Friday, May 18, 2007

It's easy to quit smoking...

It's easy to quit smoking...

Mario Tosto

"It's easy to quit smoking. I've done it hundreds of times!" So goes a quote often attributed to Mark Twain. Anyone who has been addicted to nicotine can relate.

Take me, for example. I started smoking in my teens, like a lot of kids my age. It’s not considered as cool today, but then there were plenty of influences saying, “Smoking is cool.” There were splashy cigarette ads on television, magazine and billboard ads, not to mention ashtrays everywhere. And almost everyone in the movies, and some on TV, smoked.

While today's attitudes about smoking are decidedly different, many people are still struggling with addiction to nicotine. If my own experience is any measure, there will come a time when most of them will desperately want to quit. I remember one time when I was laid up with a very heavy cold—flat out on my bed coughing and wheezing in pain. To my own surprise, I rolled over to the nightstand and lit up a cigarette. Spluttering uncontrollably I suddenly saw my addiction as the humiliating thing it was. Even so, I couldn’t quit.

A few years later I was introduced to Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. As I read and thought about the ideas in that book, for the first time I started to think about my identity from a spiritual perspective. There are many instances where the author writes about man being as perfect as God. For instance, “The spiritual man's consciousness and individuality are reflections of God.”

For me, this meant my identity was insured by an unbreakable law of divine Cause and effect. With a perfect (un-addicted) God as the Cause of my existence and the shaper of my identity, I was fundamentally free of addiction to anything harmful. What appeared as addiction was simply a misstatement about my true identity.

I thought of it like graffiti scribbled over the surface of something good and beautiful. Underneath the superimposed ugliness is the natural state. Thinking further on this I understood that my previous unsuccessful attempts to quit stemmed from a belief that my identity included being a smoker. But if you believe you’re a smoker who is trying not to smoke, you set up an awful inner tension between what you believe yourself to be and what you are attempting to be.

In the past, I had found that with sufficient will power I could live with this tension and not smoke. Once this went as long as eleven months. But the problem with will power in the face of this tension is that it was a lot easier to maintain as long as my sense of self, or ego, wasn’t challenged. But where can you go in this world where your ego won’t be challenged? So, soon I'd be smoking again—because really, I was still thinking of myself as a smoker.

But reading Science and Health was beginning to convince me that the label of “smoker” just wasn't part of the real me, the me God had made in His own image and likeness. Knowing this encouraged me to take a stand for my true identity, and to take an antagonistic stand against the smoking. So I stopped. But more importantly, I stopped thinking of myself as a smoker. Within two or three weeks even the urge to smoke was gone.

I was feeling pretty good about not smoking for several months when one night a misunderstanding with my then girlfriend shook me up emotionally. It started late in the evening and proceeded to get worse by the hour. Finally I broke down, strode to the nearby convenience store and bought a pack of cigarettes. I had smoked about ten of them by the time the misunderstanding got cleared up. The misunderstanding in the end turned out to be a stupid mistake on my part.

I went to bed and a few (a very few) hours later got ready for work. As I was going out the door I spotted the half empty cigarette pack lying on the kitchen counter. I recalled the times when smoking just one cigarette had been enough for me to begin the habit again after I’d managed to quit simply through sheer will power. But this time was different. I remembered that I was not a smoker and didn't really want to smoke. So I flipped the pack into the trash and went on with my day.

Only one more time did I ever light up again—out of curiosity. It took me all of ten seconds to realize what a ridiculously foreign activity this was to me. And I've been free from that desire for many years now.

I'm convinced anyone can break this stubborn habit by reflecting on and cherishing their true identity as the spiritual offspring of God. The power of that spiritual fact is an effective solvent, lifting away the graffiti of superimposed labels, and letting our innate purity and freedom shine forth.


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