I have a secret. I vape.
It’s even worse. At the beginning of this year, my meditation teacher, Thu, asked me to quit smoking. So I did. For about 8 or 9 days.
The beginning of this year was a glorious time where everything flowed and spirituality abounded. I connected strongly with everything meditative. I quit vaping, and concurrently, I quit animal and animal byproducts in my diet. I quit so many things to support my vow to follow the fifth mindfulness training to consume mindfully.
The quitting vaping was hard. It wasn’t just the withdrawal symptoms, it was that the nature of this habit as a psychological addiction to a drug to mask my feeling of not being loved. Every moment of every day I quit, I wanted to vape. I just happened to be choosing not to. Because I was choosing love.
I was choosing the idea that with the request that I quit smoking, my meditation teacher had finally accepted me as a student. I was choosing the dream of being a genuine meditator, a serious meditator, and with that, practicing integrity of meditation that would allow me to honorably become employed as a meditation teacher. (Only qi gong and walking meditation. I had no plans to teach sitting meditation, although I did plan to include that in my program.) Abstractly, I was choosing love.
Then one day when numerous things were stressing me out and making me feel unloved and challenging me… I don’t even know what all. All I know is that I had the final triggering thought, I’m not really my meditation teacher’s student. My meditation teacher doesn’t care about me. And the instant I had that thought was the instant I chose to quit quiting and go back to vaping immediately.
I continued to attend morning meditation with my medtiation teacher. And Thursday evening meditation with the sangha. At first I actively felt guilty. It was a conscious desire to hide and feel stupid and bad. It was all around a bad time. But I had quit quiting. I had gone back to vaping. I had lost my opportunity to be smoke free. I would never be able to recreate the fortuitous conditions that all came together when it literally felt like the entire cosmos aligned in my favor for everything and all these things made it seem like I could quit vaping.
Nothing remarkable happened today except that I ran out of Juul pods. I tried to smoke cigarettes, twice. Both times it was disgusting and not clean and satisfying like vaping. It was a horrible substitute. I went to the store to buy Juul pods and I walked in and realized, I don’t want Juul pods. I want food. I am hungry. So I bought food instead of Juul pods.
Maybe I thought about how I was being transferred into a different program where I would be given a one bedroom to have all to myself. I had the passing idea that I wanted this coveted and insanely lucky opportunity to have a place all to myself as also something to treat as sacred. I thought about how I had kept meaning to order Thich Nhat Hanh’s Making Space. About how i wanted my space to be positive and healthy and clean and theraputic. About how I wanted to call my space a home that was ethical and moral and principled and… beautiful the way meditation is beautiful. Serene. Restful. Calm. Healing. Peaceful. Free and liberated. True. Real. I thought about how I wished I could never use any unclean, mindless, consumptive, toxic, negative, bad, unhealthy, nervous substances in my new home. How I wanted the gift being given to me of my own home to be unbesmirched and pure. I wanted a fresh start in life with my new home. And I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to quit before I moved into my new place and I wanted to never smoke in my new place.
I kept thinking after the food over Juul pods excursion to the store that I could go back out and buy Juul pods, as I was dregding the remnants of already almost used up Juul pods. Why not just go get full Juul pods? Why suffer? I kept thinking about how much money Juul pods were and about how I was already over on my budget for the month. I thought about how I didn’t even have enough money for food, much less eating out. And maybe I would have to forgo gas for my car. I just kept thinking about how much money it cost to buy Juul pods and how it wasn’t in my budget. I thought about how I wanted to spend my money on meditation books. There are so many meditation books I want to read while owning. I just kept thinking how I did not want to waste my money on Juul pods. As I continued to go through my collection of remnant Juul pods. I realized I hadn’t bought any new Juul pods, but I deeply regretted not having quit for good when I started quiting in January under the auspices of my meditation teacher, Thu’s magical request.
And then it was evening and it was the time of the day to meditate with Sharon Salzberg. I set down my vape and lifted my legs off the floor to draw them to my chair’s seat in the crosslegged postion. I read the Day 5 intro and pressed play on the in-browser Soundcloud widget and folded my hands onto my lap. I closed my eyes and focused on my breath and listened for Sharon’s voice as reassuring guidance and friendly point to focus on.
Thoughts came. I missed some of what Sharon was saying. I thought about the check in I had had that evening with the counselor who used to work as a substance abuse counselor who, when I first quit in January, had taught me about triggers and identified my triggers. He had explained to me a theory of positive replacement and gave me a plan on what to focus on when I wanted to vape. He gave me print outs of Nicotine Users Anonymous phone meetings I could call into. More recently he had been helping me try to make better financial choices to teach me how to stay within my budget…
When I was going through conflict with the program, he and I did not agree. But he always listened to me. Even when he did not agree with me or was very upset with me and was saying terrible, hurtful things to me.
But also he was the first person I met and I decided I liked in the program, when I first arrived here. I remember sitting down and telling him I had so many thoughts, too many thoughts, and they kept going and going, and I didn’t know how to handle them. That they were overwhelming and exhausting. I remember he told me about his yoga practice that he did on weekends with his wife. And his advice was that I simply needed to learn to slow down my thoughts.
At my evening check in tonight, as I was reviewing my day and functional impairments and possible symptoms, confusing and scary to me because I have conflicting diagnoses, we discussed Christianity as spiritual practice versus religious practice. He impareted some Buddhist psychology. There was pride in his voice when he told me I never listened to anyone and I made my own decisions. When I complained that Iwas really sick, there was still pride and understanding, but no fear, maybe confidence in his voice when he replied that I had some issues that could be catgorized under the DSM. At the end, I told him he was going to miss me…
I have meditated enough that I sometimes just nonchalantly, with only the slightest feeling of remorse or wrongdoing wonder if sitting meditation time is just my time to sit and practice thinking in a different method, whether seated meditation is just another term for exploration of my consciousness, but with breathing.
At some point in the midst of this, Sharon seeped through and I had the thought, I set my vape down on the table in front of me. What if I simply never pick it back up? I can just stop now.
When Sharon prompted me to open my eyes, I did, and scrolled down examining the rest of the Day 5 email. This time, though, when read the recording transcript, I took notes.
Meditation as Life Lesson.
A coincidental encounter further prompting me to quit vaping:
You can try again:
“Simply let go and begin again.”
“Bring our attention to that area and just rest.”
“Let go and begin again.”
“It is actually with kindness towards ourselves rather than condemning ourselves that we make the most progress.”
“Our goal is to let it go gently.”
“And, with growing kindness toward ourselves, be able to begin again.”
“See if you can bring some awareness of kindness toward yourself into your day.”
“See [where,] which times of day you find it easiest and when you find it most challenging to bring kindness toward yourself.”
You can always begin again. It is amazing to realize that what we practice when we practice meditation, is the practice of living.
You know… I had no plans to quit smoking again today.