A travel writer, whose jobs mantra is to always keep moving, writes about sitting still and going nowhere. “How did that happen?”, one might ask as a first reaction. But when you stop to think about it (which is, in fact, the whole message of the book), it actually makes a lot of sense.
Discovering the Art of Stillness
As a travel writer Pico Iyer had the chance to feel the imbalance between being constantly on the move and finding peace while standing still, stronger than others. “We have the sense, too often, of running at top speed and never being able to catch up.”, he writes in his book that I can recommend to anyone without hesitation. Iyer was “hurrying around in search of contentment” which “seemed a perfect way of ensuring I’d never be settled or content”. Sounds familiar?
Of course it does. Doing stuff, learning more, improving one’s skills and being quick about it, is what they teach us from day one. We have to be better, faster and stronger than all the others competing with us. And it’s not only about the job. It’s about a fulfilled private life too. In our achievement-oriented society we are even competing who’s the happiest. You can find thousands of happy private lives on Facebook, wrapped up nicely in little photo albums that clearly don’t belong on the internet for hundreds of strangers to see. So, what are these people actually doing? They are showing these hundreds of strangers how perfectly happy they are. And the thought of their happy life being observed by others who will, judging from those happy pictures, conclude that their live is pretty awesome, somehow makes them “happy”. Or does it? “To hurry around trying to find happiness outside ourselves makes about as much sense as the comical figure in the Islamic parable who, having lost a key in his living room, goes out into the street to look for it because there’s more light there.”, Iyer says.
That’s when he discovered the art of stillness: clearing the head of all thoughts and stilling the emotions. “It’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” At the first glance, this might sound pretty boring. But this is only due to the bad image of stillness, which our fast-moving world has taught us to hate, so that we are not ever tempted to leave the hamster wheel that is earning a lot of people a lot of money. In fact, there’s much more to stillness than you might realize at first. “Stillness has nothing to do with settledness or stasis.”, Iyer explains.
In his book Iyer tells us the stories of people who have found stillness, among them Leonard Cohen (songwriter of “Hallelujah”) and french Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. In “The Art of Stillness” you will also find out why the tech-savvy Google crowd makes stillness a part of their daily lives, and why the people in Silicon Valley observe something called an “Internet Sabbath”. These stories will show you how a more balanced and truly happy life might look like. A life that is not concerned with its perception by others, but that concentrates on the happiness that lies within ourselves.
So, what are we actually competing for, when the thing all of us crave is available for all of us in abundance deep within?
“When friends ask me for suggestions about where to go on vacation, I’ll sometimes ask if they want to try Nowhere.” Coming from someone who has traveled the world for more than forty years and who has certainly seen the most beautiful places this world has to offer, this Nowhere sounds even more appealing. “One of the beauties of Nowhere is that you never know where you’ll end up when you head in its direction.”
“The Art of Stillness” is a must-read for anyone who is on the pursuit of happiness. But if you can’t make time for it in your busy schedule right now, you can start with Pico Iyer’s TED talk.
The best Viennese Coffee House to read this book in
What better place to celebrate the art of stillness in than the Café Schoppenhauer. This typical Viennese Coffee House is just around the corner from the Volksoper, but hidden in a quiet side street. You can enjoy a relaxing breakfast there all day long in one of its tiny booths and, as it is one of the few coffee houses near the city center which is not overcrowded with people, it is the perfect place to read a book or study in a nice and quiet atmosphere while getting served coffee and snacks.
Photo credit: Verena Ehrnberger