Zen of the Quit


Being Here Now


The essence of Zen is being here now. In other words, being a conscious participant in every moment of your life, no matter what that moment holds. The essence of quitting and staying quit is the same thing.

There’s an old Zen story that’s told in many variations, but the central teaching is, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

The concept is that, before you attain enlightenment, you do your chores: you know they’re necessary, but you’d really rather not do them, so you do them mindlessly. Your mind wanders; reliving the past or fantasizing about the future, thinking about anything but what you’re actually doing in each moment.

After you reach enlightenment, you still do your chores, but now you do them mindfully; you’re conscious in each moment. Your mind doesn’t wander; you’re focused on the task at hand. This is the essence of enlightenment: your life doesn’t necessarily change, but your experience of it does.

Before you start sitting, you go about your life, doing your chores, reliving past hurts or triumphs, or fantasizing about future glory or pain. Your mind is everywhere but here and now.

In this state, it’s easy to continue to smoke, because it’s just another unconscious behavior. You don’t need to think about smoking: the concentration of nicotine in your body falls below a certain level and you reach for a cigarette to top it up. There doesn’t have to be any conscious thought involved at all.

In fact, how many times have you lit a cigarette, only to realize that you’ve got one going already? Most smokers have had this happen. It happens because we’re not really conscious of our smoking behavior.

When you start sitting, you’re training yourself to become conscious in each moment of your life. When you practice the first couple of exercises I gave you around becoming mindful of your smoking, you’re training yourself to move your smoking from an unconscious behavior to a conscious choice, every time the urge arises.

And the more you make smoking a conscious choice, the less likely you are to continue to do it (at least at the level you used to when it was an unconscious behavior).

Of course, there are still the physical aspects to be dealt with.

More on that as we go on.

(If you're feeling a bit lost, it may be helpful to go back to the first post and follow along in order.)

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