The Art of Power
Frederick was by conventional standards a powerful man. He was a financially successful executive who prided himself on his high ideals. Yet he was unable to really be there for himself, his wife, Claudia, or their two young sons. He was filled with an energy that always pushed him to do more, be better, and focus on the future. When his youngest son came to him, smiling, to show him a picture he had drawn, Frederick was so absorbed in his thoughts and worries about his work that he didn't really see his son as precious, a miracle of life. When he came home from work and hugged Claudia, he wasn't fully present. He tried, but he wasn't really there. Claudia and the children felt his absence.
At first, Claudia had supported Frederick and his career completely. She was proud to be his wife, and she took a lot of pleasure in organizing receptions and other social events. Like him, she was committed to the idea that getting ahead, having a bigger salary and a larger home, would increase their happiness. She listened to him to understand his difficulties. Sometimes they would stay up very late at night and talk about his concerns. They were together, but the focus of their attention and concentration wasn't themselves, their lives, their happiness, or the happiness of their children. The focus of their conversations was business, the difficulties and obstacles he encountered at work and his fear and uncertainty.
Claudia did her best to be supportive of her husband, but eventually she became exhausted and overwhelmed by his continuing stress and distraction. He didn't have time for himself, let alone for his wifeand two children. He wanted to be with them, but he believed he couldn't afford to take the time. He didn't have time to breathe, to look at the moon, or to enjoy his steps. Although he was supposedly the boss, his craving to get ahead was the real boss, demanding one hundred percent of his time and attention.
Claudia was lonely. She wasn't really seen by her husband. She took care of the family and the house, did charitable work as a volunteer, and spent time with her friends. She went to graduate school and then started working as a psychotherapist. Although she found meaning in these activities, she still felt unsupported in her marriage. His sons wondered why their father was gone so much. They missed him and often asked for him.
When Frederick and Claudia's older son, Philip, had to go to the hospital for open-heart surgery, Claudia spent more than seven hours alone with Philip because Frederick couldn't get away from his business. Even when Claudia went into the hospital for her own surgery, to remove a benign tumor, Frederick didn't come.
Yet Frederick believed that he was doing the right thing by working so hard, that he was doing it for his family and for the people he worked with, who depended on him. He felt responsible for fulfilling his duties at work, and his work gave him a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But he was also driven by a strong feeling of pride. He was proud of being successful, of being able to make important decisions, and of having a high income.
Claudia regularly asked Frederick to slow down, to take time off for himself and his family, and to enjoy life. She told him she felt he'd become enslaved by his work. It was true. They had a beautiful home with a lush, green garden in a nice neighborhood. Frederick loved gardening, but he wasn't home enough to spend time in the yard. Frederick always responded to Claudia's requests by saying that he enjoyed his work, and his business couldn't get by without him. He often told her that in a few years, after he retired, he would have plenty of time for himself, her, and their sons.
At fifty-one, Frederick was killed instantly in a car accident. He never had a chance to retire. He thought he was irreplaceable, but it took his company only three days to fill his position.
I met Claudia at a mindfulness retreat, and she told me her husband's story. Although they lacked nothing in terms of fame, success, and wealth, they were not happy. Yet many of us believe that happiness is not possible without financial or political power. We sacrifice the present moment for the sake of the future. We are not capable of living deeply every moment of our daily lives.
We often think that if we have power, if we succeed in our business, people will listen to us, we'll have plenty of money, and we will be free to do whatever we want. But if we look deeply, we see that Frederick had no freedom, no capacity to enjoy life, no time for his loved ones. His business pulled him away. He had no time to breathe deeply, smile, look at the blue sky, and be in touch with all the wonders of life.
It is possible to be successful in your profession, to have worldly power, and be content at the same time. In the time of the Buddha, there was a very powerful and kind businessman named Anathapindika. He was a disciple of the Buddha who tried to always understand his employees, his customers, and his colleagues. Because of his generosity, his workers saved him many times from attacks by robbers. When a fire threatened to destroy his business, his staff and the neighbors risked their lives to put it out. His workers protected him because they saw him as a brother and father; and his business grew. When he went bankrupt, he didn't suffer, because his friends pitched in to help him quickly rebuild his business. He had a spiritual direction in his business life. He was inspiring and skillful, so his wife and children joined him in his spiritual practice and in caring for the poor. Anathapindika was a bodhisattva; he had a big heart and a lot of compassion.The Art of Power
. Copyright (c) by Thich Nhat Hanh . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.