The Art of Stillness, by Pico Iyer

I stood in a queue to get a signed copy of “The Art of Stillness”. This was not a fiction or a crime thriller. Pico Iyer, the author, was an ordinary looking gentleman. But the topic, the art of staying still and watch life flow by, he dealt in his book is extraordinary. In this fast paced world of information revolution, where a person is always in touch with external world through mobile phone, e-mail and internet, an individual is moving away from his own self.

To discover and be in touch with his own self, Pico Iyer quit his job with Time Magazine in New York and stayed in Kyoto, Japan for two years. By his own admission, author did not own a car or a TV and accessed e-mail once daily. So he was not driven like most others like him. He was taking charge of his own life. The author did not describe what he did in Japan. It appeared such a slowing down gave him a new perspective on life and made him happy.

In six essays in his book, author describes how more and more people are paying attention to staying still. Modern internet companies like Google encourages yoga and meditation for new ideas and advices e-mail, mobile phone and internet free weekends. An US marine talks about beneficial effect of meditation on job alertness.

Celebrity singer and music director Leonard Cohen spends day and night sitting still in a Zen Buddhist monastry up on San Gabriel mountain in California. Cohen had access to all pleasures that life can offer. Yet, when asked for reason, he responded “what would I be rather doing? Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs and buy more expensive wine?” Cohen, by his own admission, had found “real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available within this activity.”

“The Art of Stillness” is a powerful book. It empowers its readers. Without being preachy, the author points towards immense resource that is within us, yet a capacity that remains untapped. The idea of stillness is not novel. In all religious disciplines, there is advice to spend time in front of resident deity in the morning and evening. Chanting mantra is nothing but staying in the present and keeping a distance from daily activities, good or bad, for a while. Sceptics will say, problems do not go away if one stays away. It is true, but the person becomes bigger than the problem, if a distance can be created between the observed and the observed.

13 thoughts on “The Art of Stillness, by Pico Iyer

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  1. I was familiar with the name of Pico Iyer though I did not know much or rather anything about him. Reading this post, I am reminded that his columns appeared in some newspaper and the unusual sounding name remained in my mind. He seems to have explored and probed the age-old oriental teachings of harnessing the inner capabilities by practising how to quieten the mind. Going by your post it looks like a very good read.

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    1. Human mind is an excellent instrument. It gets used to anything that we throw at. TV and gadgets are pretty recent. In eighties we used get by without TV. Point is we are moving away slowly but steadily from ourselves. We are losing the habit of reading.

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    1. That is a new facet about you that I learnt. The Art of Stillness is not exactly a manual. Rather it discusses a few examples of people that give a glimpse of an alternate reality. I bought another book, “The Man in My Head”. Someday I shall write about it.

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  2. Lovely book review. Being still brings its own rewards that we can try and describe as much as possible but really it just needs to be experienced – as Bob Dylan is doing, wisely.

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    1. Thank you for reading. It is not easy to stay still. It needs self control. Blessed are those who can stay still yet focused.

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