Pico Iyer is a well travelled man. His adventures have taken him to more dots and patches on the globe than most of us dream of ever visiting. His world has had the radiance of the many opportunities, stimulations and comforts accrued as a successful writer on world affairs. Yet he chose to exchange all of this for a movement-free year in a small room in the backend of Kyoto, practising the art of stillness. This inward expedition turned out to be his most rewarding wandering, the trip that would invite more returns than any of his outer-world journeys. "It's only when you stop moving", says Iyer, "that you can be moved in some far deeper way (The Art of Stillness. Adventures in Going Nowhere. TED Books, 2014: 22).

Iyer's exploration of stillness as the most valuable antidote to our frenetically switched on and over-connected lives, also took him on a visit to the remote Mount Baldy Zen Centre in the San Gabriel Mountains, to speak with Leonard Cohen. Cohen spent more than 40 years there, for the most part sitting still in a basic, unembellished meditation space, far away from his public world of fame and extravagance. Cohen described this interlude in the faraway hills as "the real deep entertainment" he had found thusfar in six decades of living (Iyer, 2014:3). 

Stillness-seeking self-secluders alert us to the scam that living wholly and unmindfully in the tumblings of our thoughts creates a maze of fabrications. "With our thoughts we create the world", was wisdom imparted by the Buddha thousands of years ago. Pausing to be still, though, brings something different. It allows one to connect, viscerally and directly, with immediate lived experience - so much more full-bodied, finely layered and astonishing than the old-hat ways in which we conceptualize it. Slowness and stillness help us to touch into experience more directly. As TS Eliot has it in Four Quartets, "at the still point, there the dance is."

Even just a few continuous hours spent in retreat-like silence tend to bring connection with dazzling, pocket-sized miracles that more usually are lost from recognition: how, for example, in the resolute processional march of ants, each is a party to the grand scheme of precision; the way blades of grass rise up as a congregation of texture against feet that are awake to sensation, each blade making its own harmless piercing; the energetic jewel-dance of dust motes in a flute of light; the agitated, or the dismal, or the thirsty dry-earth song of our own heart.

The persuasive array of big-world temptations that parade before us bring skepticism of the merits of stillness, of slowing down, of being nowhere that we know already, or could easily imagine. There are no travel brochures with glossy pictures of this essential trip!

Not everyone, of course, is able to up sticks from the demands of mainstream life for the silence of a hideaway in the hills. But we all can, says Iyer, introduce regular slices of quiet time in situ, to punctuate the frenzy of our days.  He advocates what he calls a Secular Sabbath - intermittent, deliberate gaps into which we can retreat for stillness from the ongoing swish and roundabout of our lives (2014: 53 - 57).

Many forward-thinking enterprises integrate mindfulness sessions into the traffic flow of their operations. Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank, Procter & Gamble, General Mills are some of them. General Mills has found that productivity has increased, decision-making has improved and so has the quality of listening. These are clearly very valuable, profit-related benefits for any organisation. (Hansen on Forbes website, 2012)

I seldom have a fresh idea emerge from out of the action reel of my day. Rather, a new thought may surprise me in the quiet night hours that I sometimes spend awake, or sitting on the meditation cushion, or when I deliberately pause my day to attend inside with greater interest and curiosity than assumption or expectation. I suspect it may be this way for most. What is difficult and slippery, though, is to elevate these pauses to priority level.

Activity breeds more activity; distraction begets distraction. It's all too easy to sweep through the days very busily - perhaps more busily than truly industriously - because "busy" is so enthroned in our times as a virtue. Sometimes it takes a casualty-experience to recover a glimpse of the possibilities in slowing down, of stillness as a profitable venture - or at least as a risky adventure worth taking.

Another excellent practise-ground for pausing to contact inner experience directly, is Eugene Gendlin's Focusing. It is less well-known than mindfulness, but extraordinarily useful as a means of slowing down, getting present to the moment-by-moment tide of inner life, and unwrapping genuine new sparklings of life.

Pause is the pivot-point of new movement. People who do physical strength training understand how short 
rests between repetitions increase muscle hypertrophy and ultimately, build strength. An activity-pause sequence seems to be part of the regeneration factor in the natural living world. For us people, Iyer contends, "stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources - it's a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources." (2014: 6)

"In an age of 
distraction", he concludes in The Art of Stillness, "nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still." (2014: 66)


Hansen, EW (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhansen/2012/10/31/a-guide-to-mindfulness-at-work/#4d197f846870

Iyer, Pico (2014). The Art of Stillness. Adventures in Going Nowhere. TED Books. London: Simon & Schuster.