Zen of the Quit


The Wizard


One of my favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” I first saw it as a kid, way back in the 60s, and it was just a fairy tale to me then: witches, wizards, talking scarecrows… But the older I got, the more I saw in it.

There’s an ancient tradition that appears in almost every culture under one name or another: Joseph Campbell called it “the hero’s journey.” It’s a metaphysical journey from one state to another (for instance, from adolescence to adulthood) or one status to another (often outsider to insider); where someone leaves their normal surroundings, goes on an extended adventure in unfamiliar territory, faces a series of challenges, and attains their new state (or status) at the end.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is blown out of Kansas and into Oz by a tornado. She then goes on a quest to find the famous Wizard of Oz, who she hopes will be able to send her home. When she finally gets to Oz and meets the Wizard, he challenges her and her companions to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. When she completes that challenge (by inadvertently killing the Wicked Witch), she returns to Oz in triumph and is granted her heart’s desire; to return home to Kansas.

One of the interesting things about the hero’s journey is that it is often circular; the person who started the journey is basically the same person at the end (i.e., Dorothy is still Dorothy), but at the end they know things about themselves and the nature of reality that they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see when the journey began.

For example, at the beginning of her journey, Dorothy wants nothing more than to be anywhere except Kansas, but at the end she realizes that “there’s no place like home.”

When I began my hero’s journey of getting free from my smoking addiction, I realized that there are a lot of parallels between Dorothy’s hero’s journey and the quitter’s hero’s journey:

Like Dorothy, we’re on a journey from one state (smoker) to another (ex-smoker). Also like Dorothy, we start by leaving our “normal” state (being a smoker) and going on an extended adventure in unfamiliar territory (the quit). We face a series of challenges (withdrawal, craves, being around smoking friends, etc.) and finally emerge in our new state (ex-smoker).

Most interestingly, like Dorothy, most of us spend a lot of time and energy looking for someone or something outside of ourselves that can magically shorten our journey (or even take it for us). Dorothy hopes the Wizard can give her what she wants (to go home); we hope that a magic pill, a medical procedure, or someone or something outside of ourselves can give us what we want (to be free from our addiction).

The thing is, we got ourselves into this mess (our addiction) and we have to get ourselves out of it. Like Dorothy, we have to take the journey to realize that there’s nothing and nobody outside ourselves that can get us where we want to go. The wizard couldn’t do anything for Dorothy that she couldn’t (and in fact had to) do for herself, and there’s no magic pill for us.

The good news is that, like Dorothy, we already have everything we need to get us where we want to go. It’s inside us right now; we just don’t realize it yet.

I’m a little like the Wizard of Oz character in this story: presumably, you’re reading this because you believe (or at least hope) that I can get you where you want to go. And I can help; I can show you how I got there, and I can show you how you might get there, too.

But I can’t take your journey for you; you have to take the journey for yourself.

More on this as we go on.

(N.B.: Various versions of the gist of this post have been posted in other places and appeared in a book I wrote several years ago, so if it sounds familiar, maybe it’s because you read it in one of those other places.)

(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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