How Do Taoists Quit Smoking?

Master! Master! I’d like to quit smoking.

Oh really? And why is that?

Well, I think my blood pressure is too high, and I’m a bit worried about my health. Also, the lady-monks tell me I smell like garbage.

So why don’t you quit?

Because I can’t!

And why can’t you?

Because I want a cigarette every few hours.

Well, that’s quite the predicament, isn’t it?

Yes! So how do I stop?

Hmm. Are you smoking right now?

No, but I want to.

Well why aren’t you?

Because I don’t want to.

You dunce! Which is it? Do you want to smoke or not?

Well I want a cigarette, but I also want to quit. And I guess I just want to quit more at this moment.

Okay well then it sounds like you’ve done it. Now go away!

But master, nothing has changed!

The master punches the student in the face.

Ow! What the hell‽

You’ve already quit smoking!

No, but I want to stay quit smoking!

Are you fucking stupid? Go away!

Master—

Eat shit! You can’t control the future, you can only control what happens right now.

Yeah, but right now I can increase the likelihood—

No you can’t!

What do you mean I can’t? Of course I can!

Then do it!

See? You’re worthless!

But Master—

You can only not smoke right now. Let your future self worry about whether to smoke or not.

But I know my future-self doesn’t have the willpower—

Well then your future-self is fucked. Kick rocks, swine!

How do you get anything done—

Listen. I’m going to flip a coin. If it’s heads, you’re going to smoke a cigarette, if it’s tails, you won’t.

The master flips the coin and grabs it out of the air, clutching it in his hand.

Now go away!

Wait! Is it heads or tails?

It doesn’t matter! Go away!

You’re so unhelpful! How about something practical? What about wei wu wei? Can’t I find some way to quit without quitting?

Yeah, kill yourself.

Come on — what if I tried a nicotine patch?

Okay, sounds great. Go away.

But what if it doesn’t work?

Then kill yourself.

Master!

Okay, you want to quit without quitting? Eat all of your cigarettes, right now.

Uh, won’t I die if—

Eat every cigarette, one-by-one!

I’ll die!

Yes, and you’ll never smoke again!

Master!

Okay, fine. I’ll tell you the secret: every time you want to smoke a cigarette, just do the secret non-smoking ritual and you’ll never have a cigarette again.

Really? That sounds incredible! What’s the secret ritual?

Don’t do it.

What? What do—

Every time you want to smoke a cigarette, don’t smoke a cigarette. It balances out perfectly.

That’s not a secret ritual! And besides, it requires too much willpower!

You fool! It only requires willpower if you want to smoke!

[Screams internally]. You’re infuriating!

Okay, how about this: every time you want to smoke, fling every cigarette into the sea.

Every cigarette?

Yes.

Like every cigarette in the world?

Yes.

That’s impossible!

Of course, everything in the future is impossible! You can only not smoke right now.

No, I mean, I can’t do that to every cigarette in the world!

Oh well, fling all the ones within reach.

What if there is no sea?

Stomp them.

So everytime I want to smoke, stomp on every cigarette within reach?

Yes.

Hmmm. That sounds like it could work.

You sack of shit!

What?

It’s impossible!

No, it seems pretty feasible. And kind of fun, to be honest.

You’ve just added extra steps.

Extra steps? To what?

Every time you want to smoke, you’re going to not smoke. And then you’re going stomp on all cigarettes within reach.

No, I’m going to stomp on them before I smoke them!

Okay, then do it.

Master…

Go away!

Okay, you’re right — I can’t do it.

Of course.

So what do I do?

Nothing. Go away.

But what if I smoke a cigarette?

I hope every cell in your lungs simultaneously burst into cancer.

Master!

It was heads.

At that moment, the student was enlightened.