Finishing Cigarette Smoking Through Self-Hypnosis:
A Novel Approach*
It is tempting to take an experience, and, when we have learned from it, to apply it as a rule or principle to later situations. That seems only natural and also appropriate to this process we call science. But if life is actually more than a machine, then we cannot always derive predictable laws from our experiences, even as much as we have learned from them. In my exceptional healing experience, a spiritual recovery from alcoholism, I learned something about the power of helplessness, the power of surrender, and about the value of letting go of control to higher power. As true and valuable as those lessons were, they proved to be inadequate when confronting another major issue in my life. It was a similar problem of addiction, smoking cigarettes, but I could not use my alcoholism recovery experience to help me. I had the knowledge of the existence of a higher power to guide me, but I had to create a new path of collaboration with this higher power in order to receive the healing I needed with regard to my nicotine addiction.
I started smoking when I was 14, and by the time I was in my 40s, the symptoms were getting worrisome and hard to deny: the coughing, breathing constriction, and circulation problems were scaring me, but I felt helpless to stop. I had quit so many times before, only to resume smoking within 24 hours or less after my declaration of intent. I no longer had any credibility with myself. Although the feeling of helplessness about quitting was similar to the critical juncture I had reached with alcoholism, which had led to an important stage in the ultimate process of recovery, it didn't work the same way with cigarettes. I had declared myself to be a hopeless smoker, but even recognizing my powerless to control my smoking and appealing to a higher power, as much as that has worked with the drinking, it was not working with the cigarettes. What worked, as it turned out, was something different, something that built upon what I had learned from my dreams and drinking experience, but different in significant ways.
To create a recovery program from smoking cigarettes, I used hypnosis. I didn't use it in the way people generally think of using hypnosis for smoking cessation, for example, to plant suggestions on quitting or being smoke‑free. Instead I used hypnosis to contact or create a higher consciousness from which I sought and received guidance on how to go about quitting. Here's how it happened.
I had been practicing being hypnotized. While under hypnosis, I would endeavor to generate creative ideas, for example, about writing or research projects. I wrote about some of this work, conducted with Henry Bolduc acting as hypnotist, in my book Channeling Your Higher Self. At times the subject of smoking would come up, both as a block to my fuller creativity and as a challenge to higher creativity. So I asked the hypnotist to pose this question to me: How will I ever quit smoking? The answer was that I would FINISH smoking once I had completed certain tasks. The first task was to replace my feeling of helplessness with a feeling of mastery. Unlike the healing experience that led to a recovery from alcoholism, which was dependent upon the acknowledgment of helplessness, in the case of smoking I had to begin with the reverse, to assert some control. How could I assert control? the hypnotist asked me. The answer I gave was to start with a very small step, to count my cigarettes.
I accepted this guidance, but to implement it I had to develop a plan that would be easy to follow. I invented a system that enabled me to count my cigarettes effortlessly. I got a cigarette case and vowed to only smoke cigarettes that I took from this case. I would stock the case with five cigarettes each morning, and restock it whenever needed, five cigarettes at a time. Although I always carried a pack of cigarettes with me, I never smoked a cigarette directly from the pack. I always loaded five cigarettes into the case, then took a cigarette from the case. It was a simple matter to notice when I smoked the sixth cigarette of the day, for example, by noting when I had to restock the case, and then load it up again. My spirits were pleased and my confidence increased as I saw that I could keep my vow. I achieved that first step of mastery. I continued this procedure for the approximately three years that it took me to "finish" smoking. Although three years may seem like a long time, had I not started the process, I might still be smoking today.
Twice a year I would go under hypnosis with Bolduc. I would review my progress and receive further guidance. I would give myself discourses on the meaning of my smoking and provide further procedures to follow to move closer to the goal of finishing smoking. A major procedural idea was to practice being a non‑smoker for short periods of time at critical junctures during the day. One such juncture was after the evening meal. My higher self instructed me to postpone my after dinner cigarette by going for a walk first, then smoking all I wanted when I returned home from my walk. The prediction was confirmed that many times when I returned from my walk I would "forget" to smoke for as long as an hour. Also as predicted, I made many useful observations about the nature of my craving for cigarettes.
In the hypnosis sessions, I received, besides these specific procedures for practicing being a non‑smoker, diagnostic and explanatory discourse on the meaning and purpose of my smoking. One of the major themes of these discussions was that I used smoking to create a wall around my feelings and to shield myself from others. Part of my task in finishing smoking was to learn to be comfortable with my feelings, to be more sensitive in detecting them, and to develop the capacity to experience other people's feelings without being lost in them, or confusing them as my own. As it happened, this theme of emotional sensitivity and contagion came up just as I was writing about and investigating the role of intimacy, and the fear of it, in psychic functioning (Reed, 1994). My higher self seemed to be saying that smoking had been guarding the gate to my taking conscious responsibility for my psychic ability and the implications of that ability.
I realized later that I was learning to deal face to face with the process of deconstructing an addiction by reconstructing the ego for which the absence of the addiction was a compensation. In the case of my alcoholism, I did not analyze the attachment until it had passed, not did I consciously experience the withdrawal of the attachment; it simply disappeared, literally overnight. But I couldn't use this same formula for dealing with the smoking problem. I had to face it directly and had to experience and understand all the aspects. This process included experimenting with Nicorette gum to learn that any problem dealing with nicotine withdrawal could easily be handled by the gum.
The last hypnosis session contained a surprise encounter that was very emotional. In an earlier session I gave a discourse on how I, like many other teenagers, had formed impressions, from advertising and other sources, that formed a self‑image of myself as a smoker. I had rejected this diagnosis, but came to realize that I had associated smoking with meditation, and was influenced by Native American images of tobacco. I had some books on tobacco pipes and knew some of the mythology, and had made a cult of a self‑image surrounding smoking. Then in this final session, I sensed the presence of some other individuals.
I looked more closely at that feeling and sensed that it was a Native American, someone who reminded me of the Indian on the TV commercial who has a tear flowing down his cheek. He said that he was sad that I, as a brother sprit, was having to let go of tobacco. At that statement, I saw behind him a large chorus line of Indians, and they were all crying for me. What is an Indian, they wailed, without his tobacco? In fact, I had in my collection, several valuable tobacco pipes and some beautiful books, including some about the mythology of tobacco among Native Americans. Then the Indian spokesman said that the group knew I was doing this project for a good cause, and they wanted to support me because it was in the greater interest of the spirit. The Indians stood aside, parted their line and revealed behind them a large tobacco field. It was bright green and in the sunlight, the leaves glowed. They said they had a present for me. And from among the tobacco plants jumped up a moving figure which I first identified as a ball of energy. Then as it came closer I realized, or the Indian explained, that it was a tobacco plant spirit. The Indian explained that the tobacco spirit was sacrificing itself willingly to be with me to keep me company on this sacred journey I was about take. The spirit jumped across the top of the tobacco leaves and dove into my chest. When it entered my body I felt a big rush akin to a nicotine hit when you have a cigarette after a long absence. I also felt a real sense of being loved, as well as having received a sacred blessing.
It wasn't too long after that experience that the final day came. It wasn't planned, but it happened spontaneously. I went to interview a psychic, Ray Stanford, as part of a research project. In our discussion, the subject of smoking came up. I mentioned that I had been at work on a project to "finish" smoking by embracing psychic ability. He asked if I wished him to ask the Holy Spirit to help me finish. I said OK. After the interview, we stood up and held hands in a brief moment of silent prayer. As I walked out of the interview room, I realized I was now free of cigarettes if I was willing to walk away from them. It was April 15, 1989 and I finished smoking tobacco. I said, "OK!"
Practicing the skills I had learned, I used Nicorette gum for awhile, and then moved on to regular gum, and then occasional mints. I walked more, hugged more people more often, and became more intimate with my feelings, and those of others. I went on to publish my work on intimacy and ESP.
The earllier healing of the drinking occurred outside my awareness. I made no conscious effort, nor did I consciously go through any withdrawal process. It all occurred magically in my dreams and indirectly through my suffering. Quitting smoking was different. I couldn't apply the events from the first as a formula or technique. Instead I had to invent anew. I had to put out some effort. I drew upon the higher power for guidance, and I developed a plan and kept with it. Working on that plan developed new qualities within me. It opened me up more inward listening, or intuition.
One disturbing component of the symptoms of smoking had been a concern for my heart, as in heart disease. Hugging people -- enthusiastically -- experiencing feelings, being closer to other people's feelings, were all qualities or capacities that came into blossom as I quit smoking. My heart was opening. I came to develop a theory of the Intuitive Heart as a means of resolving the paradox of acknowledging the existence of psychic ability and the attempt to maintain personal boundaries. This philosophical and existential dilemma had been a pre‑existing personal problem for me, one deeper than I had realized, for it had been prefigured in my dream.
The initiatory dream I wrote about had a coda, an added segment that I had not written about. One day, as I was contemplating the connection between having traded in cigarette smoking for conscious psychic functioning, I realized that I was making a great deal of progress responding to the challenge of that final part of the dream.
In the dream, after I leave the barnyard of the Wise Old Man, I head back into the forest, where I have my tent. On my way through the woods, I spy a family of bears. I realize that if they see me, they will eat me for dinner. No sooner do I think that thought than they do see me. Mama bear chases me. To avoid her, I climb up a tree. I am way out upon a limb when I turn around and see that the bear is climbing right up after me. With that realization, that bears can climb trees too! I awaken.
From this dream predicament there is no exit. I once painted a picture to dramatize the situation. I am out on a limb, and I can't go any farther out without falling off. Unless I can fly I have to face the bear‑some choice. If I try to back down the tree, then the bear will devour me. The dream coda is somewhat like a Zen koan.
In retrospect, having finished smoking and embraced psychic intimacy instead, I realized I had responded to this koan by dancing with the bear. Not only was this an actual image from a later dream, it also meant an acceptance of the transpersonal feminine. As a symbol of the goddess, the mother bear shows her two sides, being both lovingly protective and capable of turning on her young in anger. Fear of the devouring bear is, for me, fear of surrendering to the chaos of life. How can the personal "I" survive the devouring onslaught of psychic information shattering all personal boundaries? By embracing all experience in a spirit of love, my heart expands to identify with all of life. It was just this image of the transpersonal qualities of the heart, of love, that gave me my solution to the paradox of the psychically expanded self-concept. My research then showed that making a caring, loving connection with another person, to find the other person in our own heart, was a way both to have intuitive, empathic insights about that person, but also to expand the domain of our own self‑knowledge. This expanded self is the interconnected self, the relational self that is the basis of the feminist paradigm of the ego. Thus my transformation went from moving me from power to surrender to a higher power, and then from self as a bounded entity to that of a relational phenomenon, adding both psychic and spiritual components to my experience of being.
Becoming a recovering alcoholic was my initiation into higher consciousness. Becoming a recovering smoker provided me with an initiation into psychic awareness. Now, for my next exceptional human experience, I am now becoming a recovering intellectual, letting go of the protective attachment to rationality to explore what lies beyond. I had learned an important lesson regarding how to benefit from the guidance of higher consciousness as I began to explore that beyond... do so one step at a time.
*This essay is a portion of a larger article that appeared first in the Exceptional Human Experience Newsletter, 1996