I managed 40 days when I had a decidedly unmindful day and went to bed with only 40 minutes of zazen under my belt. I didn’t realize this until the next morning.
Naturally I tried to find a way to fudge the results, but that quickly became unsatisfactory. I’d blown it.
So I started again. But this next attempt lasted just 14 days.
The good part of this — the Zen takeaway, if you will — is that I didn’t beat myself up over it, didn’t throw up my hands and question my commitment. But I did question the value of the 108 Gates challenge. (And yes, I did have another internal debate as to whether I was just trying to give myself an out, and ultimately decided I was not.)
Zazen is an important part of my practice. Some teachers say it is the most important part. For me, mindfulness seems more important than zazen. In any case, I started to think about why sitting for an hour a day for 108 days should even be a goal.
A friend of mine who is a talented cook says he could never do it for a living because that would take a lot of the joy out of it. Some days, the challenge made my sitting seem more of a chore than a joy. The 108 Gates had become a distraction, perhaps even an attachment.
Some days, expecially at the zendo, I will sit for an hour or more, and that feels fine. At home, I will sit for 20 minutes in the morning and again in the evening. Some days I only get in one sitting. And yes, there are occasional days when I miss sitting at all.
Each of the days during the challenge when I missed putting in an hour were days when I was simply concerned with just sitting rather than with attaining a goal. That’s when zazen feels the best.