The Art of Stillness Book Summary - The Art of Stillness Book explained in key points

The Art of Stillness summary

Pico Iyer

Adventures in Going Nowhere

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What is The Art of Stillness about?

The Art of Stillness (2014) reflects on the importance of slowing down and welcoming moments of quiet in a chaotic world. Iyer explores the lives of writers who’ve sought stillness and draws on his own life as a travel writer.

About the Author

Pico Iyer is an essayist for Time magazine, a TED speaker, and a novelist known for his travel writing. He’s a constant contributor to the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Harper's, Granta, and more than 200 other newspapers and magazines worldwide.

Table of Contents
    Key idea 1 of 6

    Sitting still helps us regain perspective.

    In 1998, author Pico Iyer visited his boyhood hero, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, during a surprising chapter in Cohen’s life. The suave, wandering troubadour had traded in his Armani suits for monastic robes and was living at a monastery in the San Gabriel Mountains outside Los Angeles.

    At the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Cohen’s name was Jikan – meaning the silence between two thoughts – and he was the student and personal assistant of Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki. He spent most of his days in near silence: meditating, doing odd jobs around the center, or sitting wordlessly with Sasaki.

    Like the author, Cohen had always been a traveler. His debut album includes four songs that revolve around the word “travel.” In one song, he sings goodbye to a lover because he has to “wander in my time.” So when Cohen told Iyer that he found sitting still to be “the real deep entertainment,” Iyer wondered if Cohen was being serious – as the influential artist was known for his irony.

    But Cohen was earnest about his Zen practice – and not because he sought purity or religious devotion. Instead, it was about confronting the terror and doubt that had plagued him throughout his life.

    Cohen wondered aloud about what else he might have been doing: settling down with a new woman? Trying new drugs? Sipping expensive wine? He reflected, finally, that stillness seemed “the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.” His newer songs would go on to reflect this. He sang about his stays at the Zen Center: “I needed so much to have nothing to touch / I’ve always been greedy that way.”

    Iyer was stunned by the contrast between Cohen’s current monastic seclusion and his previous life as a globe-trotting performer. But the author had experienced a similar impulse – albeit less extreme.

    At 29, the author had the life he’d dreamed about as a child. He was a journalist for Time magazine writing about world affairs, with fascinating assignments that sent him around the globe. He lived in an apartment on Park Avenue and 20th Street in New York City. He vacationed everywhere from Bali to El Salvador.

    But he felt like something was missing. He was moving so quickly from place to place that he never paused to ask himself if he was truly happy. So he decided to quit his job, leave NYC, and spend a year living in Kyoto, Japan.

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    Who should read The Art of Stillness

    • Anyone feeling burnt out by our fast-paced world
    • People seeking stillness
    • Leonard Cohen fans

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