Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Ten years ago I quit smoking.

It is quite a feat. I was a heavy smoker. Like really heavy. Two packets a day. One in my hand, one in the ash tray.

And yet it was super simple to give up.

It started with my shit list.

I was in an intensive personal transformation program. We had to write down the 100 things in our lives that were shitty. Smoking ranked no. 17. After five days of inner transformation work, we had to write down our gratitude list. 100 Things we felt appreciative of. Smoking came somewhere no. 29.

I walked away from the training, feeling happy I was a smoker, delighted with every puff I took.

A week later I went to a Living Values Training at the Brahma Kumaris Global Retreat Center near Oxford. A sort heaven on earth. My room was called “Benevolence”. Vegan food. No alcohol. No coffee. No cigarettes.

No cigarettes.

Well, since I had just joyfully embraced my smoking habit and I wanted to be transparent about this habit, I asked if I could smoke outside.

I could.

In the breaks I go outside and smoke. Pretty soon I feel uncomfortable leaving the stumps on the pristinely kept porches and lawn. I want to leave the stumps in a place where they won’t disrupt the precious harmony of the estate. I see a monk sweep the front porch and I ask him if there is a container to throw them in. He looks at me with a loving smile, gently points at the ground in front of him and says: “Here”. Feeling awkward and embarrassed, I do as he tells me. He sweeps it up with that same warm, joyous smile.

When I return to the Netherlands something dawns on me. Smoking seems weird. I have been working on my spiritual, emotional and mental well-being, and gladly smoke my lungs to cancer. That doesn’t feel right. Three days later I stop.

I don’t know. I always thought it was the unconditional acceptance from the monk that helped me make the transition. He didn’t shame me, judge me, instruct me. I didn’t need to defend myself or resist his rules. And in his acceptance of my choice to smoke, he revealed his own basic goodness. His basic goodness was not elevated or diminished by my actions. His basic goodness was available to him in every connection. And in showing his basic goodness, he showed me mine. I could now make a choice that was grounded in my basic goodness, and from that place I only wanted to take care of me and nourish my health.

Dear Monk, I never caught your name. In this health-anniversary I thank you out of the bottom of my heart.

May all beings be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.

Dear Jen Collins, thank you for helping me connect the concept of basic goodness to my process of quitting smoking.

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