The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer by Pico Iyer - Read Online
The Art of Stillness
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Summary

A follow up to Pico Iyer’s essay “The Joy of Quiet,” The Art of Stillness considers the unexpected adventure of staying put and reveals a counterintuitive truth: The more ways we have to connect, the more we seem desperate to unplug.

Why might a lifelong traveler like Pico Iyer, who has journeyed from Easter Island to Ethiopia, Cuba to Kathmandu, think that sitting quietly in a room might be the ultimate adventure? Because in our madly accelerating world, our lives are crowded, chaotic and noisy. There’s never been a greater need to slow down, tune out and give ourselves permission to be still.

In The Art of Stillness—a TED Books release—Iyer investigate the lives of people who have made a life seeking stillness: from Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman with a PhD in molecular biology who left a promising scientific career to become a Tibetan monk, to revered singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who traded the pleasures of the senses for several years of living the near-silent life of meditation as a Zen monk. Iyer also draws on his own experiences as a travel writer to explore why advances in technology are making us more likely to retreat. He reflects that this is perhaps the reason why many people—even those with no religious commitment—seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or seeking silent retreats. These aren't New Age fads so much as ways to rediscover the wisdom of an earlier age. Growing trends like observing an “Internet Sabbath”—turning off online connections from Friday night to Monday morning—highlight how increasingly desperate many of us are to unplug and bring stillness into our lives.

The Art of Stillness paints a picture of why so many—from Marcel Proust to Mahatma Gandhi to Emily Dickinson—have found richness in stillness. Ultimately, Iyer shows that, in this age of constant movement and connectedness, perhaps staying in one place is a more exciting prospect, and a greater necessity than ever before.

In 2013, Pico Iyer gave a blockbuster TED Talk. This lyrical and inspiring book expands on a new idea, offering a way forward for all those feeling affected by the frenetic pace of our modern world.
Published: Simon & Schuster/ TED on
ISBN: 9781476784731
List price: $7.99
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Epigraph

INTRODUCTION Going Nowhere

CHAPTER 1 Passage to Nowhere

CHAPTER 2 The Charting of Stillness

CHAPTER 3 Alone in the Dark

CHAPTER 4 Stillness Where It’s Needed Most

CHAPTER 5 A Secular Sabbath

CHAPTER 6 Coming Back Home

Acknowledgments

About the Photography

About the Author

Watch Pico Iyer’s TED Talk

About TED Books

About TED

For Sonny Mehta, who has taught me, and so many others, about art, stillness, and the relation between them.

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.

—Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Introduction

Going Nowhere

The sun was scattering diamonds across the ocean as I drove toward the deserts of the east. Leonard Cohen, my hero since boyhood, was singing so long to Marianne on my sound system when I turned onto the snarl of freeways that clog and clutter central Los Angeles. The sharp winter sun disappeared behind a wall of gray for more than an hour, and then at last I drew out again into the clear.

Turning off the freeway, I followed a riddle of side streets onto a narrower road, all but empty, that snaked up into the high, dark San Gabriel Mountains. Very soon all commotion fell away. Los Angeles simplified itself into a silhouette of peaks in the distance.

High up—signs prohibiting the throwing of snowballs now appeared along the road—I came to a cluster of rough cabins scattered across a hillside. A small man in his sixties, stooped and shaven-headed, stood waiting for me in a rough parking lot. As soon as I got out of my car, he offered a deep ceremonial bow—though we’d never met before—and insisted on carrying my things into the cabin where I was to stay for the next many days. His dark and threadbare monastic robes flew around him in the wind.

Once inside the shelter of the room, the monk started cutting up some freshly baked bread, to console me for my long drive. He put on a kettle for tea. He told me he had a wife for me if I wanted one (I didn’t; I had one on the way).

I’d come up here in order to write about my host’s near-silent, anonymous life on the mountain, but for the moment I lost all sense of where I was. I could hardly believe that this rabbinical-seeming gentleman in wire-rimmed glasses and wool cap was in truth the singer and poet who’d been renowned for thirty years as an international heartthrob, a constant traveler, and an Armani-clad man of the world.

Leonard Cohen had come to this Old World redoubt to make a life—an art—out of stillness. And he was working on simplifying himself as fiercely as he might on the verses of one of his songs, which he spends more than ten years polishing to perfection. The week I was visiting, he was essentially spending seven days and nights in a bare meditation hall, sitting stock-still. His name in the monastery, Jikan, referred to the silence between two thoughts.

The rest of the time he largely spent doing odd jobs around the property, cleaning dishes in the kitchen and, most of all, tending to the Japanese abbot of the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Joshu Sasaki, then eighty-eight years old. Cohen ended up sitting still with his elderly friend for more than forty years.

One evening—four in the morning, the end of December—Cohen took time out from his