Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lessons of Silence

Earlier this week, as I was finishing Adeline Yen Mah’s book, Watching the Tree, a collection of insights into Chinese culture and philosophy which includes her own reflections on happiness, tradition, and spiritual wisdom, I came to a chapter titled “Lessons of Silence.”

In this chapter Yen Mah examines her relationship to silence and the lessons that it has taught her over the years, recalling a conversation that she had years earlier with her grandfather about one of the scrolls that hung on the wall above his bed.

On that scroll were four words–“ The lessons of silence”–written by Lao Zi in the Tao Te Ching.

More than fifty years after her grandfather suggested that one day she might discover the importance of silence, she reflects on what silence has taught her:
“Writing has obliged me to spend long hours searching for those voices which we never hear except when our inner self is at peace and everything else is suspended.”
And this:
“ seems to me as if our youngsters are fearful of stillness, and are attempting to avoid certain emotions that only descend with the sound of silence.”
And this:
“...sometimes, in the hush late at night or with the dew of early dawn, there suddenly unfolds a special element of serenity. And it is often at these moments that we ask ourselves whether we are hearing in the silence the whispers of our innermost being.”
The whispers of our innermost being.

Many years after her conversation with her grandfather, standing in the silent stillness that she finds atop the summit of a sacred mountain in China, Yen Mah comes across the words that she first saw as a child on her grandfather’s wall.

They are accompanied by another row of words which are new to her: “The lessons of silence are peerless and are unmatched by anything else under Heaven.”

These words help her listen more closely to “the majestic hush of the early morning air...” and to understand in a startling revelation “... what my Ye Ye was trying to say so many years ago.”

In our work, as Yen Mah reminds us, we must search diligently for silence rather than seek ways to escape it if we are to hear the whispers of our innermost being.

For more information about Adeline Yen Mah and her work, visit:

To read interviews with her, visit:

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