Posts Tagged ‘TED Books’

I got ‘The Art of Stillness : Adventures in Going Nowhere‘ by Pico Iyer as a birthday present from one of my favourite friends. It is a short book at around seventy pages and so I finished reading it soon.


In ‘The Art of Stillness‘, Pico Iyer, who is a traveller and a travel writer, looks at our life today, the busy schedule we have, the multi-tasking we do, how we are always connected and plugged in through the convergence of communication systems and social media, and asks the question, whether we can switch off, whether we can unplug ourselves, whether we can get away from it all, whether it is beneficial, whether it is possible.

This book has a freshness to it, because the theme it addresses is very relevant to our twenty-first century way of life. When Pico Iyer says,

“With machines coming to seem part of our nervous systems, while increasing their speed every season, we’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off – our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk”

we feel that he is talking about us and our lives.

The book divides itself naturally into two parts, though the division is not a sharp line in the sand – it is more like the way one colour fades away into another. In the first part, Pico Iyer contrasts all the noise, action, distraction, interruption which are part of our everyday lives with stillness and describes how stillness looks like, when it is present and when it is practised. In the second part, he describes how unplugging ourselves from this noise for even a short period of time everyday is reinvigorating and helps us see things from a fresh perspective and helps make our day more productive. The first part is more contemplative while the second part is more practical. Depending on your inclinations you might like one part or the other more. I have always been a useless person who avoided practical stuff and I always loved contemplation more and so I liked the first part of the book more.

We live in a world where action is valued and contemplation is not. As the William Henry Davies poem ‘Leisure‘ says, our life is so busy and full of care, that we don’t have time to stand and stare. This book tells us how contemplation, and standing and staring is valuable too.

There is a TED talk on this topic by Pico Iyer and this book is an extension of that talk. I haven’t heard that talk yet, but I presume it will be a good accompaniment to the book.

The book has beautiful photographs of the stunning Icelandic landscape. The photographic artist Eydis Eynarsdottir who is Icelandic, describes her artistic vision and journey in her one page essay. I have included a couple of the stunning photographs here to give you a feel.

Icelandic Landscape 1


Icelandic Landscape 2


Here are some of my favourite passages from the book to give a feel of how it looks like.

As Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius reminded us more than two millennia ago, it’s not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them; a hurricane sweeps through town, reducing everything to rubble, and one man sees it as a liberation, a chance to start anew, while another, perhaps even his brother, is traumatized for life. “There is nothing either good or bad,” as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “but thinking makes it do.”

…at some point all the horizontal trips in the world can’t compensate for the need to go deep into somewhere challenging and unexpected. Movement makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness.

We glimpse a stranger in the street, and the exchange lasts barely a moment. But then we go home and think on it and think on it and try to understand what the glance meant and inspect it from this angle and that one, spinning futures and fantasies around it. The experience that lasted an instant plays out for a lifetime inside us. It becomes, in fact, the story of our lives.

I loved ‘The Art of Stillness‘. It is not a young person’s book though. If you are young, or young at heart, you can and you probably should read this book. But you should also be trekking, climbing mountains, doing bungee jumping and parasailing, skiing in the Swiss Alps, seeing the pyramids and the great Wall and the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu and falling in love and having romantic dinners in London and Paris and Venice and St.Petersburg and Shanghai and taking cruises on rivers and oceans. When you have been there and done that, you should take this book down from the shelf and read it again. But if you have already done these (or are not interested in doing these) and have already had rich life experience (don’t worry, even a punk like me who is an introvert and a couch potato has had rich life experience. You probably have handled some amazing, challenging situations), then this book is written exactly for you and will make lot of sense.

Have you read ‘The Art of Stillness‘? What do you think about it?

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