Rolling a cigarette is a lot like meditation.
You get better the more you do it. It is calming. It is practice. It is preparation. But, unlike meditation, it is preparation in anticipation of the next moment. Meditation is about practicing living in the now, in the current moment. Lighting the cigarette I have so carefully prepared for myself with years of practice simultaneously places me in the past and the future. The past because the years of habit have brought me here, and the future because I have premeditatedly forced this “Moment of Zen.” When it comes to mental health, these are not so good moments to be in.
I’m sure everyone by now has read the famously-passed-around-Facebook quote of Lao Tzu:
If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
Smoking a cigarette, like many other habits, does not mean living in the present. I like to tell myself it does. I mean, what other time of the day will I stop to breathe deeply, take in my immediate environment, listen to the wind in the palm tree in my front yard? But it’s a false comfort, an excuse to proceed with a bad habit. We all know how terribly detrimental smoking is for your health, but being a 20-something, this doesn’t always fully sink in. It did when I was pregnant. I had another life inside of me, and I had the responsibility to give it the best shot at health I possibly could, so I stopped—immediately. Now that it’s just me I’m taking care of, I find myself slipping back into old habits, the physical manifestations of my poor mental health.
The addictive nature of smoking is not only chemical. Smoking, for me, is a relief, a distraction. I use a cigarette to get through a bad night, a fight, or the boredom that springs from sloth and depression. I find myself with my secret cigarettes when I get a moment alone. No baby, no fiancé, no responsibilities. I can live in the past, for a moment.
Rolling the cigarette—living in the future.
Smoking the cigarette—living in the past.
But what’s so great about living in the past? In the past I was a lonely, struggling college dropout. I drank to drive away anxiety, to make myself brave enough to play my songs in public, and I smoked to pass the time alone. In the past I was lost and lazy and downright filthy. When I think on “the old days” at first it seems so glamorous, my single life but to be honest, I was completely depressed and clueless about how to get out of that cycle of shit.
What’s so bad about living in the future? In the future, everything is perfect. My life is planned out and I am happy and successful. In the future, I have the perfect marriage and dream home, and my children are geniuses. I mean, isn’t making goals what you’re supposed to do? Are these goals really so unrealistic?
YES. GOD, YES.
When I live in the future, I forget all about the present. I forget about the hard work I should be putting in RIGHT NOW to make any happy future at all possible. Life is hard work, relationships are hard work, and taking care of yourself is hard work. The hardest.
When I am in everyday practice to rid myself of anxiety and depression, I am also in everyday practice to rid myself of the bad habit of living simultaneously in the past and future. I make myself get off the couch and clean the kitchen floor. I watch a stand-up comedy special instead of having a drink to make me laugh. I talk and love through the fight instead of running away, rolling my secret cigarette. I find new ways to deal with regret and anxiety. I am learning to live in the moment and my front yard is a beautiful place when it isn’t being used as a hideaway from it.