The power of silence

We spend a lot of time looking for happiness when the world right around us is full of wonder. To be alive and walk on the Earth is a miracle, and yet most of us are running as if there were some better place to get to. There is beauty calling to us every day, every hour, but we are rarely in a position to listen.

The basic condition for us to be able to hear the call of beauty and respond to it is silence. If we don’t have silence in ourselves—if our mind, our body, are full of noise—then we can’t hear beauty’s call.

There’s a radio playing in our head, Radio Station NST: Non-Stop Thinking. Our mind is filled with noise, and that’s why we can’t hear the call of life, the call of love. Our heart is calling us, but we don’t hear. We don’t have the time to listen to our heart.

Mindfulness is the practice that quiets the noise inside us. Without mindfulness, we can be pulled away by many things. Sometimes we are pulled away by regret and sorrow concerning the past. We revisit old memories and experiences, only to suffer again and again the pain we’ve already experienced. It’s easy to get caught in the prison of the past.

We may also get pulled away by the future. A person who is anxious and fearful about the future is trapped just as much as one bound by the past. Anxiety, fear, and uncertainty about future events prevent us from hearing the call of happiness. So the future becomes a kind of prison, too.

Even if we try to be in the present moment, many of us are distracted and feel empty, as if we had a vacuum inside. We may long for something, expect something, wait for something to arrive to make our lives a little bit more exciting. We anticipate something that will change the situation, because we see the situation in the present moment as boring—nothing special, nothing interesting.

Mindfulness is often described as a bell that reminds us to stop that helps us remember not to be carried away by the noise around and inside us. When we hear the bell, we stop. We follow our in-breath and our out-breath, making space for silence. We say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.” Breathing in and out mindfully, paying attention only to the breath, we can quiet all the noise within us—the chattering about the past, the future, and the longing for something more.

In just two or three seconds of breathing mindfully, we can awaken to the fact that we’re alive, we’re breathing in. We are here. We exist. The noise within just disappears and there is a profound spaciousness—it’s very powerful, very eloquent. We can respond to the call of the beauty around us: “I am here. I am free. I hear you.”

What does “I am here” mean? It means, “I exist. I’m really here, because I’m not lost in the past, in the future, in my thinking, in the noise inside, in the noise outside. I’m here.” In order to really be , you have to be free from the thinking, free from the anxieties, free from the fear, free from the longing. “I am free” is a strong statement, because the truth is, many of us are not free. We don’t have the freedom that allows us to hear, and to see, and to just be.

an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise”