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Closet Fascination

A blog about a journey, smoking, not smoking, vaping and everything in between

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February 2017

Waking Up By Sam Harris- A Book Report

This is the first book that I have finished reading in a long time. I’ll probably read it again before I fully grasp the impact it will have on my life because for me it was one of those life changing books; not because it taught me something I didn’t already know, but because it articulated so eloquently something I’ve deeply believed for a long time.

I’ve written about religion on my blog before and my views on spirituality. I’m agnostic when it comes to belief in God in that I don’t really think we will ever be able to prove God’s existence. I also don’t think it really matters if we do. I have a certain amount of awe about our world and how much we still don’t know about it, but to simply explain natural phenomena that we can’t explain (yet) by saying that is ‘proof of God’ isn’t good enough for me. Perhaps that makes me a full out atheist. I don’t like labels.

I’ve always considered myself spiritual, but never really been able to articulate what that means to people. In my post on spirituality, I sum up a lot of my views, but there was still something about being spiritual that was could not be explained by living my values or even just being with nature.

Enter: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion By Sam Harris. I think I first read about this book about two years ago. I follow a website called Brain Pickings on Facebook and they had written an article about the book and it seemed interesting, but much like unacknowledged or unobserved thoughts that come and go into our minds, I never gave the book a second thought. What rekindled interest? Oddly, it was this post on Dilbert writer’s Scott Adams’ blog entitled, Sam Harris Induces Cognitive Dissonance in Ben Affleck. The video for that is here.  This got me interested in him in general, so I went to his website and promptly started to devour the podcasts. Many of these were a useful, intellectual analysis of what is going on right now in America, unlike what is currently being posted by my friends on Facebook. It is critical of both sides and I appreciate that. Wanting more, like the obsessive fiend I can be, I bought Waking up on Thursday and have since read it cover to cover.

For me, this book explained to me something I have, albeit only briefly, experienced but could never put to words what it was.

These two paragraphs from the book sum it up:

We seem to do little more than lurch between wanting and not wanting. Thus, the question naturally arises: Is there more to life than this? Might it be possible to feel much better (in every sense of better) than one tends to feel? Is it possible to find lasting fulfillment despite the inevitability of change?

Spiritual life begins with a suspicion that the answer to such questions could well be “yes.” And a true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time, and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self. Those who have never tasted such peace of mind might view these assertions as highly suspect. Nevertheless, it is a fact that a condition of selfless well-being is there to be glimpsed in each moment.

I think I’ve had a few of these moments through out my life. They were fleeting and Waking Up  assured me that this is completely normal. The missing link in my description of spirituality is self-transcendence or going beyond the self.

Typically, these moments have been when standing a top a tall mountain or skiing down a steep slope. More recently, when I ran the marathon in 2014, there were moments where I felt a oneness with the world and joyful beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. My first marathon was such as awesome experience that I hesitate to run another for fear that I will be let down should I not have that feeling again.

The book takes your through five main topics: Spirituality, Consciousness, Self or rather the illusion of self, meditation as a tool for transcending self and finally a catch all chapter called Gurus, Death, Drugs and Other Puzzles. I found the first four chapters to be really strong so the last chapter seemed as if it were a grab bag of interesting topics (I’m glad they were there) but that didn’t have enough substance to be discussed in their own dedicated chapter.

There are some interesting exercises and really I think the book is meant as a ‘here is what spiritually might look like without religion’ rather than exactly how to access it yourself. The exercises are an interesting starting point but left me wanting to learn more. I think this is probably the point. I don’t think Sam Harris fancies himself an expert on any individual’s awakening. He is simply describing what worked for him and how one might go about being spiritual without religion.

A few quotes from the end of the book really hit home for me and in a way summarize the feel and intention of the book:

First:

It is within our capacity to recognize the nature of our thoughts, to awaken from the dream of being merely ourselves and, in this way, to become better able to contribute to the well-being of others. Spirituality begins with a reverence for the ordinary that can lead us to insights and experience that are anything but ordinary.

And then:

We are always and everywhere in the presence of reality. Indeed, the human mind is the most complex  and subtle expression of reality we have thus far encountered. This should grant profundity to the humble project of noticing what it is like to be you in the present. However numerous your faults, something in you at this moment is pristine- and only you can recognize it.

Open your eyes and see.

And so I will continue to try…

To meditate…

To eat mindfully…

To exercise…

To be present in nature…

Because all of these things, lead my existence to be better. Happier. Even so, sometimes it can be a struggle to do them because of another hedonistic desire pulling me in another direction. I’ve noticed everything actually worth doing in my life requires some effort, some level of what could be called discomfort to reach the pleasantness. I think I need to commit more intentionally to my meditation practice as I think this would help me shift my perspective to be more present focus and thus better able to appreciate tasks I currently think of as arduous or boring.

Interesting… 

Study Finds e-cigarettes Don’t Make Tobacco Use Appealing Again – http://wp.me/p4uyBp-Sa

I’m not a young person, but I think that vaping is a great harm reduction tool that has been demonized unfairly in North America. 

I’m glad they are studying this and finding what those of us who have vaped were saying all along. My own experience: vaping has pretty much killed any enjoyment I used to get out of smoking. I honestly think it is a key as to why my brief lapses with smoking have resulted in a reaction of “meh…”. 

If I were to use nicotine again, I wouldn’t smoke. I’d vape. That said, I really have no desire to use nicotine again. Cigarettes taste gross and I like the cleaner (no CO) buzz of straight nicotine vs smoked tobacco.

So there you have it: seeing people vape doesn’t cause hordes of young people to go off and try it. Some might, but other studies have shown they are the ones that would have been interested in smoking as well. 

Feeling Better…

I have to say, I was pretty taken aback by how awful I felt for about two days after the cigar puffing incident. If that is how I feel after a bit of cigar puffing, I don’t think I can let myself smoke at all at the conference or let myself and suffer the consequences. Honestly, I think I know how it will go. Get a little tipsy, convince myself it will be ok and then all bets are off for the next two days.

Here is what I have going for me: I don’t think I want to smoke. My slightly alcohol intoxicated brain might have other ideas but I’m going to keep visualizing not smoking at the conference (which is the opposite of what my brain normally does). I’m not sure, but I think my co-worker smoker friend has maybe quit. She has a new boyfriend and she typically quits for her relationships. I didn’t smell it on her the last time I saw her. If she isn’t smoking, I won’t be smoking. There are two other smokers, but I’m not staying in a room with them and so the likelihood of me  asking them for cigarettes is low. I know this sounds like a lot of obsessive strategizing, but this is new territory for me. Prior to my 9 month stint as a full-fledged nicotine addict, the only kind of scheming I did for years was orchestrating opportunities to smoke. I became very good at taking advantage of opportunities to smoke. My plan late last year to let myself smoke every three months was really a rehash of an old plan I had done before. I had a few phases I went through when it came to being an opportunistic smoker.

The first phase was wanting to smoke, but saying no because I didn’t want people to know I wanted to smoke.  Phase 2 was secret smoking. I would buy a pack. Smoke alone and in secret. Become disgusted with myself. Throw out pack. Not smoke for long time. Repeat. The third phase was ‘drunken smoking’ where I would get drunk enough that I wouldn’t care want people thought when I smoked and then I’d use my drunkenness as an excuse for smoking. Phase 4 more regular secret smoking followed by a realization that I was becoming dependent on nicotine. Phase 5 was vaping all the nicotine because I couldn’t bear to smoke all the time.

I guess you could call what I am in now Phase 6. Quit phase. The phase that started because I was no longer getting pleasure from nicotine, only relief from withdrawal. What have my lapses during this phase taught me? Unless I use quite a bit more than a puff or a few puffs, I get relatively little benefit from smoking. Truth be told, I didn’t even really want to puff on the cigar last Saturday. It wouldn’t have been that hard to say, No thank you. I’m not sure why I didn’t. While the cigar tasted good, was it worth the days of depression that followed? Nope.

Given that cigarettes don’t even taste good and that I will have to smoke at least a whole one to get any sort of ‘pleasure’ from one and really I can’t even be sure of that. I’m thinking what is the point?  My plan will be to stay sober enough to make this decision because my other goal for that conference is to not be hungover. You are probably thinking: well don’t drink. True, that is the easiest way not to get hungover but I’m actually pretty good at drinking moderately in my old age. Moderate drinking starting later in the evening it will be.

So the plan: pretend cigarettes are like strawberries, might taste/feel good in the moment, but the consequences are just not worth the pleasure of the moment. I guess we shall see in  19 days.

Insanity 2.0?

They say doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If so, I’m definitely crazy.

Went to a gathering last night. I was the designated driver. Avoided smoking cigars (Backwoods) the first time people when out for them but could not turn down a few puffs off a large Cohibas cigar. It was the first full sized cigar that has tasted delicious to me. Didn’t inhale. Didn’t feel anything, not unlike the puff I took off my co-worker’s cigarette. Except the cigarette tasted gross and the cigar tasted delicious. 

If I had felt fine today, I probably wouldn’t be rethinking (cancelling) my plan to smoke in March if I did. 

So today I woke up and I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I’ve been emotional all day, weepy and by the way I’m feeling I could swear that must have been drinking last night. Like drinking heavily when I had nothing. It feels very similar to the first three weeks after I quit vaping regularly. I have no urges or environmental cues to vape or smoke right now so I don’t crave it but this feeling is what led me to smoke and vape regularly and it isn’t good. I now remember why I can’t occasionally smoke. I’m actually considering getting my vaping stuff ready with some 0 mg juice to bring with me so if I do feel like I ‘need’ to smoke, I can do that because I don’t even get a buzz or anything from smoking anymore. Just shitty rebound anxiety/depression. Not worth it. And the lack pleasure while actually smoking is decreasing my drive the actually do it. Here is ‘The plan: 2.0’. I’m allowed to smoke if I feel like it but I won’t feel like it. If I feel like it, vape 0 mg first before actually smoking or vaping nicotine.

It is starting to be like my intolerances to a few foods. Like strawberries. I love strawberries but I can’t eat them anymore. Took me a bit to link the severe GI cramping I had to strawberries but once in did, I felt really sad I couldn’t have them anymore so I tried eating them again and boom cramping just like usual. It is like a lactose intolerant person eating lots of ice cream without taken a Lactase. Nicotine and tobacco in general are my kryptonites. It is getting easier which I am so grateful for. 

Hopefully I bounce back from this quickly.

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