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Stillness Is the Key summary

Ryan Holiday

Timeless Stoic and Buddhist philosophy

4.6 (2913 ratings)
33 mins

Brief summary

Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday is a guidebook for cultivating inner peace and achieving greatness. It illustrates how stillness leads to clarity, creativity, and purpose, using insights from philosophy, history, and modern-day examples.

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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. 

    Stillness Is the Key Review

    Stillness Is the Key is a book by Ryan Holiday (2019) that explores the importance of finding inner calm in a chaotic world. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers practical strategies to cultivate stillness in our daily lives, helping us navigate stress and live with more clarity and purpose.
    • By intertwining historical anecdotes and wisdom from ancient philosophies, the author provides a fresh perspective on how stillness can lead to personal and professional success.
    • The book's thought-provoking concepts encourage self-reflection, prompting readers to reevaluate their priorities and find meaning in moments of tranquility.

    Best quote from Stillness Is the Key

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

    —Ryan Holiday
    example alt text

    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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    Stillness Is the Key FAQs 

    What is the main message of Stillness Is the Key?

    The main message of Stillness Is the Key is that finding inner calm and stillness is essential for success and fulfillment.

    How long does it take to read Stillness Is the Key?

    The reading time for Stillness Is the Key varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Stillness Is the Key a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Stillness Is the Key is a valuable read for anyone seeking peace and productivity. It offers practical insights and actionable advice.

    Who is the author of Stillness Is the Key?

    The author of Stillness Is the Key is Ryan Holiday.

    What to read after Stillness Is the Key?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Stillness Is the Key, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
    • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Atomic Habits by James Clear
    • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
    • 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness by Jim Rohn
    • The 3-Minute Rule by Brant Pinvidic
    • 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do by Amy Morin