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The Art of Stillness

Book Notes

Written by the same author as The Lady and the Monk, this book was the subject of a "weekend reading" post. Given its author, I chose to download the book from the library (my being fortunate that it was available), and read it.

It's another essay book, which means it's a quick read, but it is none-the-less interesting, thought-provoking, necessary, and worth reading.

Iyer writes about "going Nowhere," about just being, and about stillness. The book has a companion TED-something video.

After The Lady and the Monk, I'm a fan of Iyer's style of writing, his voice in the writing, so I willingly read the book. I'm glad I did. The timing of it into my life was perfect - just as I needed to settle, to be still, this book and Iyer's words were with me.

I strongly recommend this book.

“What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.”
Page 3

One could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves one rise to the surface.
Page 5

One could even, as Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and one is reminded, at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.
Page 5

For all the daily excitement, however, something inside me felt that I was racing around so much that I never had a chance to see where I was going, or to check whether I was truly happy.
Page 11

Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.
Page 13

As America’s wisest psychologist, William James, reminded us, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Page 13

Movement makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness.
Page 15

Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else.
Page 15

No one I’d met could better explain, for example, how getting caught up in the world and expecting to find happiness there made about as much sense as reaching into a fire and hoping not to get burned.
Page 24

Clouds and blue sky, of course, are how Buddhists explain the nature of our mind: there may be clouds passing across it, but that doesn’t mean a blue sky isn’t always there behind the obscurations. All you need is the patience to sit still until the blue shows up again.
Page 26

This is what your mind — your life — looks like when you’re going nowhere. Always full of new colors, sights, and beauties; always, more or less, unaltered.
Page 30

Whenever I travel to North Korea or Yemen—to any of the world’s closed or impoverished places—I see how almost anyone born to them would long to be anywhere else, and to visit other countries with the freedom that some of the rest of us enjoy.
Page 31

Nowhere can be scary, even if it’s a destination you’ve chosen; there’s nowhere to hide there.
Page 32

A life of stillness can sometimes lead not to art but to doubt or dereliction; anyone who longs to see the light is signing on for many long nights alone in the dark.
Page 32

One of the laws of sitting still, in fact, is that “if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or, worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced.”
Page 33

You don’t get over the shadows inside you simply by walking away from them.
Page 40

The one thing technology doesn’t provide us with is a sense of how to make the best use of technology. Put another way, the ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is now far less important than the ability to sift through it.
Page 42

The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape.
Page 53

Stillness has nothing to do with settledness or stasis.
Page 61

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life,” Thomas Merton, one of its sovereign explorers, pointed out, “is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life solves them for you.”
Page 61

In progress notes:

Cheri on MB started reading this book on 7/7

Cohen ended up sitting still with his elderly friend for more than forty years.
Page 2

Was Cohen friends with his friend for more than forty years, or did Cohen sit with his friend for more than forty years. I can't tell, and both could be possible depending on how old the two men are and how long they have been sitting, cumulatively, over the years.

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