Every morning I wake up and it feels like I must’ve smoked a cigarette the night before. It’s felt like this ever since I stopped smoking, which was about a week ago. This is not a newsworthy event. I have started and stopped smoking several times now. I would smoke occasionally here and there with friends when I started, and I eventually became a “full blown” smoker who would smoke in the mornings and at nights, after every meals, in spaces in between. When I started work, I would take several smoke breaks a day, if I remember correctly. After a while, I’d only smoke before and after work, particularly because none of my colleagues smoked, and also because I think I wanted to cut down in general. Eventually I went cold turkey after reading about Jason Mraz and Allan Carr, and I quit for maybe 6-9 months. And then I started again. And then I stopped again. And then I started again. And then I stopped again, and here we are.
I don’t have the blind, naive conviction anymore to say that this time is forever and I’m never going to smoke again. I probably will. I’ll probably bum a cigarette or two from a friend when we drink. I’ll probably end up buying a pack maybe several months or maybe a year or several years from now. For the moment, I feel the need to really clean out my body. For my eyes and nose and lips and mouth and throat and lungs to heal and recover. A part of me likes to think that I’m making progress, and certainly it seems that it gets slightly easier each time. I remember the first time I quit I didn’t know how long I would be able to go, I didn’t know what it was going to be like, etc. Now I know that where I am right now is somewhere I’ve been before. It’s familiar territory. I know better how to deal with cravings, so I have more of a choice about whether or not I want to give in.
The thing is, I don’t want to be a person who is determined or defined by his relationship with cigarettes. Do I? No, I don’t think so. I’d like to have a range of different lenses and I’d like some better ones. I suppose if I had a kid, instantly I would be defining myself by my relationship with my child. Some people say you shouldn’t define yourself at all. I think that’s something to be experimented with, but I’m not so sure if it’s a sustainable way of life, at least while you’re still trying to make ends meet within the modern capitalist world. It might work in some sort of commune setting, maybe. Do those places exist? Maybe on a farm? But even then you’re a provider, you’re connected to some sort of economy, you have some sort of role and you play it. You can use meditation and reflection to give yourself perspective, to remind yourself that the broader context means that you’re just a speck in infinite space and there’s no reason to be neurotically constricted about anything.
What does it mean to shed your past self? How do you discard who you were to become who you want to become? Some stimuli I have sought in search of triggers that might lead to answers– Sadhguru, Horace&Pete, Elliot Hulse. I think of all of that I like Hulse’s perspective the most– a reminder that the obstacle is the way, that the rough times and depressive moods and all the bad stuff is fuel for the fire. It’s about digging deeper within to plant a stronger foundation. Hulse made the point that a lot of the strongest and greatest people also suffered the worst hardships, and overcompensated for those things.
I suppose it just keeps feeling like I’m waiting on the good times now, like I feel like I should be done with the bad shit. So I’ve stopped smoking again and I”ve started sleeping better again and the world definitely gets brighter and softer when you do that. It’s comforting to smell things, and to feel things on your skin.
I know that progress means discarding past selves. Past ideas. And I feel like I’ve gotten tired of holding on to things that– I can’t even really remember or recognise what I’m holding on to. And I don’t even really care anymore. A couple of years ago it would have mattered a lot to me that I not lose sight of the shore, that I keep with me a sense of where I came from. But I’m starting to realise that it’ll never leave me. I can actively try to forget everything and I won’t (try not to think of a pink elephant). I might lose it in the moment, but the good stuff, the important stuff, it always comes back with the right context or trigger. So I don’t have to worry about that stuff. I can let go of that. I can free up my mind to pay attention to the present, to my current circumstances, to do good things for me in the now, and to focus on becoming who I want to become.
And those things are fairly clear. I want to be stronger, more effective, more efficient, more useful and reliable to the people that I care about, more powerful, have more autonomy, feel more comfortable in my own skin, breathe deep, lift heavy.
I’m wary of thinking that some new idea or perspective is going to change everything. I don’t think it ever will, I don’t think it works that way. I’ve tried many on before, and they give maybe some brief excitement, but the real idea is no idea, the real perspective is no perspective. I just have to do the work. I just have to get rid of whatever is in the way of me doing my work. I have to face that head on. And I think that means just getting rid of everything non-essential. If it matters, it’ll turn up again. I have to trust that.