to just modify their feelings like flipping a switch?  To someone in the midst of strong emotion, the idea is absurd to the point of insult.

In some traditions, the answer to changing attitudes lies in meditation.  When I first started studying meditation, this seemed like one of the more dubious applications of the technique.  What, in the middle of a rage I’m supposed to plop down and start visualizing myself as a peaceful flower?  New-age hogwash.

I think this is the picture a lot of people have of meditation.  It was a minor revelation to me when I first heard Thich Nhat Hanh speaking about meditating on anger.  Unlike some other teachers, he does not teach the student to try to calm themselves with soothing visualizations or repeated self-affirmations (lies) that "I am at peace, I am full of love" etc.  Instead, he asks them simply to exist within the emotion:  Breathing in, I am angry.  Breathing out, anger is in me now.

For some reason – perhaps my lack of imagination – this approach took me completely by surprise.  It was so different from my stereotype of meditation.  And in my experience, it works.  By not asking the afflicted person to deny their own sensations, but simply to feel them, without guilt but also without immediately acting on them, that person is enabled to self-validate.  And once the feelings are truly acknowledged, they can slowly begin to tease apart the feelings themselves, from the event that triggered them, and from the actions which those feelings seem to dictate.

As with all such things, your mileage may vary.  But I’ve had some success with this technique.

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  1. I don’t remember where I said that, but feel free to smack me for blathering platitudes.

    That said, this meditation technique is the one that prevents me from going totally insane on a regular basis. Embrace the moment/state you are in, let it flow through you as it is and stop judging it based on what you think it should be or wish it could be.

    The problem with this technique is that the rest of the world wants you to think about those things. It wants you to think about how you should be looking for a job or doing housework or acting like a polite human being. So as soon as anything in the external world makes a demand, the technique becomes invalid, as do many meditation techniques.

    1. I think it was Aries Walker, not you.

    2. Yeah, but you can be in that state, meditate for 30 minutes and then go do one of those obnoxious chores that the world wants.

      But dear god, you can’t just spin your wheels…im angry because the world wants me to do things…so ill meditate….which just makes me angry that the world wants me to be doing something other than meditating….so ill meditate about it. Well – ok – it’s hard to downshift from that whirring gear, but gah…paul (my brother) gets into that all the time; drives me nuts.

  2. Oh, and in case it isn’t patently obvious, I often write journal entries while in this state.

  3. Thich Nhant Hanh is one of my favorite Buddhist writers; the other is Pema Chodron. You might want to check her out sometime, too. 🙂

  4. Man. I wish i had read this post before I ate 3/4 of a box of Russel Stover. Oh well. (Workstress)

  5. 1) Love is not enough. For long term, you have to have compatibility, and you have to want the same things. If you don’t have that, enjoy that short time you have together. Then move on.

    2) Doing something nice for someone doesn’t make up for acting mean to the person all the time. This applies most relationships; family, friends, lovers. Do nice things anyway and stop being mean to that person.

    3) Did you notice how beautiful it was today?

    4) You have a lot more control over your life than you realize.

    5) When dealing with people in large groups, praise in public, scold in private.

    6) You are lovable. Do not settle for someone who doesn’t love you, or who is incapable of loving you as much as you need.

    7) 2 people who love each other need to have a balance in their affections – assuming that they have been together long enough to really know each other. If one loves more intensely than the other, often it is known. The person feeling the brighter power of affection feels overwhelmed, confused, and emotionally disconnected. The person who loves more is trying to figure out what is wrong – everything should be coming up roses – but it isnt. Your going to have to find a person who can SHOW you love as much as you can show you love them.

    8) I think the first year (or 2!) of “LOVE” is supported by chemicals in your brain. Feels amazing! Pretty supportive of the species, if you think about it, isn’t it? Acknowledge that those chemicals exist.

    9) KNOW YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!! Only then can you know the other person.

    10) Talk about it. YES! Talk about it. Be direct. Say what you feel – as considerately as you can.

    NEW! #11 Put down that box of Russel Stover and meditate instead.

  6. thank you so much for introduction to this type of relief of guilt type meditation!! Accepting your ‘bad self’ and being aware of it releases you from it I think!!

    1. There’s not even anything “bad” about it. Anger just is. What we need release from is are the chains of reaction – “I am angry because you have caused me to be angry, and therefore I will strike out against you”.

  7. I think that may change my life. Thank you! I’m told so often my emotion is “wrong” or we get in a spiral of blaming each other when I just need to feel what I feel, deeply, strongly for even a few moments so I can release it. Otherwise I dwell on it until I have a chance to do so later. *sigh*

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