If You Commit to Nothing, You Will Be Distracted by Everything

For 100 days, the monk wakes at midnight, prays, and begins his 18-mile trail run around Mount Hiei. The following year, he does it again. The third year, he does it again. The fourth year he runs for 200 consecutive days, on the same trail, at midnight, as always stopping briefly along the way to pray.

In the fifth year, after 200 days of running, the monk must sit in a lotus position before a raging fire and chant mantras for seven and a half days without food, water or sleep. Two monks watch to ensure he does not stop or fall over. On the fifth day, he is permitted to rinse his mouth with water, and then spit it out.

In the sixth year, the monk runs 37 miles per day, for 100 days. In the seventh year, he runs 52 miles per day, for 100 days, and now faces the final 100 days of running.

Up until this point the quest has been voluntary. The monk may continue, or quit, at any time. Once the monk begins the final 100 days in year seven, legend is they must either complete the quest or kill themselves.

The practice is called Kaihōgyō, and evolved into its current form in the 14th century. Literally translated it means ‘circling the mountain’, and is performed by Tendai Monks in Japan. It’s a commitment you and I cannot conceive of.

Dave Ganci is an ultrarunner, and has trained U.S. Special Forces, and Navy Seals. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “I have been out on the thin edge of heat, cold, fatigue, starvation and dehydration stress many times and to the point where I had to play mental games with my body to keep it moving.

“I still cannot identify with the marathon monks’ regimen and how they accomplish their feats by any physical definition. It has to be a mental quality that carries them through the pain, fatigue, thirst, hunger, heat, cold and whatever dragons they meet on the trail.”

Ganci has studied the marathon monks and discovered something interesting in the early days of following the seven year pilgrimage. In the first few days and weeks, the pilgrim will be wracked with pain in their hips and legs, their feet and toes blistered and beaten, and will alternately suffer through hemorrhoids and diarrhea. But by day 30 or so the discomfort will start to ease. After 70 days, the monks begin to adopt “a smooth gait, head and shoulders erect, back straight, nose and navel aligned.”

The ultrarunner Adharanand Finn traveled to visit a Tendai monk just completing his own seven-year epic quest, and found his feet to be smooth, soft, and clean “as though he had been floating over the ground.”

It’s an extreme example, but the point is nothing is as hard as you think it will be, and the key to accomplishing anything at all is to simply get started. Most great books in the world were written in less than an hour at a time. Our teenage son and I bicycled across America one pedal stroke after another.

No, I don’t recommend attempting to run a marathon every day for 1000 days, but I do recommend starting that one inconceivable project you’ve been putting off for quite awhile. The most common protest is not that you don’t have time, but that you just don’t have time right now.

So instead you tell yourself that pretty soon, after you deliver that big project at work, or finish remodeling the kitchen, or get the kids through elementary school, or clean out the garage… then, finally, you’ll have that time you need. The time will open up to start yoga again, or write that novel, or learn Japanese, or skydive, or take your kids to the county fair, or visit your parents.

Pick one thing. And get after it.

The trouble is, you think you have time.
– Jack Kornfield

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