HOW I QUIT SMOKING
I do not remember the precise moment I started smoking. Maybe it was sometime in college, in the seventies, when egged on by my friends I had my first puff. Just for the heck of it.
But what I do remember is the precise moment when I decided to stop smoking – a defining moment of my life.
A friend of mine came to my home in Mumbai late at night from the airport, to spend the night and catch next morning’s early train to Pune. It was late, I was tired after a hard day at work, so I gave him a cup of coffee and hit the sack and crashed out.
Suddenly someone was waking me up from my deep slumber – it was my friend asking for cigarettes.
“There’s a pack on the writing table,” I told him.
“It’s empty,” he said.
“Okay. I’ll get one in the morning,” I said.
“I need a smoke now. I’ll go out and get some,” he said.
I looked at him through my sleepy eyes and said, “Go to sleep. It’s late – there won’t be any shops open now.”
“There must be someplace. Please,” he said desperately, “I haven’t had a smoke since I left Delhi. It’s been four hours. I’m dying to have a cigarette. Just one. I can’t sleep if I don’t get a smoke.”
Seeing his desperate craving, I had no option but to drive out with him in search of cigarettes at the unearthly hour.
Later, lying in bed, I thought about it. Poor chap. We had probably started smoking at the same time. If this could happen to him it could happen to me too if I didn’t wake up. He had become an addict. I didn’t want to become one. There was only one way. Stop smoking. Yes, I had to quit smoking. And I did it. I quit smoking. It’s been three years now, and I know I shall never smoke again. Let me tell you how I quit smoking. Maybe someone out there may benefit from my experience.
The first step towards quitting smoking is to learn how to enjoy smoking. Seems absurd - a paradox - isn’t it? But that’s what I did and I’ll tell you all about it. I realized that in order to fully learn how to enjoy smoking one must first know the art of smoking. I got my clue from a teaching story as I reflected upon it carrying it my mind for a long time until I fathomed the story’s inner depth and meaning.
A seeker asks the master, “Can I smoke while meditating?”
“No,” scolds the master angrily.
Another seeker then asks, “Can I meditate while smoking?”
“Yes,” says the master knowingly realizing that this seeker is on the path to enlightenment.
This is the key, the first step – if you really want to stop smoking. First learn to meditate while smoking. Here is how I did it.
One evening, I take one cigarette, just one, and walk down to Marine Drive and sit down on the parapet in the cool sea breeze watching the sun being swallowed up by the Arabian Sea, crimson-yellow petals being thrown high up in the distant sky gradually devoured by the enveloping twilight. Soon it is dark, quiet and tranquil and I feel calm and relaxed.
I take out the cigarette from my pocket and hold it in front of me, look at it lovingly and close my eyes. You must close your eyes – it accentuates your other senses, makes you more conscious of what’s going on inside you. I hold the cigarette near my nose and breathe in the rich aroma of the tobacco, gently moving the cigarette as I take deep breaths, savoring the sweet fragrance of the tobacco tinged with the fresh scent of the paper and filter, until my olfactory system is truly and fully satiated.
I then put the filter between my lips, taste it and suck in air deeply through the unlighted cigarette. It feels good. I then open my eyes, light the cigarette, close my eyes, get ready and take a deep drag, focusing on my breath as I inhale, allowing the smoke to permeate deep within me, infusing a sensation I cannot describe, and watching carefully with my inner eye as I exhale - slow, long and relaxing.
Is my system being energized or depleted – I do not know – but I continue my unhurried meditative smoking, eyes gently closed, my inner senses fully conscious, aware, observing attentively, till the cigarette is over. I open my eyes, come out of my trance and instinctively I gulp in a huge amount of the fresh sea breeze and rinse my lungs and system.
As I walk back I decide that this is how I shall smoke each and every cigarette from now on – meditative smoking – the only way I shall smoke.
Most of us “smokers” haven’t learnt how to enjoy a smoke. We keep puffing away every waking moment of their lives without even noticing it. You grab a quick smoke in a hurry, you smoke when you are bored, you smoke while talking, while working, while doing something - smoking and multitasking: You smoke unconsciously, cigarette after cigarette, without even realizing it. Is it worth it? Why smoke if you don’t enjoy it?
I decide. Whenever I feel like smoking I shall stop everything and prepare myself for a meditative smoke. Go to some quiet place where I can sit undisturbed, alone. Yes I must be alone. Meditative smoking is a solitary activity. And I shall only smoke – no multitasking. No more smoking with friends, with tea or coffee, no more smoking in the office feeling a guilt conscience that non-smokers don’t like it or at home with my wife nagging me, no more hurried puffs, no more mindless unconscious smoking. Only meditative, mindful, conscious smoking in glorious solitude, maintaining inner calm and tranquility, and total awareness.
I follow this religiously and soon I am smoking only one cigarette a day – every evening, at sunset, just as I described it. For me smoking is a special occasion requiring solitude and a congenial ambience and if I cannot create the right atmosphere, both internally and externally, I shall not smoke.
When you have mastered something it’s time to let go and move on to something new. One day I feel I have mastered the art of smoking, derived all the enjoyment possible and reached a state of contentment and satiety. It’s time to let go. At sunset I go to my favourite place on Marine Drive, enjoy my final meditative smoke and toss the cigarette butt into the sea.
It’s been more than three years now and I haven’t had a smoke nor have I ever felt the urge to smoke. I know I will never smoke again – I have quit smoking forever.
Quitting is easy. You must ensure you don’t start smoking again. You have to break the habit forever. For this it’s best to use a technique like Force Field Analysis which I have described in my article on How to Quit Drinking [link below]:
And if you are worried about withdrawal symptoms, read what happened on the day after I quit smoking:
Dear Smokers and Drinkers who want to quit. Why don’t you try these techniques and tell me if they worked for you.
And Dear Reader, please comment and send me your feedback.