Thursday, February 25, 2010

Buddhism at Work...

Now I don't consider myself a serious Buddhist anymore (don't worry, Walter family), but that doesn't mean that I can't learn a lot from the Buddha and the simple truths he outlines in the Noble Eightfold Path. Let me share with you a bit of my life. This is going to include me sharing some stuff about myself which my family doesn't know, so if you're one of my family members you can either:
1) Stop reading now. Wouldn't want to tarnish your perfect idea of who I am!
2) Read this ALL THE WAY THROUGH before you start to make judgments about my character based off of it. Thanks!

So anyway, about a month or so after moving to Greece, I started smoking. In my defense, hanging out with Greeks regularly and not smoking is a bit like hanging out with your average American and not eating fast food. Possible? Yes. Likely? Not very. When I came back, I quit. I was smoke free all through the summer, but when I came back to Springfield I started smoking again. At first it was just pipes on the front porch every now and then. Then it was my pipe on my front porch every night. Before long, it was back to cigarettes regularly. I was smoking regularly (that is to say 3-5 cigarettes a day) from about September until last month with the exception of a few weeks here and there where I tried to quit unsuccessfully.

Quitting smoking is tough, people. I only smoked 3-5 cigarettes a day and it was HARD. I can only imagine those 3-5 packs a day people and how insanely difficult it must be for them. I STILL want to smoke every day and it's been somewhere around six weeks since I smoked. At this point, it's not about feeling normal again but about learning that this state of constant craving - sometimes more and sometimes less, though it's increasingly less and less - is my new state of normalcy and I've got to learn to deal with that.

So even though I'd tried to quit several times after starting up again, I never could. What was different this time then? Buddhist psychology. Plain and simple. Let me explain.

The idea behind a lot of Buddhist psychology is that we are what we think. When we are constantly thinking about something, some object, some person, some emotion, it begins to consume us. We become our emotions or cravings that we revolve around. Science backs this up. When we think about things or encounter situations regularly, we begin to form neural pathways that in many ways dictate the way we'll react. They create what our mind considers "normal." So, for example, if every day you react to situations with anger, your brain will form neural pathways which make anger your default setting. You get addicted to certain chemicals and certain pathways that those chemicals follow. Naturally, when you try to break habits then, you'll experience some forms of withdrawal. It's just the way we work.

This is a simple truth, neither good nor bad, but it can be used in a myriad of ways. I chose to apply these ideas to my everyday life when I put my foot down to quit smoking finally. Every day I wake up and take a shower first thing. It's a fairly mindless activity, but I turned it into the doorway for change. You see, when I hopped in the shower every day, I would start giving myself positive talks. I'd be lathering the shampoo into my hair saying, "Today is going to be a good day. You can totally do this, and you can totally have a great time doing it." I began every day building myself up. I did this not only to enforce my decision to stop smoking and give myself strength to get through another non-smoking day, but also to try and relieve some of the natural depression that stemmed from nicotine withdrawals. You know what? It worked like a charm.

It's a beautiful thing! And now that I'm calling myself a non-smoker again (it's been long enough that I think that's warranted), I'm using my morning shower time to reach different ends. Lately, I've been working on my self-esteem. I'll be rinsing out my conditioner thinking, "Dammit, man, you're cool. People like you, and why shouldn't they?" Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to be some type of egoist or turn myself into a monster. I just think that I deserve to have a feeling of self-worth, and I'm going to give it to myself. I find myself walking around campus happier, smiling and whistling more, looking people in the eyes and smiling, and holding my head a bit higher.

The point is this: Buddhism has some really simple yet profound truths that are directly applicable to our lives. Even just small daily meditations can change your life. You are what you think, and it's pretty much unavoidable.

Sometime I'd like to spend a bit more time talking about some of the more profound notions of this line of thinking. I know this thinking works for emotional pathways, but what about propositions? Can I convince myself of anything but meditating on it long enough? John Wesley, for example, used to say, "Preach it until you believe it." In this light, that thought has some serious implications. That's all for another day, however. I hope this post hasn't messed with too many ideas of who I am!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello everybody! I do not know where to start but hope this place will be useful for me.
In first steps it is really nice if someone supports you, so hope to meet friendly and helpful people here. Let me know if I can help you.
Thanks in advance and good luck! :)