How Long To The Next Cigarette?

Five more minutes, yo.

We need to choose a time period that feels reasonable to us and we will profit greatly from experimentation. We don’t want to end up torturing the monkey into quitting smoking, we might as well opt for the cold turkey method if we wanted torture. We want to tame the monkey and no amount of pushing, controlling, threatening, bargaining or punishing will accomplish that. We can, if we wanted to, break the monkey with punishment and negative reinforcements and it will do our bidding. We just need to cause ourselves intense pain every time we smoke a cigarette. The monkey will be traumatized and we will suffer mental pain and physical pain and will not smoke another cigarette again. The problem of smoking is gone, now we need to deal with the new problem of added pain and need to escape. We didn’t deal with the underlying emotional pain and instead we added more pain and now the monkey is lifeless. When we break the monkey, we find that we don’t smoke again and at the same time we find that we cannot fully enjoy anything. The broken monkey is lifeless and subdued, it seeks no pleasure and avoids no pain. A broken monkey can’t enjoy life and doesn’t play anymore. The monkey has learned helplessness, nothing it does matters or makes a difference. A tame monkey on the other hand is under control and full of life, willing to play and have fun when the time and circumstances are right, it enjoys being taken care of by the human because there is trust and understanding. A tame monkey is preferable to a broken monkey.

One hour can pass quickly or slowly depending on our state of mind. One hour spent waiting for the bus in the cold rain is different from one hour spent on a sunny beach. Both hours consist of 60 minutes. A two hour flight where smoking is not allowed is an eternity compared with two hours in an outdoor café watching the sunset with a brand new 20-pack and a glass of wine on the table seated next to our most loved one. We obviously can’t make time pass faster or slower, all we can do is practice patience. With patience comes the ability to allow time to pass without struggle. We sit patiently with a book and music and try to get into a calm state of mind while we are flying. We focus on the pleasure of watching the sunset and not the urge to smoke.

Some mornings waiting  for the smoke will be a walk in the park and other mornings will feel just like an eternity in hell. This depends on our state of mind in the morning. We don’t wake up every day with the exact same state of mind. Some mornings will be easy and others will be hard. This works great for us because we get to practice non-smoking during easy times and during hard times. We practicing our non-smoking muscles when we are full of energy and we practice them when we are low on energy. We are preparing for the challenges of real life. Not every day will be sunny and warm, so we need to be prepared for all kinds of weather. We start with low time limits because it will be easy on easy days and at the same time not so hard on difficult days.

There is no failure here because what we are doing is not preparing for a final test and we are not competing with anyone. We are merely moving along the smoker-scale from death of lung cancer towards non-smoking. There is no magical amount of time we can abstain from cigarettes and say that “We did it, we are free from smoking”. Freedom from smoking is not like unlocking a prison cell, freedom from smoking is realizing the door was not locked and that we were free to leave anytime we wanted. It is the habit that kept us coming back. When we step out of the prison cell, we experience life at the very edge of now, one moment at a time. When we break away from the routine and act outside of habit, we become conscious of life itself. This experience can be overwhelming for the monkey and it might cause feelings of panic. The monkey finds comfort in the familiar, no matter how unhealthy the familiar is, it is familiar and therefor comfortable. This can be seen in the bad posture so many of us practice. We know it is bad for us and despite the fact we continue to practice bad posture because it is familiar, therefor it is comfortable. It takes conscious effort to attain proper posture and when we start practicing it, it will feel uncomfortable to stand straight, unfamiliar. The monkey is used to shying away from life, it is accustomed to the prison cell of the smoking habit and prefers to stay inside rather than risk change. The monkey associates change with the possibility of exposure to new unknown levels of pain, life. Living means risking death, the monkey is afraid. The monkey is irrational indeed.

If one hour feels like an eternity for the monkey and it starts to panic, we can opt for 30 minutes instead, and when that is too long we can go with ten minutes or even five minutes. The monkey needs to taste the fresh sensation of freedom in small doses while keeping the familiar safety of the smoking prison cell close at hand. Five minutes may not sound like much for the student monk until he is asked to clear his mind and meditate for five minutes. We don’t want to shock the monkey into quitting smoking by abstaining for a painful amount of time, we want to ease the monkey into the habit of non-smoking with opting for manageable time limits. The monkey needs to stay close to its cage before it can feel safe enough to venture outside. We need to allow the monkey time to adapt to change, we need patience. Patience is the human giving the monkey enough time to adapt to change without pressure. The number of minutes or hours we abstain is comparable to the number of kilos we can lift at the gym. We start with weights that are light to build strength and confidence then move to heavier weights. If we start with heavy weights, we risk injury and the monkey will dislike the experience and start finding ways to avoid it. By starting with light weight not only are we building strength, we are building confidence as well. Every day we are practicing abstaining from cigarettes and at the same time the monkey is learning to tolerate painful emotions and we are becoming stronger, more confident and more patient.

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