Book Review: The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere (Pico Iyer)

Book Review: The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere (Pico Iyer)

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

Our Fast Paced Lives

I think we can all admit to this – I know I can…. our lives are too fast paced. Doesn’t seem to matter who you are, even if you consider yourself lazy or a person who is inactive, it seems all of our lives are fast paced nowadays. Even as a reader, even as someone who enjoys writing, my life seems too hectic, too fast paced, too full. Each day’s ‘to – do’ list, or list of things I want to cover, write about, explore, think about, seems to grow, or seems to never get accomplished (in full).

We, as society, need to learn how to slow things down. To calm ourselves, and to reach a level of zen and peace and calmness and stillness in our lives. Pico Iyer covers just this with his TED Talk turned book, here in “The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere”.

Pico Iyer

Author Pico Iyer (photo credit: GoodReads)

About the author:

Pico Iyer is a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian descent. As an acclaimed travel writer, he began his career documenting a neglected aspect of travel — the sometimes surreal disconnect between local tradition and imported global pop culture. Since then, he has written ten books, exploring also the cultural consequences of isolation, whether writing about the exiled spiritual leaders of Tibet or the embargoed society of Cuba.

Iyer’s latest focus is on yet another overlooked aspect of travel: how can it help us regain our sense of stillness and focus in a world where our devices and digital networks increasing distract us? As he says: “Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds. Nearly everybody I know does something to try to remove herself to clear her head and to have enough time and space to think. … All of us instinctively feel that something inside us is crying out for more spaciousness and stillness to offset the exhilarations of this movement and the fun and diversion of the modern world.”

Author page: Pico Iyer (Source: GoodReads)

He was born on January 1st, 1957 in the United Kingdom.

Book Review

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.

GoodReads Blurb on “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer

In my usual “snorting around” of the Hershey Public Library, found this on a quasi – self help shelf that they have. The Hershey Library doesn’t have exactly the best cataloguing of their books on shelves, and they have some weird mix – matches and mashups / mashup shelves. They have a quasi / sort of self – help, and general book reference shelf, where its books like this, or books of stats, or books of weird oddities that the library just kinda throws up on that shelf since they don’t know where else to put it.

But in my walking around, and looking through each shelf, like I do every time I visit the library, seeing what sparks my interest, I happened upon this. Its a quick, short, simple read, and great to boost and help you get to that reading challenge for the year (mine is 110 books this year).

Any avid reader already knows the “art of stillness”, and there is definitely something to it. That peaceful calmness of just ‘being’. Ironically, I read this on a weekend (my work weekend) where I had a day of 29,000+ steps, and a day where I was going from one thing to another and getting myself a head-cold in the process, and now laying in bed ‘recovering’ and reading.

I know personally, I have my greatest peace of mind when I’m out in the woods (walking though) or just taking a long, soothing shower. Their both (my) [a] form of meditation.

I always enjoy these little TED books whenever I find them at the library. Quick to read and digest, usually with a beautiful book design, and about something practical and interesting. This is a few short essays by Pico Iyer about Leonard Cohen being ‘still’ and Thomas Merton as well as the author himself and a few others. In this day and age of high paced action, it’s definitely worth reading/considering.

There is a popular Arabic proverb that goes something like this: “Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence.” Add to this how it goes hand in hand with Douglas Adams’ idea that when the mouth opens the brain shuts off, and you understand how people function, talk, and communicate with each other nowadays. We talk to hear ourselves speak, we don’t listen, we just wait til its our turn to get our next point across, its all zip – zip – zip. Our movements, our communications, our interactions, everything is sped up and fast paced in today’s world.

Thats why books like Pico Iyer’s “The Art of Stillness” helps to get us to calm down, and to see the world in a much slower speed and pace, to have ‘adventures in going nowhere’, and to learn the ‘art of stillness’, which is as troubling as can be in times like these.

But its a skill we all need to learn – at our own peril not to.

My GoodReads Rating: ****
Global Average GoodReads Rating: 3.67 (as of 7.21.21)
My LibraryThing Rating: ***.5

As always, thank you everyone for reading. Please check out our other works – including book, beer, and hike reviews. As well as brewery reviews, hop growing, home brewing, travelogues, brewery news, and all kinds of nonsense here on The Beer Thrillers blog.


-B. Kline

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