Coming to realise that all time is your time
Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about one of the lay helpers at Plum Village. (Plum Village is the Buddhist centre in France that Nhat Hanh set up in 1982 after he left Vietnam for enforced exile in 1975.) The story concerns time — and I’m being vague as far as reference goes because I can’t find the actual story in the books on my shelf. I came to this post certain I knew in which book I could find the story and roughly where in the book it was. I failed to find the correct book. Even worse, I failed to find any notes about it, either. Sorry.)
For a moment I even doubted that I had read the story. But only for a moment.
Back to the story. In a conversation with this layman at Plum Village, Nhat Hanh senses the man is frustrated. He is. The man tells Nhat Hanh that, what with the many tasks he is assigned during the day and the time he spends with his young son, he finds no time for himself. He is resentful.
I knew where the resentful layman was coming from. For much of my adult life — and, dare I say it, even now when I fall back into less mature modes of thinking — this was how I looked at the demands of others. That he was resentful even of spending time with his young son had an echo in my feelings towards my children when they were young. Not something I’m proud of.
Nhat Hanh breaks the man’s pattern of thinking by asking him whether he leaves himself behind when he does his tasks or spends time with his son. The man is puzzled at first and gives the obvious answer. He is unable to leave himself behind, of course.
Then he starts to see what Nhat Hanh is getting at. Whatever we do, wherever we are, the time we spend is our time. There is no other time to squirrel away, just “for ourselves”. To be present in any moment makes that moment ours, regardless of what we may be doing. (I spent many years refusing to countenance time spent doing things I didn’t want to do by punishing myself — refusing to allow myself to be present. Using alcohol, mainly, to avoid the now.)
Whatever we do, wherever we are, the time we spend is our time. There is no other time to squirrel away, just “for ourselves”.
Whether the man mastered the art of being present as quickly as he would have liked, at least knowing that he could ‘enjoy’ washing the dishes by being fully engaged in the act would have dissolved many of the resentments he was carrying and which would have led him down all sorts of dark and deadly paths in the not too distant future.
That story was one of the first things I read by Thich Nhat Hahn and the way is resonated with my own experiences was enough to convince me to read quite a bit more. It also helps me feel less resentful about doing the dishes, which I seem to do quite often.
I just need to keep better notes.