A lesson in commitment

Jun 05 2014 by Jayne Storey Print This Article

Anyone who has been involved with a professional coach - be it to improve athletic or business performance - will be familiar with the importance of setting goals and intentions for future development and dispelling the negative behaviours and self-interference that can stop us achieving these.

Bearing that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to the Marathon Monks of Japan's Mount Hiei who, as part of their Tendai Buddhist tradition, undertake 1000 days of walking meditation through the mountains, starting early each morning at around 1.00 am and finishing back at the monastery in time for breakfast and a day of prayer, meditation and general monastic duties.

For the Marathon Monks, the first step on the first day of their 1000 day task and the last step on the last day are identical. They simply put one foot in front of the other, covering for the first three years around 26 miles per day then extending this to two daily rounds of 26 miles per days for the fourth and fifth years.

On the 700th day of their 1000 day task, the monks undertake a nine day fast, going without food, water, rest or sleep. Then, after a few days to recover and regain their strength, the monks set off again for 100 days of 37 mile marathons, 100 days of 52 mile marathons, finishing up with a further 100 days of 26 mile marathons. That's every day, for 100 days at a time, come rain or shine, illness and so on.

This beautiful passage in John Stevens' book 'The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei' describes the extraordinary changes that take place because the monks stay committed to their daily practise and complete their spiritual task:

"In the last 300 days of the marathon, the focus shifts, a balance is struck between the practice for one's own sake and practice for the benefit of all. At the end the Marathon Monk has become one with the mountain, the joy of practice has been discovered. The stars and sky, the stones, the plants and the trees have become the monk’s trusted companions. He can predict the week’s weather by the shape of the clouds, the direction of the wind and the smell of the air and he takes special delight in that magic moment in the day when the moon sets and the sun rises, poised in the centre of creation."

To achieve this goal the monks have simply repeated an ordinary task (daily walking) and have stayed committed to this task - no matter what - so that in the end even though each step is the same, even though the beginning and the ending actions are no different (within each moment, each day, each round of 100 days) the level of awareness and spiritual insight far outweighs the gruelling mental and physical discomfort experienced.

The Marathon Monks have no sports psychologists to motivate them, they don't spend arduous hours training in the gym, and they don't take sports supplements - in fact they live on a rather meagre diet of soup and tofu amounting to around 1,500 calories per day. They don't have coaching or mentoring, either. They simply make a vow upon entering the monastery that they will complete the task or suffer pain of death.

In fact, the only training they have for the task is, you guessed it, Zen meditation: quietly focusing on the breath, ignoring negative self-talk and developing mental toughness and emotional control - and thus they complete a remarkable athletic achievement that no Olympian has ever managed to replicate.

I'm not suggesting for a minute you suffer pain of death if you don't stay committed to your goals. But I am suggesting that whatever you want to achieve in your life, you would be well advised to make Zen meditation part of your weekly routine and by doing so, you will stop any self-defeatist mental interference, which is just the mind's way of undermining your resolve and seeing to it that you don't honour the promises you made to yourself.

Endings and beginnings can be fluid and seamless, gently moving cycles of growth and achievement, followed by periods of reflection and stillness. Practising Zen meditation will help you develop a thread of constancy throughout all life's changes, whether in your personal or professional life and help you achieve a level of success far beyond what you are currently experiencing.


About The Author

Jayne Storey
Jayne Storey

Jayne Storey is one of the world's foremost teachers of Zen Meditation and Tai Chi to professional athletes, performing artists and business leaders for whom perfect motion in a performance setting is paramount for success.