Silent Serenity

by Nasa Zaidul (Malaysia)

I didn't expect to find Malaysia


I am not a particularly religious person, but I do believe there is one Higher Power. This tale is not about religion, but about finding the unexpected gift of inner peace—one we often need but are unaware of until it is presented to us. It was on a sunny day, as an impressionable teen, that I visited the Blue Mosque in Shah Alam. I’d been staying over with a friend for the holidays and her parents wanted to make a prayer stop. I had the innocence of discovery as I stepped into that mosque, my eyes taking in its elegant beauty. As I stood in the women’s prayer gallery, this surreal peace settled over me, a feeling alien to an imaginative teen. Had you asked me then, I wouldn’t be able to describe it. I didn’t understand it at the time, nor did I recognize its value. It would take years of adulthood to learn to appreciate the serenity I had felt within those sacred walls. Once we left, the feeling was forgotten as teenage exuberance overwrote it. Over two decades later, I found myself in Sacré-Cœur, high up on a Parisian hilltop. I’d entered to the choir singing, goosebumps forming on my arms at the perfect harmony of voices echoing within the basilica. Suddenly it hit me, as I sat in the back pews to listen, that sense of peace that I’d forgotten. I was surprised to find tears falling. All the heartache woven by the trials of adulthood rising to the surface, to be washed away by the serenity that permeated that space. I exited Sacré-Cœur possessed of an incredible calm, only to be confronted by the scene of a murder right beyond its gates. My memory of it was of police lines, a body bag, and armed military; punctuated by the jarring thought that I’d left a place of tranquil to return to the madness of the real world. It was a time when shootings had occurred on the Champs-Élysées and security was on high alert. But the loss of that calm that I had just gained, was my greatest regret. In 2019, I meandered the streets of Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, working my way towards Kiyomizu-dera, the Pure Water Temple. It was later than I’d planned, some tour groups and school children on a field trip reaching its Nio-mon Gates just as I did. Resigned, I knew I’d lost the opportunity for early morning ‘no-people’ shots—my price for tardiness. As I wandered into the Hondo, the main hall that featured Kiyomizu-dera’s famed overhanging veranda, I turned back to look outside. The cool shadows of the Hondo contrasted strongly with the sunlight beyond, giving me the uncanny sense of being shielded from the extremities by something unworldly. The scent of smoky sandalwood incense evoked a feeling of quietude. I stepped into the inner sanctum, leaving the muted chattering of visitors behind, the sound of many footsteps becoming a vibration felt through the wooden floors. Someone rang the standing bell of the inner sanctum. I closed my eyes, drawing in that boundless peace that seemed to cleanse the soul of shadows. It echoed from the solemn heart of the Blue Mosque, through Sacré-Cœur, and now once again found me in the gentle halls of Kiyomizu-dera. Some spend a lifetime seeking, but never once finding that inner serenity. Some stumble upon it, like me. Though each experience was brief, it allowed me to appreciate those small moments of zen, when the world around slows down and turmoil is ground into dust. Later, walking the misty, mountain paths of Shoshazan Engyo-ji, I would wonder about the relationship between faith and serenity, how that same feeling existed in different places of worship. Was it me? Or was it simply the power of faith—that where prayer and goodwill converged, serenity would pool in abundance? I don’t have an answer. What I do know, is that where faith is focused, there is tranquillity. You just need to be open to it. The Bell of Benevolence stands near the entryway to Shoshazan Engyo-ji. Perhaps we should all ring it and resonate peaceful prayers to carry serenity around the world.