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Smoker's Options on Retreats

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Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/10/12 10:31 PM
I'm a smoker. As much as I would like not to be. It's my full intention to use the practice as an aide to quit but I'd like to do retreats and I don't think I can wait until I quit.

I was going to do a Goenka retreat and I'm pretty sure you can't smoke there but I don't think the patch will satiate the mental cravings, not enough to keep from being totally distracted anyway. Can one use those electronic cigarettes that have vapor instead of smoke? It's completely odorless and traceless. Is it allowed? Is it a don't ask don't tell, do what you got to do quickly, quietly and seldom? Or no way?

Thanks. It feels weird asking this on the internet but I don't know who the hell else to ask. I'm guessing there's got to be one or two either present or former smokers on here. Any input gladly appreciated.

Oh those electronic cigarettes are tobacco free, so I don't know if that makes it slip out of the no tobacco rules. But I will not be sneaky or dishonest, just want to know what the options are, what experiences or strategies people use. Thanks.

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/10/12 11:30 PM as a reply to Michael Cannon.
Ask the retreat organizer. The retreats I've attended, it would be totally up to you, but they were run by nonauthoritarian westerners.

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/11/12 2:31 AM as a reply to Michael Cannon.
I've been to various Thai Forest retreats and a Mahasi centre, all in the UK, and there has never been any more comment about smoking than 'just go off the property'. There's usually a brief, non-judgemental note about it on the website or welcome pack. As to Goenka, perhaps it's worth asking the particular centre.

In terms of strategies: I have thought about smoking at most once or twice per retreat, if at all, as brief flashes, not even cravings. The longest I have been on retreat has been two weeks. It seriously wasn't a problem. The environment is so different to normal life that most of my triggers just don't arise. No one is smoking around you. Add that to the mind being preoccupied with the novelty of the retreat experience, and the fact that I was preoccupied with practice, and the instances for cravings to arise were minimal.

On early retreats I resolved to drag the mind back to the matter at hand whenever it wandered, because my concentration was poor and that was the only way of building it. On later retreats, I have noted distractions such as 'ah, fags' and then followed the next sensation that carries me away from that kind of sensual craving. As a result I've mainly kept my eye on the ball. That is perhaps a touch avoidant, but I'm not going to suggest you 'fully investigate the sensations of craving' in retreat conditions as that's not what I've done.

I have however done it as an exercise after a hard day at work (for instance) and found that either it built up willpower or the craving itself was seen through as not me or mine, and that has helped me to give up, though I don't wish to sound like a smug ex-smoker.

I suspect it's an issue of what would be worse for practice in terms of mental proliferation: having cigarettes or replacement therapy available and so having the mind turn to it inevitably, or not having them there at all and then finding cravings intolerable.

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/11/12 3:53 PM as a reply to Liam O'Sullivan.
The patch does not cause constant thinking about the next hit, and it does provide partial relief from the cravings. I'd call it a happy medium, if you want to minimize mental proliferation.

Still, the best way to deal with mental proliferation from any cause is to throw all the sense-doors wide open without focusing on any one sensation in preference to any others. The sensations of a nicotine craving, or an itch, or an emotion can only seem overwhelming if your attention is closely focused on only those sensations to the exclusion of others. So stop focusing -- just passively receive everything your senses have to offer you. All the sudden, the craving's volume is cranked down from "overwhelming" to "mildly bothersome."

EDIT: To clarify, I've had my fair share of nicotine cravings, and the above paragraph comes straight from my personal experience of coping with them without giving in to the urge.

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/12/12 1:11 PM as a reply to Liam O'Sullivan.
Thanks. Yeah Liam, I agree: there's such a big shift in environment, your default mode switches with it. I've experienced that before and it's made it easier to deal with not smoking. And it's true as well, my main dilemma is trying to foresee what could be the hindrance to the practice, having the replacement therapy or mental proliferation.

In the end though, you guys are completely right: it's the perfect tool to use to break down the sensations that make up experience, to see the thought that precedes the feeling that precedes the craving. It won't last, it is not me, it will not satisfy.

I've just started using this cancer seeking behavior as point of practice. Just paying attention made me aware of sensations arising in my left hand in anticipation along with salivating and all the other mess.

So maybe the patch it is then, huh.

Thanks again guys, I appreciate the insights.

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/31/12 7:02 AM as a reply to Michael Cannon.
I went on a 12-day retreat and used the gum rather than the patch. It worked fine. Or if you're really worried, wear a patch and have a pack of gum handy in case of intense cravings. The patches are supposed to deliver 21 mg of nicotine per day, which is only the equivalent of three ciggies. Each piece of gum gives you an additional 4 mg or 2 mg, depending on which size you buy. If you start smoking again after the retreat, you might be surprised at how un-addicted you've become after 10-12 days without smoking.

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
8/31/12 7:07 AM as a reply to Michael Cannon.
Smoking is prohibited on Goenka retreats, and they would frown upon it if they caught you smoking or probably even using an electronic one, so a patch or nothing at all sounds better if you're going on a Goenka..

RE: Smoker's Options on Retreats
Answer
9/1/12 10:42 AM as a reply to Yadid dee.
Hello Yadid Dee,
I am a smoker as well. I don't have much hard and fast advice. I'm just going to tell you something from my experience.
On my first Vipassana retreat (not Goenka) smoking was not allowed. I was a bit anxious before the retreat. But when I arrived there I just smoked my last cigarette in the evening before it started, agreeing in my mind that this will be my last cigarette until the end of the retreat. I did not take patches or chewing gums or any other substitute. I had tried to quit smoking with these things before and it had not helped at all. So I figured it will not help me on a meditation retreat but just serve as a reminder for my addiction to come up and annoy me even more. The point is, the cravings come up because you keep feeding them, be it in this way or another, be it with cigarettes or patches or chewing gum or placebos, be it physically or only mentally. So I decided I would just do my best at not feeding them at all for ten days. It's a very simple decision, comfortable or not, and it works very well if you just make the decision wholeheartedly.
This was the second (and up till now last) time in my smoking career that I was able to stop smoking for ten days.
It's a bit disappointing maybe that I still do smoke, quite a lot actually. I must say that I am not really a meditator. There is too much stuff on my mind that I don't want to see. I'm a psychological wreck. But for that retreat I just gathered up some courage. And the not smoking part was really the easiest thing I had to deal with.
So my conclusion is: If I could do it for ten days, anyone can. It's up to you and what big of a deal you decide to make of it.
So make of it what you will and may the force be with you. (And remember: Fear is the path to the dark side.)
Sincerely
Darth Vader (your father)