Smoke
Not long ago I went to see the doctor. Allergy prescription renewals and general physical. And as usual, he talked to me about quitting smoking.

I’ve been smoking for a long time but not a lot. I’ve never had more than five or six cigarettes a day or maybe a half pack max back in the days when you could smoke in bars. Cigarettes and alcohol just seem to go together, as anyone who smokes knows. A few years ago I got myself to switch to the lightest ones that my fav brand has. It used to be that I sucked harder on the light ones trying to get the hit that the stronger ones have to the point that my throat was irritated by the hard sucking, but now the lightest are my normal ones. And recently I had my daily quota down to just three a day.

So if I smoke so little, why can’t I quit?

It’s not a strong physical addiction anymore. Cutting down the quantity and the strength has helped to manage that.

Habit still plays a big part. That morning cigarette while commuting to work, the lunch time escape, the one at the end of the work day on the commute home. In order to get down to three I have to give up at least one of these because I also expect to have one or maybe two in the evening as well, though I feel a little empty when I miss one.

But for me, beneath it all, is a psychological desire for the screen. When I have a cigarette I get a little filter between myself and the rest of the world. When I go outside during lunch I get out of the building and away from the office. When I go outside in the evening or on weekends I get the same separation. Even when I smoke while driving I get a separation from the world around me. And internally, once I’ve had a cigarette, I carry a small buzz that I recognize, something that removes me ever so slightly from my situation. In busy or stressful situations it protects me. In boring situations it separates me. In all manner of situations it creates a thin bubble (I’ve been playing Angry Birds Space lately; I’m reminded of the pigs floating in their bubbles), a further definition of the dualism of me and not-me.

Non-dualistic thinking is at the crux of Buddhist philosophy, but in spite of considering myself a Buddhist, one of my greatest fears of death is the loss of me. I have a fear that after death my consciousness will be returned to a great lake of consciousness and then dissipate and disperse to the point that there is no longer an identifiable collection of elements that is “me”. At the other end of the lake a scoop is dipping into the pool and spooning out consciousness and pouring it into new vessels (babies) but the collection that was “me” ceases to be something that can be defined.

I suspect that my inability to quit smoking has a connection to this fear of death, this fear of losing “me”.

The perverse reader might suggest that by smoking I’m hastening my move toward that which I fear, but I don’t know that I care much about that one way or the other. In theory I can buy the health benefits and financial savings associated with not smoking but the strongest battle is going on at the level of a natural me versus an externally enhanced or reinforced me. Were I strong enough to not have use for extra reinforcements, then I would have no use for smoking. Were I accepting enough of a non-dualistic vision of the world, then I would have no use for smoking. I would like to be strong enough, I would like to be accepting enough, but I’m not there yet.

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