toothlesshag , in a post that is unfortunately locked, posited (rightly, I think) that you probably have more control over your life than you think. 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.