My travel assignments were so frequent that patrons of our hospital thought I worked abroad and only came to my home place a few days a month. My wife always teases me, saying I was born with wings and wheels! Traveling always had its own consequences, such as jet lag. Like most people, I spent my travel time preparing for presentations, strolling in the duty-free shops, or watching in-flight movies non-stop. How could I have used that time in a better way so that upon reaching my destination I felt fresh and invigorated?

The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer.
The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer.

Then came an enlightenment: “For me, a flight is just a brief retreat in the sky!” After reading this profound statement, I paused and put this small, wonderful book down for a while to reflect upon it. As the author himself ponders, was this something available only to a monk who’d meditated for three decades in the Himalayas, and not for the rest of us? The answer, fortunately, is no! We can all have it.

I am a great fan of TED, a vision created to bring diverse and innovative ideas to the world from the very people who crafted them, thus creating a new celebrity community and phenomenon. I not only listen to TED talks frequently but have also read several books on them. My recent purchase was the TED Books Box Set: The Creative Mind, containing three books: The Art of Stillness, The Future of Architecture, and Judge This. When the package arrived, I felt a pinch in my pocket as each book was only a small booklet of fewer than 100 pages! I didn’t touch the box for a while, as I thought it was a bit pricey, and I even contemplated returning them!

One day, after my wife sternly reprimanded me for ordering new books without reading the ones I had, I picked up ‘The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere’ by Pico Iyer because the author appeared to be of Indian heritage. What attracted me even more was the side quote on the front page, “In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” For a man who believed in constant motion, this was peculiar, as was the title “Adventures in Going Nowhere.” My adventurism had taken me to seventy-five countries as a resource person for conferences, for humanitarian activities, and to assist my friends in their professional work. I wondered, how can going nowhere be an adventure?

I expected to finish this 72-page book with postcard-sized pages in less than an hour. However, every sentence made me pause and reflect upon its profundity, ultimately taking a full day. With anecdotes from the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Emily Dickinson, Leonard Cohen, and Marcel Proust, the author illustrates how stillness can quicken creativity and introduce a way of living that counters the frenzied rush of our modern lives. Iyer aptly states, “More and more of us feel like emergency room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription amid all the clutter on our desks.” He emphasizes, “Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources—it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather those less visible resources. Going nowhere is not about austerity so much as about coming closer to one’s senses.”

I have read several books on the importance of meditation and maintaining stillness. Another favorite of mine that dealt with the same topic was Eckhart Tolle’s “Stillness Speaks.” However, Iyer’s book stands out for its brevity, humble and succinct language, research data without jargon, and sharing personal experiences without reservations. After returning the book to the shelf, I am not only compelled to read his other works but am also motivated to explore Emily Dickinson, the Dalai Lama, Mathieu Ricard, and listen to the ballads of Leonard Cohen. As a proud Indian, I had read Gandhi’s works long ago.

These few words from the book shall linger in my mind for the rest of my life: “At some point, all the horizontal trips in the world stop compensating for the need to go deep into somewhere challenging and unexpected; movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness. In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

There are three important and interesting TED talks by Pico Iyer, and you can get the essence of this book from those talks.

Prof. Dr. Prahlada N.B
5 March 2019

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