One of my longstanding pet peeves is smoking and the impact it has had on me and people close to me, as well as the planet in general. I can cite all kinds of reasons why it is problematic, from the exorbitant cost to the wallet, to the devastating toll on health and life. Bottom line is, there isn’t a whole lot this outspoken advocate for smoke-freedom can do to make anyone quit or refrain from starting in the first place. People will do what they do, whether I like it or not. Once in awhile, I feel a need to vent about it on my Facebook page to spread the word and to diffuse my frustration and seek ideas for remedying the sometimes churning feeling I get when I think about it.
I did so a few days ago and it prompted a series of responses that had me questioning whether I was falling into the holier than thou category in terms of my preachiness. What became clear was that I needed to do something about my own reactions, since I was clearly disturbing my own peace.
One of the suggestions was from my friend Annabella Wood who is a highly skilled practitioner trained in The Work of Byron Katie. This is a modality that addresses the troubling thoughts that swirl through our minds on a regular basis. In my case, they are a combination of whirling dervish meets Taz. We set up a phone session in which I was determined to free myself of the near obsession over a piece of paper wrapped around some leaves, doused with chemicals and set on fire. I thought I would use The Work to douse the inner flames.
Wisely, I lay on the sofa in my living room-not unlike Freud’s office couch, to be most receptive to the familiar process. The Work involves a series of four questions:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
This is followed up by what is called The Turnaround which takes a prevailing thought and trying it on for size, reframing different ways of looking at it. Sometimes they seem silly to contemplate.
One cautionary note: The Work in no way invalidates trauma, nor does it encourage anyone to remain in an unsafe situation. Neither does it say that abuse is acceptable. It questions our attachment to beliefs and story that may keep us stuck.
So began the process as I expressed distress over seeing a man smoking on the smoke free campus of the hospital where I had been treated for a cardiac condition that had led to a heart attack a year ago. There are signs posted all over the grounds, that it is prohibited. He then tossed it on the sidewalk. There were two women with him, neither of whom were smoking. I calmly spoke to him and reminded him of the fact that the grounds were smoke free, to which he equally calmly responded that he wasn’t aware. I hadn’t said anything about the littering issue. I had also gone to the wellness center owned by the hospital with the same policy and saw a woman sitting in the van of the catering service there, also smoking. I said nothing to her, but instead shook my head and fumed inside. Interesting term to use, huh?
Annabella led me through the inquiry process during which I was able to express that I was in no immediate danger from the man’s smoking, that his choice to smoke, as well as the women’s choice to be in his presence was indeed their own. It also came to me that I was judging him and other smokers as not caring about anyone else nor the planet by polluting it with their smoke and residual litter. One of my hot button issues is the expectation that some able bodied adults have that others clean up their messes. I also have a major charge over parents/caregivers smoking around children. They don’t have that same choice as the women I mentioned previously.
During the session, I came to accept that all of my ranting and raving from a place of judgment won’t make me a positive force for change. Coming from a place of surrender and compassion may instead have a greater impact. In conversation, an image of a cartoon character with steam coming out of her ears danced across the movie screen of my mind and I laughed, because that is really what it feels like at times. I can justify all kinds of reasons why I feel as I do and even smokers may agree with me. I get to decide if I want to be happy and peaceful, or right. I don’t want to carry all of those symbolic cigarette butts.
As we came to a close, Annabella reminded me that this is a work in progress and I may need to do some tune-ups moment by moment, each time the thoughts arise. Not a one and done kind of thing here. I was indeed tested mightily shortly afterward, as I went out to run some errands and the first two people I see are smoking, and then a third and then a father standing next to his young son who looked like his ‘mini me’ in a stroller. The dad had a cigarette dangling within breathing and grabbing distance. Oh how I wanted to say something! Instead, I beamed love and wished them happiness. AND- a subliminal message that he put the cigarette down and that his son never pick it up.