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Stillness Is the Key

Timeless Stoic and Buddhist philosophy

By Ryan Holiday
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Stillness Is the Key (2019) shows us the importance of stillness – the ability to think clearly, avoid distraction, conquer impulses and find happiness. Drawing on wisdom from history’s greatest philosophers and the habits of some of the world’s greatest athletes, leaders and artists, these blinks show how achieving stillness is a powerful way to find contentedness and success in life. 

Key idea 1 of 11

In a busy, noisy world, stillness is the key to peace, clarity and happiness.

One day in first century AD Rome, the power broker and philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, was trying to work. 

It wasn’t easy. The noise in Seneca’s environment was unrelenting, from the grunting of athletes dropping weights in the gym beneath his room to the dogs barking and vendors shouting in the street below. 

Seneca’s inner environment was just as chaotic. His finances were under threat, his enemies had pushed  him out of political life and he was losing favor with his patron, Emperor Nero. All in all, it was not a situation conducive to getting anything done, let alone engaging in anything of value like deep thought, creativity and decision-making.

It’s a problem that many of us recognize today. In our time, things are even noisier. To the chatter and clatter of Seneca’s environment, we can add loud cell phone conversations and planes overhead. We’re stressed out from overflowing inboxes and a constant stream of social media notifications. 

So – what can you do? 

Well, Seneca was able to find peace among the noise by embracing stillness

The key message here is: In a busy, noisy world, stillness is the key to peace, clarity and happiness.

So what is stillness? It may seem abstract, but you know it when you experience it. If you’ve ever concentrated so deeply that a burst of insight strikes you, you know stillness. If you’ve ever stepped in front of an audience and poured months of practice into a single, powerful performance, that’s stillness. If you’ve ever watched the slow rise of the morning sun and felt warmth at the simple phenomenon of  being alive, you’ve felt stillness. 

In a state a stillness, as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it, we are full and complete. "All the random and approximate are muted," he writes. That’s why Seneca could “mute” his chaotic inner and outer environments and find the serenity necessary to write incisive, powerful philosophical essays that have influenced millions today.

Seneca believed that if people could find peace within themselves, they would still be able to think, work and be well even if the world around them was at war.

Seneca lived thousands of years ago, but the power of stillness abides. Around the world, philosophers and religions have embraced Stillness, calling it many names: The Buddhists talked of upekkhā. Muslims, aslama. Christians, aequanimitas.

Stillness can be found all around the world, and throughout history. In the following blinks, let’s dig into how to achieve it for ourselves.

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