Saturday, December 3, 2011

GIVING UP SMOKING WITH MINDFULNESS

Giving up smoking is never easy. I know. I tried quite a few times to give up smoking before I was ultimately successful. Here’s one tip. Forget all about so-called ‘will power.’ You don’t need it, and assuming for the moment there is such a thing (which is a dubious proposition), it cannot assist in overcoming an addiction … for the simple reason that the will is captive to the addiction. Listen to what the great spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti had to say about craving---of any kind---and the will:

'Craving is the root of all ignorance and sorrow and there is no freedom from ignorance and sorrow save in the abandonment of craving. It is not to be set aside through mere will for will is part of craving; it is not to be set aside through denial for such denial is the outcome of opposites. Craving can be dissolved only through becoming aware of its many ways and expressions; through tolerant observation and understanding it is transcended. In the flame of understanding craving is consumed.'

Yes, the will is captive to the addiction. It is inextricably caught up in the incessant conflict between the 'self' in us that wants to smoke on the one hand and the 'self'' in us that doesn't want to smoke on the other. In Krishnamurti's words, 'will is part of craving.' In addition, self (which is only 'image' in our mind) cannot change self. Now, 'want power’ … that is something altogether different.

Dr Daniel Seidman (pictured left) is Director of Smoking Cessation Services at Columbia University Medical Center, where he is also Assistant Clinical Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry). For the past 20 years Seidman has done research on smoking cessation and operated a variety of clinics in community settings, corporations, and at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University, in which countless patients have learned to quit smoking.

Seidman is also the author of Smoke-Free in 30 Days: The Pain-Free, Permanent Way to Quit. In that book Seidman shows how mindfulness can help smokers reconnect with their senses and surroundings in ways that have been dulled and deadened by their physical and emotional preoccupations with smoking. Here is a link to a recent Huffington Post article in which Seidman lists, for the benefit of those who truly want to overcome nicotine addiction, five specific ways to ‘mindfully’ reconnect with their five senses.

Here is a short YouTube video in which Dr Seidman discusses the subject of smoking and its cessation:



In this blog I want to focus on just one aspect of the ‘challenge’ of giving up smoking … that of coping with thoughts of relapse. For weeks, indeed months, I carried round with me in my wallet a business card of mine on the back of which I had written the letters H E I S T. The letter ‘H’ refers to ‘health’. ‘E’ stands for ‘expense.’ ‘I’ is for ‘inconvenience.’ ‘S’ stands for ‘self-esteem.’ Finally, the letter ‘T’ refers to ‘taboo,’ that is, society’s increasing disapproval of smoking and hostility toward smokers. They were, at least for me, the five main reasons for my wanting to give up smoking at the time. Whenever I was tempted to smoke, I would take out of my wallet this card and interiorly say the word ‘HEIST’ several times before proceeding to recite, in a creed-like fashion, the various words represented by the letters.

Giving up smoking may not be easy, but neither is it all that hard … IF you really want to give up smoking. It is damn hard, indeed well-nigh impossible, to give up smoking if you don’t want to. Now, provided at least ‘51 per cent’ of you wants to give up smoking, it can be achieved. There will always be a part of you – it can’t really be quantified – which doesn’t want to give up smoking. That is normal. You have to work with that part of you which does. It’s your want power, and it is very powerful. Whenever you feel like having a smoke, go straight to the source of your power, that is, your want power, and go over the reasons why you want to give up smoking. (NOTE. The reasons you want to give up smoking may well be other than the reasons why I wanted to give up smoking. Choose reasons that resonate with you. That is extremely important.)

Another tip. When you feel like wanting a smoke, don’t react to that thought, feeling, image or sensation with panic or terror. No, that is not the way to react. Indeed, don’t react at all. Addiction is karma in the form of 'mental deed,' that is, a mindless reaction to thought, feeling, image and sensation. Now, know this … the thought, feeling, image or sensation is just that – only a thought, feeling, image or sensation. It has absolutely no power of its own to drive you back to smoking unless you choose to ‘accept’ or 'reject' the thought, feeling, image or sensation and thereby act upon it. The Shakyamuni Buddha said, 'Whatever suffering arises has a reaction [that is, 'liking' or 'disliking'] as its cause. If all reactions cease to be, then there is no more suffering.'

The important think, mindfully speaking, is to observe and watch the thought, feeling, image or sensation. It will not last all that long. Nothing does. Just observe … and watchchoicelessly, that is, non-judgmentally. Do not analyse the thought, feeling, image or sensation. Do not condemn it or try to drive it away. (Remember, whatever you resist, persists!) Also, do not, for example, try to substitute some ‘positive’ thought for a negative one. No, do none of those things. Just observe and watch. In so doing, the thought, feeling, image or sensation will lose its intensity and in time will disappear entirely from consciousness, and you will gain insight – yes, insight – into what is taking place in and around you. It's all about living mindfully ... as opposed to blind, mindless reactions in the form of cravings and attachments.

For more details on Dr Seidman’s book, go to his website. And good luck!


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