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February 15, 2015

The Finer Things.

smoke cigar

I can’t afford my tastes and this is not a bad thing.

Overall, my tastes in life are quite modest. Books, music, a few nice guitars and travel, and I’m all set.

I don’t need a Rolex, don’t need a 10,000 ft2 house, don’t need an ivory backscratcher. I’m perfectly content driving my (paid-off) Hyundai with 140,000+ miles and eating leftovers for dinner.

Overall, my tastes in life are quite modest.

Except for my taste for Scotch and cigars.

I love me some Scotch, I do. Good single malt. A rich golden blend from the Highlands or a taste of Islay infused with peat smoke and the salt air of the North Atlantic.

Give me a Scotch and a big fat Cohiba Robusto with a Cameroon wrapper on my porch on a warm summer night and I’ve achieved Nirvana. Total tranquility, total relaxation, the outside world at bay.

(Un)fortunately, good Scotch and good cigars cost money. As much as I could subsist on both, this is a good thing. Running up mega bar and smoke tabs can put a crimp in my weekend and my budget.

And slowing down on my jags of luxury is exactly what I need to be doing to stay mindful and healthy.

I’ve lived my life like a car racing down an open road. I cruise, I crash into the barrier, I make my repairs and then I pull out into traffic again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I have known periods where the crash into the barrier has been spectacular, the damage deep.

I don’t want to go back to those days.

At age 42, I see my doctor and chiropractor regularly and I am quite healthy. My lungs, liver and kidney are all completely normal. This is actually a pleasant surprise to me, in light of the excesses of my 20s and 30s. I’m in great shape and I’m loving it.

I attribute my excellent health to my self-preservation streak, which I now realize is the Buddhist practice of Maitri (unconditional friendliness toward myself). Maitri has always guided me back from the edge and kept me going toward good places.

In my late 30s, long before discovering mindfulness and Buddhist thought, I went through a period of crazy excessive liquid coping.

I incurred lots of life changes at once and couldn’t handle the stress.

I’ve never been an addict: never had any physical symptoms of dependency, never lost work or friends due to my excesses. I never had to drink. But I was starting to make a pattern of it for bad reasons and I saw the need to change. I checked in for a 24-hour detox, went clean for a good stretch and learned a hell of a lot about myself and my life in the process.

Since my darkest days, I’ve found many healthy ways of coping with stress. And in the past year I’ve discovered mindfulness and Buddhism and meditation, and these practices have made all the difference. I’ve learned to let go of what’s not important and to keep and take care of what is important. I’ve learned how to love, take care of myself and how to accept myself for what I am and what I’m not. I’m still working on all of the above, but I’m getting there.

And because I appreciate myself and my life so deeply, I seriously appreciate the finer things, like standing under the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, dipping a toe in the lake at my camp or savoring a drink and a smoke.

A dear friend recently said that she didn’t want to hide from life via a drink, but rather to enjoy a good drink as an enhancement to a good life. I get that now. My life wasn’t so good before, thus I ran from it.

Now I’m running toward it, appreciating every step and every experience along the way.

I can have a beer or two with friends, enjoy the conviviality of it all and stop. I don’t need to have five by myself in bed because I’m worried about what the tax bill may be like next year.

I can savor a cigar on my porch on a summer Saturday and decompress until the next cigar next weekend (or beyond). I’m healthy and my smoking a-pack-and-a-half days are way behind me.

I have nothing to hide from anymore. Everything in my life matters. And I intend to spend every second I have left in the present moment, savoring the experience and not looking back or forward.

The cost of living is too high these days, so we’d better savor what we have. Especially when one has a good drink and a fine smoke on hand.

Relephant read:

Learning to Make Friends with Ourselves: Pema Chodron video on Maitri.

Author: Brian Westbye

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: pinterest, flickr

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Brian Westbye