I’ve mentioned before that I considered the process of quitting smoking to be a spiritual journey for me. I guess pretty much anything can be a spiritual journey if you let it teach you…if you use it as a vehicle for growth.
Different people have different definitions of what a spiritual journey even is. To me, it’s a path of self-awareness and self-improvement or healing to kind of commune with that piece of me—however insignificant or expansive—that is god, spirit, one, the universe…whatever you want to call it.
Not everyone sees the value in growth and change. Some people can't think outside themselves, so they don't care or consider their impact on the world. More, though, live in a place of convenient denial—convenient because it allows them to hold on to their toxic behaviors like a security blanket. So, for example, a mean drunk justifies their anger in all kinds of ways to keep from ever having to face the real problem. It's everyone else's fault.
A friend recently pointed out how some of those deniers use good deeds to cover up for their bad ones. I have a few former Facebook friends, for example, who are very generous in some ways to make up for how nasty they are in others. That tactic works better in theory, though. You might be able to fool some people, but in those quiet moments when you’re alone and honest with yourself, you can't fool yourself. Maybe there’s a path toward change in there, however. You can only be generous to strangers for so long before you question how thoughtless you are to the people you actually know.
Anyway, for me, it’s fulfilling to look at myself and try to improve the things that cause stress and self-disappointment, whether I believe there’s a god or not. Because I have always been a self-aware person. And while, by definition, I have no idea of what I might be in denial about, I think I’m pretty tough with myself. So it just helps me be a happier, more balanced person to not hold on to the burden of, say, being impatient, petty…whatever.
It is more than just self-development for me, though. Knowing you’re right with your creator or your god or whatever you believe in just makes life easier all around. And, between you, me and the internet, I personally believe we could eradicate assholery from the earth in a single generation if everyone were required to do better with each of life's interactions. So there's that.
But back to quitting smoking. One of the things I realized as I was recovering from my addiction was that there would always be a “good enough” excuse to smoke until I was really ready to quit. See, I tried a mazillion times to quit over 10 years and the thing that got me every time was that I found a good enough excuse to smoke. Stress. Heartbreak. False confidence. Whatever. If you want to quit smoking, you have to quit having good reasons to smoke. A non-smoker has no good reasons.
And the same thing is true on any spiritual journey. If you want to be a better person, first you have to realize you have a problem. :D And then you have to work your way through that problem, breaking old habits and making better choices, until there are no good reasons left to stand between you and your higher self.
For example, I find myself often impatient…in grocery lines, walking through crowds, driving down the road. Many years back I realized that this was a control issue for me. And I simply did not have control over what the guy in front of me was doing. My impatience and it’s accompanying control issues caused me a lot of stress, so I set out to heal it.
Sometimes I brushed noticeably past the slow person, full of attitude. Sometimes I just stayed behind until I could easily get past, rolling my eyes the entire way. Sometimes I would take a deep breath, relax and nonetheless snort as I passed the person. And now I can mostly accept the grocery store line. I’m still working on the traffic thing…haha. But each time I succeed, the excuses to be impatient and act superior get fewer and fewer. And each time I fail, I feel bad about it later and resolve to do better.
That’s how we work through things. In some cases, you may make a quantum leap in just one try. But in most cases it takes time. It took me ten years to run out of excuses to smoke. And changing our behaviors is often like healing an addiction.
I remember when I was a child and would see how kind my mother was to people she didn’t particularly like. I think at the beginning she was faking it until she made it with the nice. Then after some time, the word I would have thought of was “grace”. My mother had a lot of grace. But what I see as I grow older is that the better word is “integrity.” If you’re a kind person, you’re kind no matter what the stimulus and it comes from a genuine place inside you.
That’s what integrity is…having no excuses to be anything other than what you show yourself to be. And yeah, everyone probably has a breaking point or bad day. But I saw a pattern of it growing up from her—from both my parents, really, in different aspects of their lives—and having integrity is how I pay my respects to them these days. It’s another dimension of my personal, growth-fueled spiritual journey—honoring the teachers.
An interesting side note to all of this is that the more you heal something, the more you see the excuses others are making to hold on…the more you see the truths and motivations behind others’ actions. And the more you’re able to ultimately forgive, because if you’ve been through it yourself, you know the pain behind the action and can have compassion for that person. In that way, you can use the unhealed behaviors of others as a way to stretch your own practice of compassion and rising above. And if you can’t get to that place and would like to, then it may be an indication of where you still need to do some work.
The situations that test us and our goals don’t happen by mistake, in my opinion. They are an opportunity for everyone involved to make a growth-related choice instead of an excuse. Some may not take that opportunity and that’s ok. The only opportunity you have to worry about is your own. The only path you have to worry about is your own. And the only behavior you have to consider when making your choice is your own. That’s integrity. That’s healing. That’s growth.