Thich Nhat Hanh week: Your deepest concern


For the next week, I’ll be posting an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, together with a few comments on each. Following today’s excerpt below, there’s a comment on yesterday’s post (which I’ve also added there).

There’s a lot to notice about the excerpt below. What most excites me is the promise of silence, the promise of hearing what my heart is trying to tell me. It is summed up in the idea of “thundering silence”, a silence that is unmistakeable when you hear it. I’ve heard it on a couple of occasions, most notably a couple of years ago at the end of a Landmark Forum I participated in. There came a moment when the 150 people in the room stopping thinking and the sound of it was miraculous. I could hear all of us breathing and testing out this sound in wonder. I’ll never forget it.

“When you’ve been able to still all the noise inside of you, when you’ve been able to establish silence – a ‘thundering silence’ within you – you begin to hear the deepest kind of calling from within yourself. Your heart is calling out to you. Your heart is trying to tell you something, but you haven’t been able to hear it because your mind has been full of noise. You’ve been pulled away all the time, day and night. You’ve been full of thoughts, especially negative thoughts.

In our daily lives, many of us spend most of our time looking for comforts, material comforts and affective comforts in order to merely survive. That takes all our time. These are what we might call the daily concerns.

We are preoccupied with our daily concerns: how to have enough money, food, shelter and other material things. We also have affective concerns: whether or not some particular person loves us, whether or not our job is secure. We worry all day because of those kinds of questions. We may be trying to find a relationship that is good enough to endure, one that is not too difficult. We’re looking for something to rely on. We may be spending 99.9% of our time worrying about these daily concerns, material comforts and affective concerns, and that is understandable because we need to have our basic needs met to feel safe. But many of us worry far far beyond having our needs met. We are physically safe, our hunger is satisfied, we have a roof over our heads and we have a loving family, and still we can worry constantly.

The deepest concern in you, as in many of us,  is one you may not have perceived, one you may not have heard.

Everyone of us has an ultimate concern that has nothing to do with material or affective concerns: what do we want to do with our life? That is the question. We are here, but why are we here? Who are we, each of us individually? What do we want to do with our life? These are questions we don’t typically have, or make, the time to answer.

These are not just philosophical questions. If we’re not able to answer them, then we don’t have peace and we don’t have joy. Because no joy is possible without some peace.  Many of us feel we can never answer these questions but with mindfulness, you can hear their response yourself when you have some silence within. You can find some answers to these questions and hear the deepest call of your heart.”


Comment on yesterday’s post

Of all the ideas I’ve encountered in my life the most exciting is the material in Landmark Education’s curriculum concerning the “world to word fit”, the world-creating word and listening. It’s been noted that the man who originally brought together the material, Werner Erhard, was influenced by many sources including Martin Heidegger’s ontology, John Searle’s work on speech acts and also Zen Buddhism. What Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh, discusses in this excerpt is close to what Landmark participants and graduates explore when it comes to listening.

In the everyday view of the world, listening is just something like the absence of talking or the act of physical sound waves hitting the ear drum. In the non-everyday view of the world, listening is a much greater act, in fact, the greatest act of all: the act of creation. The idea is everywhere in Christian theology, and also, as Thich Nhat Hanh observes, in Indian spiritual thought; no doubt, it features in religions I know nothing about. And yet it’s wholly absent from our everyday understanding.


~ Excerpt from Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh


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