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The Art of Stillness: An evening with Pico Iyer

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Published on Feb 12, 2015

Pico Iyer is the author of eleven books, including such long-running bestsellers on the travel shelves as Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, and The Global Soul. A writer for Time since 1982 and a prolific journalist, he is known for his adventures just about everywhere—from North Korea to Easter Island, Ethiopia to Paraguay—while also writing novels about revolutionary Cuba and mystical Islam. His first book, Video Night in Kathmandu, is featured on many best travel book lists; his first novel, Cuba and the Night, was bought by Hollywood; and his first work of the new millennium, The Global Soul, has inspired websites, multimedia shows, and conferences around the world. Born in England to parents from India and educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard, Iyer writes frequently on globalism for Harper’s, on culture and politics for The New York Times, on literature for The New York Review of Books, and on many topics for magazines from National Geographic to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

An engaging and energetic speaker, Iyer has appeared twice as a Fellow at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, and has spoken at campuses around the United States, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and West Point. He speaks regularly at lecture series, too, from Seattle Arts & Lectures to the 92nd Street Y in New York. He has likewise charmed audiences at literary festivals from Bogotá to Shanghai and Edinburgh to Vancouver.

About the book
Why might a lifelong traveler like Pico Iyer, who has journeyed from Easter Island to Ethiopia, Cuba to Kathmandu, think that sitting quietly in a room might be the ultimate adventure? Because in our madly accelerating world, our lives are crowded, chaotic and noisy. There’s never been a greater need to slow down, tune out and give ourselves permission to be still.

In The Art of Stillness—a TED Books release—Iyer investigate the lives of people who have made a life seeking stillness: from Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman with a PhD in molecular biology who left a promising scientific career to become a Tibetan monk, to revered singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who traded the pleasures of the senses for several years of living the near-silent life of meditation as a Zen monk. Iyer also draws on his own experiences as a travel writer to explore why advances in technology are making us more likely to retreat. He reflects that this is perhaps the reason why many people—even those with no religious commitment—seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or seeking silent retreats. These aren't New Age fads so much as ways to rediscover the wisdom of an earlier age. Growing trends like observing an “Internet Sabbath”—turning off online connections from Friday night to Monday morning—highlight how increasingly desperate many of us are to unplug and bring stillness into our lives.

The Art of Stillness paints a picture of why so many—from Marcel Proust to Mahatma Ghandi to Emily Dickinson—have found richness in stillness. Ultimately, Iyer shows that, in this age of constant movement and connectedness, perhaps staying in one place is a more exciting prospect, and a greater necessity than ever before.

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