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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On Giving Up Smoking And Taking Up Tai Chi

Once I bumped into a man I had not seen in some time. He was mostly an idiot and I very rarely took note of anything he said. However, on this one morning when I bumped into him I asked him 'how are you?' and he responded in a most unusual manner. He said 'I am really good, very happy. You know, I gave up smoking a couple of months ago and since then I think, if I can give up that, I can overcome any obstacle'. He then held a genuine smile.  I haven't seen much of him since, but that comment of his sat with me like a nasty boil, festering with me every time I smoked a cigarette. 'If that ninny can give up cigarettes, and I do meditation and I walk, I stretch, I eat well from time to time.... How the hell is it that I can't kick the habit?' I was tired of going back and forth to the window sill and opening the window, ceremoniously coupled with the washing of the ashtray and settling down to a cigarette. I breath in, I breath out. I look out of the window to see what is happening in the street, out on the bay. I close the window. I perform the next task and I think that at the end I will reward myself with another visit to the window sill. Then I clean the ashtray, I wash my hands, I brush my teeth and I try to bury it and make myself clean and respectable again. 'Where were you?' she asks as you hop into bed and shamefully you try to stumble over the words 'I was just smoking a cigarette'.

For years I prayed that I would be able to overcome this ritual and kick the habit. I would ask my meditation instructor 'L_., is it possible one day that I might be enlightened enough that I will be able to kick the habit of smoking?' . She would often respond with a caring but slightly condescending smile that 'one day, and there will come a day, you will be forced to make a decision because the two cannot coexist harmoniously, because the meditation is taking out stress from the body and the smoking is putting it right back in. Eventually you will ask yourself why you are sullying the washing you just took out'. She was right, but there were many many more nights of fighting the ridiculous battle. I told myself that smoking was good for my asthma, I said that I had less wheezing when I smoked. I married smoking with coffee, like everyone else, and I told myself that it improved my writing (I used scientific evidence relayed to me by a psychotherapist second hand, that nicotine and caffeine stimulated the parts of the brain that were used when communicating, to bolster my beliefs).

Finally the day came a month ago when I just stopped smoking. It was in a specialist's room in Randwick when the good doctor told me that chemicals ingested when smoking cigarettes were known to trigger arthritis attacks and could be a cause for the gout attacks I suffered from time to time. That night I cut up the remaining packet of cigarettes I had and I have not looked back. I don't know how it happened so suddenly. I have wanted to smell ashtrays, I have yearned to suck deeply on a cigarette until the smoke hits the bottom of my diaphragm and I can hardly breath, but the sensation passes. 

Concurrently as I gave up smoking a talisman arrived in the mail. I don't know if manuals can be talismans but I have always loved the word, so I have chosen to use it here. A talisman arrived in the form of a Tai Chi manual from an aunt in Canberra who was on the cusp of a renaissance herself at the age of seventy four. It was the most remarkable book that had come from the Tai Chi Academy. I am only half way through it but already I am certain I am going to take up Tai Chi. Tai Chi aka 'The Grand Ultimate' is the art of cultivating internal energy, the energy referred to as 'qi' and the art referred to as 'qigong'. The book itself is a fascinating read, it is well written and easy to read. A little taster is as follows:

"Looking for a deeper meaning to life, Chang went searching for a wise teacher. He studied both the Shaolin and Wudang martial and health systems. 

One day, while observing a battle between a crane and a snake, he came to see the interplay of the ying and the yang. It is said that this event inspired Chang to develop a health and martial system, based on the principles of softness overcoming hardness and on his understandings of Taoist and Buddhist meditation, philosophy, martial and health arts. Tai Chi Chuan or Grand Ultimate Fist was thus born, and has been passed down through the ages from master to disciple through to our present time." 

If that does not get you interested then perhaps Chapter 18's 'A Study Of Equanimity' will. In this chapter they quote the Buddhist scholar Shantideva who writes:

"Unruly beings are as space
They cannot possibly all be overcome.
But if I overcome thoughts of anger alone
This will be equivalent to vanquishing all foes.
Where would I possibly find enough leather to cover the surface of the earth?
But leather just on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it."

In short, I am here to tell you that that little book I received was the leather for my shoes as I tread the path of non-smoking and free myself of vice - be it cigarettes, alcohol, anger or greed. I am going to rekindle myself with the principles of the ying and the yang. And in the meantime, I would recommend you get yourself some of your own visual relaxation by watching some Tai Chi for yourselves.

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