Self-control is not always the answer.
Insights From a Session on Smoking
Last week, I worked with a client on smoking. She had quit for 10 years but started again a year or two ago. A big part of the experience for her has been a lot of shame around the idea of being a smoker again.
We Questioned, “Smoking Is Bad”
Part of what makes smoking feel shameful is the idea that is bad. The idea is that everyone knows it is harmful to health so there must be something wrong with me if I smoke in spite of the evidence. People would think badly if they knew. And thus the need to hide it.
Before questioning the thought, “Smoking is bad,” we detailed why she thought it was bad. These reasons fell into two categories:
With Regards to Others
Smoking is bad because…
Others think it’s bad.
They think it’s bad for your health, so why would you do that to yourself?
They think you’re stupid to smoke.
They think you’re not as evolved.
They treat you like you don’t know as much.
They treat you like what you think is not as valuable.
They look down on you for not having any self-control in that way.
With Regards to Me
Smoking is bad because…
I can’t breathe as easily.
Don’t want to go to yoga.
It’s bad for my whole health, teeth, gums, etc.
I don’t like my kids to see my smoking.
I’m setting a bad example.
It shouldn’t be seen by others.
I’m dependent on it.
I don’t like hiding.
It is enslaving.
It is stopping me from being free.
This list of reasons why she thought smoking is bad, helped us to hold the abstract concept, “Smoking is bad,” when questioning it. With these points of reference, it became easier to know what “bad” meant.
The Coolest Insight From This Inquiry
The coolest insight from this inquiry came from the turnaround, “Smoking is good.” She looked for any ways that smoking could be seen as somehow good and she found that it teaches surrender.
Smoking is bigger than her. She is powerless against it despite her desire to quit. And it is unyielding. The only way to end this kind of fight is to surrender. In this way, smoking teaches something that not smoking cannot. It teaches humility and surrender.
Some people go to an ashram to find a guru to surrender to. While it sounds romantic, that guru, if he or she is any good, will soon set up situations where you have to surrender any remaining attachments. This does not usually feel romantic. In those moments, the guru seems to be “bad” indeed. But it is the surrendering to “not getting what I want” that opens up the field of liberation.
Smoking Is a Guru
It has no mercy. Once you enter into smoking’s ashram, it doesn’t let you leave until you have learned the humility and detachment of surrender. What must be surrendered? The pride of being someone who’s in control must be surrendered. The esteem of being a non-smoker must be surrendered. The need for respect from others must be surrendered. The idea of being smart must be surrendered.
This guru called smoking is a genuine guru of an ancient line of gurus here for only one purpose to free the mind from bondage. Surrender is the needed element to follow its teachings.
What Am I Really Surrendering To?
Smoking is an external mirror. What I’m really surrendering to when I surrender to smoking, is myself—to a version of myself that I don’t want to admit is real. We like to hold the identities that “I’m not a smoker. I’m in control of my life,” even while smoking.
It takes humility to see that I am not who I aspire to be but rather that I am what I am: a smoker, not in control, etc. When I surrender to who I really am, then I can listen to what I really want.
This is self-awareness (and it goes against everything we like to think). What do I really want? Asking this is a practice of listening to myself. And hearing what I’m actually feeling instead of what I think I should be feeling. In doing this, I am surrendering to my current state of evolution, a place where I can truly rest. And a place from which I will naturally evolve. But I can’t evolve if I’m stuck trying to be what I think I should be instead of being who I actually am in any given moment.
So I have to ask myself and truly listen. Do I want to eat a piece of candy? No. Do I want to do yoga? No. Do I want to smoke? Yes, that’s what I want. If I am truly open, then I will treat that desire as natural and right for me in that moment. I will listen to it. I will honour it. This is self-awareness, self-acceptance, humility, and peace.
Smoking Is Not the Problem
If you really need to quit smoking, you could probably quit in a few days. But if you keep clinging to the idea, “I’m not a smoker,” this lack of open-mindedness will cause your mind to challenge you to be more open—it will lead you once again to smoke.
Luckily, for many people, the body can handle a lot of smoking while it waits patiently for the humility, acceptance, and listening required to stop. From my side, I wouldn’t wish you to quit smoking if it meant you would miss the teaching that smoking has to offer.
But of course, if you do quit smoking, that’s great too. You will find another guru in your boss, your spouse, or another thing you can’t control. Smoking is just one of many paths leading to the same place.
Private Sessions Are a Great Place to Work on This
If you want to work on your thinking about smoking, addictions, or anything else you can’t control (but wish you could), I am happy to hold the space for you. Private sessions provide a safe one-on-one environment for challenging any thoughts that keep you feeling stuck.
Join me for private sessions here.
Have a great week,
“I don’t care if I smoke or if I don’t smoke; it’s not about right or wrong for me. I smoked heavily, even chain-smoked, for many years. Then, in 1986, after the experience in the halfway house, all at once it was over. When I went to Turkey in 1997, I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in eleven years. I got into a taxi, and the driver had some wild Turkish music playing on his radio very loud, and he was honking constantly…, and he turned around and with a big smile offered me a cigarette. I didn’t think twice. I took it, and he lit a match for me. The music was going full blast, the horns were going full blast, and I sat in the backseat, smoking and loving each moment. It’s okay if I do smoke, I noticed, and it’s okay if I don’t, and I notice that I haven’t smoked since that wonderful taxi ride.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is
Further reading: Peaceful Coexistence with Addictions