“After decades as a travel writer, Pico Iyer has fallen in love with being still. His new book, “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,’’ is a bustling paean to the stationary life. His reflections on the value of the meditative mind are quite global, leaping from the novels of Marcel Proust to the songs of Leonard Cohen, from a remote mountaintop in California to the back streets of Kyoto.
More essay than book in length, the work’s brevity seems designed to accommodate the very busyness Iyer decries. But he embraces this irony: ‘It’s deliberately short, so you can read it in one sitting and quickly return to your busy (perhaps overbusy) life.’ After all, there is no inherent reason a book praising inner quiet must be a voluminous tome; the fact that you can absorb his message on a short plane trip increases its odds of reaching a broader audience.
Iyer’s argument is an engaging amalgam of memoir, reportage, and literary essay. The personal sections recount the pleasure and perspective he derives from interrupting his travel obligations to stay still in a single place. He began this practice in his early 30s, spending a few days at a Benedictine retreat in Northern California. After some squirming, he started to feel the same deep attunement to the present moment that many meditators report. Normally neglected details — the sight of the sea, a grazing deer — acquired the luminous glow of revelations.
Nick Romeo, “‘The Art of Stillness’ by Pico Iyer,” Boston Globe. November 28, 2014. Web.
“When I was twenty-nine, I had the life I might have dreamed of as a boy: a twenty-fifth-floor office in Midtown Manhattan, four blocks from Times Square; an apartment on Park Avenue and Twentieth Street; the most interesting and convivial colleagues I could imagine; and an endlessly fascinating job writing about world affairs—the ending of apartheid in South Africa, the People Power Revolution in the Philippines, the turmoil around Indira Gandhi’s assassination—for Time magazine. I had no dependents or responsibilities, and I could—and did—take long vacations everywhere from Bali to El Salvador.
“For all the daily excitement, however, something inside me felt that IW as racing around so much that I never had a chance to see where I was going, or to check whether I was truly happy. Indeed, hurrying around in search of contentment seemed a perfect way of ensuring I’d never be settled or content. Too often I reminded myself of someone going on and one about world peace in the most contentious and divisive of terms.”
“The idea of being Nowhere—choosing to sit still long enough to turn inward—is at heart a simple one. If your car is broken, you don’t try to find ways to repaint its chassis; most of our problems—and therefore our solutions, our peace of mind—lie within. To hurry around trying to find happiness outside ourselves makes about as much sense as the comical figure in the Islamic parable who, having lost a key in his living room, goes out into the street to look for it because there’s more light there. As Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius reminded us more than two millennia ago, it’s not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them; a hurricane sweeps through town, reducing everything to rubble, and one man sees it as a liberation, a chance to start anew, while another, perhaps even his brother, is traumatized for life. ‘There is nothing either good or bad,’ as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, ‘but thinking makes it so.’
“So much of our lives takes place in our heads—in memory or imagination, in speculation or interpretation—that sometimes I feel that I can best change my life by changing the way I look at it. As America’s wisest psychologist, William James, reminded us, ‘The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.’ It’s the perspective we choose—not the places we visit—that ultimately tells us where we stand. Every time I take a trip, the experience acquires meaning and grows deeper only after I get back home and, sitting still, begin got convert the sights I’ve seen into lasting insights.”