Skimming through YouTube clips this morning, looking for a yoga video, I found myself picking a practice titled “Transition and Change.” As most of you know, my life has been full of transition and change for the past year or so, and even more so recently. Today marks two weeks since I quit smoking, a change I was ready for but which has still been difficult. I have been going to acupuncture twice a week, which has not only helped with my cigarette cravings, but also with many other aspects of my well-being. I am surprised and happy to realize that I’ve felt so much more relaxed, even in times of chaos, with the help of acupuncture.
As I followed the instructions of the teacher in the video this morning, I was struck by something that she said. As she led me through an advanced transition, she encouraged me to engage in “effortless effort.” This notion is very Taoist, almost like an oxymoron, and could have elicited an eye-roll. But in the moment, transitioning from one tricky pose to another on my mat, I absorbed what the instructor said. I realized that I have been seeking this idea of “effortless effort” for some time now, searching for a balance between striving and relaxing, of exertion and rest. The more I have attempted to be still rather than stress, the more I have taken care of myself, the more I have found that I receive what I’ve ultimately been looking for: peace, contentment, happiness, progress, meaning, love.
When I was frantically worrying about the future and obsessing over online job boards, puffing on cigarettes every time I was stressed, I didn’t find what I was looking for. I also neglected to realize that an amazing opportunity was right in front of my eyes. Right after I quit smoking and began utilizing other ways of unwinding, like acupuncture and meditation, I learned that my bosses at my internship want to hire me on the first of next month! I had been enjoying my internship but just wasn’t sure if it was going to pan out; without receiving any feedback I was in the dark about what they thought of my performance, and I also wasn’t sure if there was a place for me at the organization. Did I ask them? No, I was too stressed. So I stewed silently, smoking on the way home and obsessively looking online for other jobs when I got home. When I decided to finally let go of another vice that no longer served me and allowed myself to truly relax, things began to shift.
It’s been really hard not smoking, especially at the restaurant where I work, where many of my friends smoke and it’s the only way you get a break, but it’s also been worth it. I had a very stressful day at my internship yesterday, not really having time to eat lunch and finding myself wanting a cigarette more than I have the past two weeks, but when I persevered and came out the other side, I felt amazing. I felt proud of myself, of course, but I also felt a sense of inner calm that I haven’t really felt before. If I could power through an intense day of work without breaking down and picking up a pack of cigarettes on my way home, then what else could I accomplish? I also realized that cigarettes never really eased my stress, they just suppressed it or distracted me from it until I needed another one.
I am so excited to be starting a new job next month, a job in line with my values and morals, a job that allows me to be a little creative, and in an environment where I don’t have to sit in a cubicle under fluorescent lighting (one of my fears when I looking for a new job). I am also excited that I am beginning a new phase of my life without carrying my old habit of cigarettes with me. But I am not going to pretend that I am not scared. I am nervous beyond belief because I am about to begin my first career and leave my old job, a job where I have worked for such a long time that it feels like a second home. Yes, I am finally embarking on what I have been searching for since I graduated last May, but it’s scary to finally get what you’ve been striving for for such a long time.
But I am also feeling happy and, most importantly for me, I am feeling a sense of well-being and centeredness, a calm that I have unconsciously been hoping for. When I quit drinking, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. But I still had cigarettes to rely on whenever I felt uncomfortable, stressed out, sad, whatever. I still had a crutch, a way to help me cope. And I still have other “crutches,” like we all do. And that’s okay. One step at a time. But now that I have begun to sink into my new way of life, of not drinking and taking care of myself, smoking just didn’t make sense anymore. Not only did it not make sense with my lifestyle, it didn’t make me feel good.
And the benefits are, obviously, already emerging, and only two weeks in! I have been kind of wheezy, which is gross, all of the gunk in my lungs coming to the surface, but I have also been regaining my senses of smell and taste. I had no idea that how I had been smelling and tasting was so dulled, so muted. At work the other day I was able to smell an off oyster, catching it before it went out to a table. I can smell flowers through the window instead of only standing right in front of them. A couple of days ago my boyfriend was pouring himself a glass of white wine, and I could immediately smell how sour it was — from across the room! I can also smell someone else’s cigarette from about a mile away, haha. And it smells good, I hate to say, but maybe it won’t after a while.
I have come to realize that if I can welcome transition and change, rather than fear and resist it, if I can engage in effortless effort, then I can achieve a level of contentment within that I never knew existed. If I can be excited or worried without losing myself to either emotion, if I can observe these emotions and acknowledge them, then I can see them for what they are: emotions. Nothing more, nothing less. I am beginning a new life, but I am also the same person that I have always been. The constant seeking and striving has helped me to get where I am right now, but it is easy to burn out when you allow yourself to be consumed by it. I want to always be improving, as a human being and a girlfriend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, an employee. But I also want to live a life of ease and I want to appreciate where I am now. I want to appreciate how far I’ve come, how far I will hopefully go, but with an even deeper appreciation for the present moment.
Cigarettes were a way for me to escape the present moment, like alcohol was. I no longer want to escape just because I am uncomfortable or scared or worried. Instead I want to sit with whatever it is, because when we do that, we can look what we fear in the eye. And then inevitably what we were so scared of shifts, or dissipates, or becomes more manageable, or maybe even disappears altogether. If we give ourselves that opportunity.
I wish you a wild, free life.