The 108 Gates will have to wait

At the beginning of this year, I embarked on the 108 Gates challenge: To sit zazen for a cumulative total of one hour each day for 108 consecutive days as a way to deepen my Zen practice.

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.

One thought on “The 108 Gates will have to wait

  1. I read a line in Tricycle a few weeks ago that went along the lines of, “If you’re sitting just because you feel you ‘have to’, you’re missing the whole point of mindfulness.” (Not a direct quote, but you get the idea.)

    Isn’t it funny how good intentions can so quickly turn into attachments? Wonderful of you to notice this shift, and to take appropriate action. I’d say your 108 Gates challenge has already taught you a lot, even if it didn’t teach you what you thought (hoped?) it might… 😉

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