During my teens in south India, I sneaked outside during a boisterous party for a secret puff. An older male relative caught me in the act. “Put that out immediately!” he ordered, even as he lit up his own ciggie and exhaled a stream of toxic smoke in my direction. “Think you’re cool to ape those foreign movie stars, do you? Well, let me warn you, young lady, an Indian woman who smokes is seen as nothing but a whore!”
“What about you guys?” I’d demanded, itching to throttle the arrogant sod. “You smoke like a chimney! Are you a whore?” He’d sighed and shaken his head, despairing. If I didn’t stop smoking pronto, he added sternly, he’d advise my father to get me married as soon as possible — it being sound Indian policy to tame a hellion before she brought unutterable shame to the family. I’d stomped away in a huff, too proud to let him see how his words had both shaken and infuriated me.
But I could not stop brooding over what he had said — why did I want to keep smoking? The truth was complex: one major reason was that cigarettes were available for me when people and situations let me down. And so I continued to smoke, on and off, for decades, despite all the wisdom and training I was simultaneously acquiring. Looking back, I can see that on the psychological level I smoked to separate myself from the traditional herd of Indian women, to make myself unwanted on the marriage market, to tell the guys that if you can get away with it, so can I!
It did not matter that the smoking demon had clearly affected me on every level — spiritual, mental, emotional, physical. And that there was shame attached to the habit — for most of my friends had long since quit, and now shuddered at the mere mention of a ciggie. Besides, I loved the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita — if Lord Krishna were advising me on the matter, I knew, he’d insist I do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. He’d warn me that demons disguise themselves as friends, and that I should be ready and willing to destroy anything that was ruining my divine right to health, peace and happiness.
Addiction was such a burning issue with me that I wrote a novel based on it. In Whip of the Wild God, my protagonist Ishvari, a gorgeous tantrika, broken by her cruel lover and the lingering traumas of childhood, falls into the snare of the Demon of Eclipses and Illusions. By allowing her to reduce her demons to nothing, and thereby to rise into full and blissful enlightenment, I was only projecting my own desire for freedom into the cosmos.
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Very nice, Mira:)) Still grappling with the desire for a cigarette. You write up is a great boost:))
Magical streams coalesced to produce my current desire to never go back to that old state…will tell you in person if i ever get the chance….but as a main hint, giving up had to do not with myself — i have no kids to worry about or major dependents — but everything to do with my young brother who drowned decades ago and who hated to see me smoke. By stopping forever now, i honor his memory and do my little bit to make things better in the world. (Strange how I have heard many times in the west that addictions must be given up for one’s own sake — that thinking never worked for me — while i deeply appreciate the benefits one gets from surrendering an addiction, i always had to have something far greater than my relative self to permanently give up an illusory sensory pleasure). Thanks for your support!
Greg, my kalyanamitra, I know how involved you have been in leading folks out of this dark tunnel…so please do SHARE it with all your friends — not that there is anything new under the sun, but you never know who needs to hear what when…..much love, brother, Mira
Great series, Mira and a very complex subject. so many, when they achieve what we all think of as success, and the means to be happy, that is becoming rich and famous, fall into the snare of various addictions. Perhaps then we should think of it as a blessing that most of us never achieve that and the energy we have to expend on simple survival actually works to protect us from the worst in ourselves.
I agree Caroline….success most often comes with a very heavy price tag — i thank the cosmos for allowing me to hobnob with the rich and famous at various points in my life, and especially in Manhattan — many were oh so terribly messed up. And this was exactly what I needed to see firsthand — because it led to the deepening of my own spiritual quest.
Very nice and well Written, really wonderful.