Stillness Is the Key Book Summary - Stillness Is the Key Book explained in key points
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Stillness Is the Key summary

Ryan Holiday

Timeless Stoic and Buddhist philosophy

4.6 (1897 ratings)
33 mins
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    Stillness Is the Key
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    Finding stillness

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

    It wasn’t easy. The noise in Seneca’s environment was unrelenting. Beneath his room was a gym, where athletes grunted and groaned, their weights banging and clanking. Out in the street, dogs barked and vendors shouted their wares. 

    As though this external ruckus weren’t enough, Seneca was also plagued by a cacophony of concerns. 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 much done, let alone engaging in activities of intellectual value like deep thought, creativity, or decision-making.

    Seneca’s problem – struggling to find stillness in a very unstill world – probably sounds familiar. In our time, things are even noisier. To the banging and barking of Seneca’s environment, we can add loud phone conversations, cars roaring by, planes overhead. Depending on where you live, there may not be so many vendors shouting their wares, but now we’ve got overflowing inboxes and unceasing social-media notifications, an eternal chorus of pinging and dinging and ringing.  

    So – what can you do? Seneca, for his part, found peace amid the noise by embracing stillness

    So what is stillness? 

    Have you ever concentrated so deeply that, as though from nowhere, like a bolt from the blue, a burst of insight suddenly struck you? That is stillness. Or have you stepped in front of an audience and poured months of practice into a single, powerful performance? That is stillness. Have you watched the slow rise of the morning sun and been warmed by the simple fact of being alive? That is stillness. 

    As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it, in a state of stillness, we are “full, complete" – and “all the random and approximate [are] muted.” Seneca was able to find this stillness, to “mute” his inner and outer environments, and, though plagued by troubles and distractions, find the serenity to write incisive, powerful philosophical essays that have influenced millions and millions of people.

    Seneca believed that if people could find peace within themselves, all else would be possible – thought, work, a good life – 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 by many and various names: upekkha (Buddhists), aslama (Muslims), aequanimitas (Christians), apatheia (Stoics). (Apatheia, by the way, which is the root of the word apathy, doesn’t mean listless or apathetic or emotionless. It means to be undisturbed by passion – in a good way. Equanimity might be the best translation, a kind of emotional stillness.) 

    Point is, under different names, in different guises, stillness can be found all around the world, and all throughout history. In this Blink, we’ll explore how to find it for ourselves.

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    What is Stillness Is the Key about?

    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 on the habits of outstanding athletes, leaders, and artists, these blinks show how achieving stillness is a powerful way to find contentedness and success in life. 

    Best quote from Stillness Is the Key

    Stillness is the key to, well, just about everything. 

    —Ryan Holiday
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    Who should read Stillness Is the Key?

    • Frazzled people seeking to escape the constant distractions of modern life
    • Busy people who need more balance, calm, and focus
    • Fast movers who want to slow down

    About the Author

    Ryan Holiday is an American author, media strategist, and bookstore owner. He’s also the host of the Daily Stoic podcast. His other books include Lives of the Stoics, Ego is the Enemy, and The Obstacle is the Way.

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