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Book review: The art of stillness

A while ago I wrote about an interview I read in a magazine with Pico Iyer; a man who has mastered the art of stillness. I immediately ordered his book and I finally got round to reading it last week. Here is my review.

Like I wrote in my previous post, I had never heard of Pico Iyer before, but I was moved by what he was saying. It was just what I needed to hear. Pico Iyer has spent his life travelling the world as a travel writer. In this little 75-page book he writes about stillness and how it can boost creativity and change your life.

I read the book in about an hour – I love it when a book reads that easily and quickly. And I loved it! If you’re looking for a quick and instant source of inspiration, this book is for you. I was a little sceptical when I started reading it, because I am not so sure about this whole ‘sitting still’ concept. I believe in meditation and stillness, how it can calm your mind, but does it really beat travel and seeing the world?

According to Pico, it does. He writes that we always used to be hurrying around looking for happiness and contentment and this hurrying made sure he would never be settled or content. He also writes that going nowhere is a way of cutting through the noise and finding fresh time and energy to share with other people. He also calls is a “freedom from information” and I kind of liked this idea. There is so much information coming at us all the time; from social media, the television, news sites, blogs… And it’s so accessible to us. This oversaturation of information does the opposite of what is was intended for: it doesn’t make life easier. It makes life noisy and confusing.

“I continue to keep the cornucopia of technology at arm’s length, so that I can more easily remember who I am” – Kevin Kelly

We sometimes forget who we are and how we feel, because we’re constantly being bombarded with other people’s experiences, feelings, thoughts and the way they live their lives. And even the thought of turning this off for an hour can make people nervous. We are used to this constant surge of information and we are afraid we might miss out of we turn away, even for a little while.

 “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” – Shakespeare

Pico writes that it’s not our experiences that form us, but the ways in which we respond to them and I agree. Of course, in practice it’s still easy to believe that stuff just happens to us and feel sorry for ourselves. On the other hand, I find the idea quite comforting that the way something affects me is under my control. In his book Pico writes that the best weapon against stress is our own ability to choose one thought over another. I still need more practice in this though.

“Heaven is a place where you think of nowhere else”

This quote is from the book and I loved it. Think about it – is there any place in the world you could go where you wouldn’t think about going somewhere else? I can’t think of a place to be honest. Even when I’m in the most luxurious hotel or on the whitest beach, my mind is always wandering. A place doesn’t make you happy, it’s the way you perceive it. This is how we always keep running and moving around in search of a place, a job or a person that will make us ‘complete’, although that’s an illusion.

“A man sitting still is alone, often, with the memory of all he doesn’t have. And what he does have can look very much like nothing” – Pico Iyer

Pico writes that we, as humans, need very little in order to be happy and most of the confusion in the world comes from the fact that we don’t seem to realize that. He also writes about the importance of training minds to save lives. We focus so much on training our bodies, through exercise and healthy eating, but we often forget the mind. I have been wanting to start meditation for a while now, for about 10 minutes a day, but if I’m honest my gym-time always comes first. And after that I’m usually too tired to do anything else. But I’m going to make an effort in the coming weeks to start taking more care of my mind.

Pico Iyer finishes his book by writing that in an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still. So beautiful – and so true. We should all spend more time by ourselves in stillness.

Emmelyn X

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