It’s called stress and surely it’s not a news in the life of a freelance. Especially in the summer, that for us means not going in holidays (please, forget the equation abroad=holidays, because for me it’s not valid) and at the same time having to deal with the vacations mood of everyone else, meaning slowing down all the activities, projects not starting, contacts postponed day after day. Then taxes, pricey and – those, of course – always in time. The tiredness, anyway, it’s global, and makes our days a continue switch between “now I do, I write, I end…” while we just go around in circles.
I passed my twentieth day in Belfast and I’d like to talk you about my afternoons, my nights in this beautiful and particular city, but I don’t have the energy. I’d like to tell you about my experience but it seems I’m limper of those working in these same days at 35° in Italy. I stare at white Word’s sheets, I smile reading others’ articles and I think that yes, I would have to write too, I’ll do it right now! Then I continue to stare at the nothingness and time passes. I sleep bad at night, I’m nervous, I dream of improving my skills in courses I can’t afford. Well, let’s say it: I’m tired. And, even worse, I can’t and I don’t want to rest, because if I rest I don’t earn money, and if I don’t earn money how can I fill that hole in my bank account left from taxes?
So, in the middle of all this, two days ago I decided to stop for some time – because anyway I know that I can’t do much when I feel like this – and I thought it was good to read something. I had there from some time a book that was waiting for me to be opened: it’s “The art of stillness – Adventures in going nowhere“, written by Pico Iyer, journalist and tireless traveler. I have no idea if it was published even before, but I know that TED promoted it on the pages of its blog among the TED Books. It happens that TED is the way of relaxing, the “don’t worry, there are good things, intelligent people in the world”, the “you are not the only one feeling like this and there’s a solution” that sometimes I grant myself. In other words, I trust them; even if I’m in a moment in which I would have to go somewhere doing things and they suggest me a book that wants to take me “nowhere”.
– the book is very short, only 64 pages of words, but also white spaces and some landscape photography: the writer says that it was written like this on purpose, for being read from anyone in any moment, even during the travel on the train from work to home. It took me no more than two hours to complete it and in this way surely I felt less guilty towards the work I had to do.
– the story starts talking about Iyer’s travel to reach Leonard Cohen, that happen to be one of my favourite artists in the world! That was unexpected. Then I started to recall all the stories I heard about Cohen’s spiritual retreat, those I actually thought were exagerations (“Oh well, sure, he probably just went a bit in the country”) and I understood.
So, as I said, the book starts with the story of Iyer’s meeting with Leonard Cohen, at the time in a monastery retreat, and the explaination of why he was there. Exactly: why? Why someone that seems to be able to have whatever you could want in life decides to live isolated and in silence, away from that world that adores him? Cohen says that stillness and isolation are the closer thing to lasting happiness he could find, because these help our good feeling not changing when life decides to challenge us again. Also he defines all this the most luxurious and sontuous answer he could find to the emptiness of his experience. Not bad at all, isn’t it?
The writer then continues talking about his personal experience, when he left a dream life in New York to retreat to a completely different style of life in Japan. And here comes the sentence that moved something inside me: Iyer talks of how, after his moving and change of life, his father couldn’t understand his choice, because “the point of life is to get somewhere in the world, not to go nowhere”. Exactly the kind of pressure I feel in this period, when I know I need to rest but I can’t/don’t want; it’s precisely the going on and on walking because “the point of life is to get somewhere in the world” that, paradoxically, prevents me from doing the things I should. So the solution to my problem would be to go nowhere? Iyer gives the answer: those that write are obliged by profession to spend time going nowhere. Exactly: to imagine, to think, to write are all activities that need time, pause, silence, and without them I can’t do my job. The stress of giving always more, arriving always higher, beyond, made me forget how important it is for me to just sit at a desk, free my mind and protect it from the many, too many information coming from the outside and, simply, write.
In the book, the author faces also the big fear most of us have in front of stillness: if I’m not doing this million and a half things today, tomorrow I’ll find three millions to do all together. Actually, Iyer explains how it isn’t exactly like this: the time passed resting will be useful to work better, and faster, later, but most of all to make us happier.
Therefore, “The art of stillness – Adventures in going nowhere” is a little handbook that helps us thinking on the importance and, how Cohen said, the luxury of remaining still and chosing of not going anywhere in a world everyday faster, that seems to not let us the time to end what we have to do and, finally, live. Both Iyer and Cohen choose to periodically pass some time in retreat inside monasteries in the middle of nowhere. I’d like to, but at the moment I really can’t; anyway, from two days I started to stop the anxiety that always begins to grip as I find myself, wanting it or not, still: I try to use that time to free my mind and rest. Is it working? It’s still early to say it, but surely it’s helping me fighting the stress and anxiety of these days.
Last thing. If you are thinking that buying this book you will find in front of your eyes the classic guru words, maybe filled with spiritual advices, you are wrong: more than once in these pages, Pico Iyer says that he is not member of any religious group or spiritual trend and talks of how he never used meditation in his life. So, thing for me pretty remarkable, there’s no invitation, clear or not, to follow enlighting spiritualities or religious groups.
You can buy the book on Amazon at this link The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (TED Books) (English Edition) (so you help me cover this blog’s expenses and to buy other books 🙂 ). Thanks!