Natural Mind Magic

An Alternative Way to Stop Smoking
(for Rebels, Yogis and Free Spirits)

Tibetan Buddhist teacher and NLP Trainer Caitlin Collins explains how to
appreciate your inner spark and resolve the conflicts underlying the urge to smoke

A few years ago I went to a meditation class at a Buddhist centre, and was surprised when everyone vanished during the tea break. Slightly timidly, I went to look for them (had I caused mass offence? Was my chanting so off-key, my OM so out of tune?). I found them outside on the fire escape, encased in clouds of smoke, furtively puffing cigarettes like teenagers round the back of the bike-sheds.

Have you ever wondered about the phenomenon of the large number of health-aware, spiritually switched-on people who smoke? Meditators do it; yoga practitioners do it; health professionals do it; psychotherapists do it; and – supreme irony here – even addiction-counsellors do it. (This isn't just hearsay – I've seen 'em at it, thanks to an ex- boyfriend with a druggy past who insisted on my accompanying him to his nicotine- and caffeine-fuelled 'substance abuse' meetings.)

Over the past 20 years, first as an acupuncturist and later as a personal development coach, I've had the privilege of helping many people to stop smoking. I've become fascinated by the way the impulse to smoke bobs up again and again, despite strenuous efforts to crush it, and in an apparently insanely self-destructive manner (hospital entrances full of coughing patients trailing drip stands, shivering in their pyjamas and fluffy slippers, puffing grimly ...). I'm convinced that neither of the two most usual methods is the way to go: willpower rarely lasts, and physical addiction is not the major issue the nicotine-replacement promoters would have us believe it to be.

Many smokers have mixed feelings about giving up: they want to lose the disadvantages of smoking – ill health, expense, smell, inconvenience, pariah status – but don't want to lose the benefits. And they are absolutely right to be concerned about this, because there are indeed benefits to smoking; no one would do it if there weren't. Coercive approaches, that insult smokers and deny these benefits, are ineffective because as well as being unkind and discourteous they are also dishonest.

So how can we find a way to lose the disadvantages of smoking, but keep the benefits?

We can start by being attentive to what's going on in the mind when the desire to smoke arises. A little introspection shows the mind to be a complicated process, changing all the time and made up of many parts; it's very far from being a single stable entity. Sometimes there can be a conflict between two or more parts of it, as reflected in everyday speech when somebody says: 'Part of me wants to do this, but another part wants to do that, so I don't know what to do!' It seems reasonable to think that different parts of oneself would have one's wellbeing at heart; however it's only too obvious that they can have different ideas of how to go about achieving it.

This raises an interesting idea: maybe there are positive intentions underlying even the drives that manifest in those destructive behaviours that we find ourselves doing even though we don't want to. If so, then some kind of constructive conflict resolution might help. Instead of lurching from the extreme of indulgence to the extreme of repression or denial, often accompanied by guilt and recriminations, with the 'goodie' part beating up the 'baddie' part and the 'baddie' part feeling resentful and rebellious, why not look for a third or middle way that avoids these extremes? With a little self-awareness and an attitude of kindness and enquiry, perhaps we can discover the positive intentions and also find better ways to fulfil them.

Attentiveness to the workings of the mind also enables us to notice a basic fact of human life: it is characterised by craving – the persistent itch of wanting something else, something other, to change the way we feel, to find fulfilment, to fill a void, soothe a disappointment, pacify anxiety, or create excitement or distraction. The craving for a cigarette is just one of countless manifestations of that underlying existential itch. In a way, it's a perfectly normal neurosis! But the fact that it's a normal neurosis doesn't mean that we can't do something about it. And it's here that we need to apply our attentiveness, along with intelligence, creativity, and a willingness to experiment with new ways of being and behaving.

Actually that's all you need. It's very simple! I offer my clients some ideas and techniques that I know to be effective, because if you're venturing into new territory it helps to take a map and maybe listen to the locals, but in the end it boils down to taking responsibility for oneself by applying one's own attentiveness, intelligence, creativity, and willingness to experiment. The ideas and techniques I recommend come from Buddhism, especially the meditation instructions that enable you to develop your capacity for attentiveness to your own mental and emotional processes, and NLP, neuro-linguistic programming, which is a system of practical psychology that promotes creativity and resourcefulness. The key is to learn to how to resolve issues, not suppress them; by doing so, not only do you stop smoking, you actually enjoy the process as you find better ways to fulfil the underlying needs.

Let's look at an example based on a real-life case-history, a client of mine from several years ago.

Chloe wanted to stop smoking; or at least a part of her did – another part was very resistant to the idea. In her mid-thirties, with three young children, she knew she shouldn't be smoking. It was so inconvenient, having to go outside in order to escape the family every time she wanted to smoke: her husband hated the smell of it on her skin, hair, clothes and breath, and had been nagging at her for ages to stop; and of course she wasn't going to smoke around the children. And to make matters worse her eldest daughter was receiving anti-smoking propaganda at school and coming home and laying on the guilt along the lines of, 'Please, mummy, I don't want you to die.' This emotional blackmail had actually backfired, as it raised Chloe's stress levels so she needed to smoke even more to calm herself down; and she'd resorted to lying to her daughter, pretending that she had stopped smoking – so now she was hating herself for her hypocrisy.

With all this incentive, why couldn't she stop? More accurately, why couldn't she stay stopped? She had in fact been able to manage without cigarettes for periods as long as three months; but then had experienced an increasingly uncomfortable feeling that she identified as a craving for a cigarette, and had eventually yielded to it, usually after a few glasses of wine. The fact that she could go for such long periods without cigarettes indicated that physical addiction to nicotine was not the major issue; there was something else going on. She needed to get in touch with the part of her that was driving the smoking.

I asked Chloe to imagine that she could bring out the two parts of her mind that were in conflict over the smoking, and imagine them actually sitting in front of her, one on each of her palms. What would they look like, if she could see them? It seemed that the stop-smoking one looked like a rather glum little goody-twoshoes, standing demurely with its hands clasped; while the smoking one looked like a sparky little goddess, stark naked and dancing wildly. It was easy to see that the sparky goddess was unlikely to take kindly to being told what to do by the goody twoshoes, and that while it might be possible to shut it in a box temporarily, it wouldn't stay there for long!

So I asked Chloe to ask the goddess part to talk about its positive intention for her, what it really wanted for her. It transpired that it was battling to save Chloe's youth, creativity, and ultimately her freedom for self-expression – all of which she felt were being threatened as she strove to fulfil her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Smoking had been an act of rebellion in her teens, and it continued to be symbolic of rebellion against sinking into mumsiness.

Equipped with this insight, Chloe acknowledged her fears that she was feeling stifled in her life, and she made a commitment to find constructive ways to honour the sparky part of her that was fighting to save her from submersion. Over the course of several weeks, during which we talked from time to time, Chloe experimented with finding ways to honour her spark, while continuing to be mindful of her own mental and emotional processes. And, when she was ready, she stopped smoking: she told me that it had simply become unnecessary. And, as far as I know, she continues to be a non-smoker.

Since then I've developed the methods I offer into a self-help programme that anyone can follow, using a comprehensive workbook backed up by telephone support. No two people are the same, so it's designed to allow for individuals to do things differently! I call it the natural mind magic method: with no coercion, no drugs, no artificial anything, it's a way for people to learn how to bring out the best in themselves.

And, regarding that curious anomaly of the meditators, therapists, yoga teachers and other switched-on folk who smoke, this programme can enable such people to find a link that has somehow been missing, to bridge the past disconnection or incongruence between ideals and actuality, practice and real-life. It can help them to love and honour a part of themselves which may have been consigned to the shadow, where it has been fighting for survival, rather ironically, by impelling them to smoke!

Copyright Caitlin Collins, August 2006.