This anecdote has meant so much to me in the 20+years since I first read it that I am surprised I haven’t posted it here before. It appears at the very beginning of The Miracle of Mindfulness, where writer Thich Nhat Hanh recounts a visit he had with his friend Allen.
“Is family life easier than being a bachelor?” I asked. Allen didn’t answer directly. But I understood. I asked another question: “A lot of people say that if you have a family you’re less lonely and have more security. Is that true?” Allen nodded his head and mumbled something softly. But I understood.
Then Allen said, “I’ve discovered a way to have a lot more time. In the past, I used to look at my time as if it were divided into several parts. One part I reserved for Joey, another part was for Sue, another part to help with Ana, another part for household work. The time left over I considered my own. I could read, write, do research, go for walks.
“But now I try not to divide time into parts anymore. I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time. When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways to be interested in what we do during that time. The time for him becomes my own time. The same with Sue. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself!”
I don’t remember if this was a brand new thought to me when I first read it, but it was close to that. I don’t know if it was the anecdote itself that radically changed my thinking about how to live life properly, but it came at about the same time that my thinking changed. Regardless, it encapsulates two things I came to believe deeply:
- Life is all about living for the sake of others
- That’s where you’ll find your happiness