The Art of Stillness | Pico Iyer

Summary of: The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere
By: Pico Iyer


Embark on a journey of introspection and rediscover the power of stillness with Pico Iyer’s insightful book, ‘The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere’. The summary delves into the experiences of the author and various personalities, including the iconic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, all seeking solace through stillness amidst their bustling lifestyles. Exploring the notions of inner peace and our need for tranquility, you will be guided through timeless wisdom from various cultures and benefits that clarity of mind, meditation, and taking a pause bring – enhancing your ability to navigate life’s challenges resiliently, forging deeper connections, and unlocking your creative potential.

The Zen of Leonard Cohen

The book narrates author Pico Iyer’s experience visiting Leonard Cohen as he transitions from a globetrotting artist to a Zen student living a monastic life. Cohen’s pursuit of stillness and reflection as a means to confront his inner demons and find fulfillment is explored in the book. Iyer’s own journey of leaving behind a successful career to live in Kyoto is also shared.

Leonard Cohen’s Zen Enlightenment Journey

This summary tells the story of Leonard Cohen’s journey to Zen enlightenment. The story follows the encounter of the author, Pico Iyer, with Cohen while he lived in a monastery in the San Gabriel Mountains outside of Los Angeles. Cohen had traded in his Armani suits for monastic robes, becoming a student and personal assistant of Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki. We learn about Cohen’s earnest approach to Zen, not for purity or religious devotion but rather to confront the terror and doubt that had plagued him throughout his life. Cohen reflects on his life as a globe-trotting performer and how stillness became the most luxurious response to his existence. The author relates to Cohen’s impulse to seek enlightenment, quitting his job and moving to Japan to find true happiness.

The Power of Stillness in Writing and Buddhism

In his book, The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer explores the transformative power of stillness and solitude. He highlights the examples of Marcel Proust and Matthieu Ricard, who were able to create works of great impact by withdrawing from society and practicing introspection. For Proust, stillness allowed him to explore how fleeting moments can shape our lives and memories, while for Ricard, it brought about a state of happiness that earned him the title “the happiest man in the world.” Through their stories, Iyer shows how adopting a similar approach to life can help us find meaning and fulfillment, whether as writers or practitioners of Buddhism.

The Beauty and Terror of Solitude

The life of solitude can trigger both beauty and terror. This is evident in the poems of American poet Emily Dickinson, who wrote about death and being haunted by her own mind. For American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, stillness wasn’t a path to happiness, and it required embracing nothingness. Merton’s crisis of faith showed that the inner self is constantly changing, even for those who dedicate their lives to stillness.

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