Book Review by Andy Ghillyer
To describe this modern world as noisy would be an understatement. People are overfed and undernourished with an uninterrupted flow of news, entertainment, and social media. Working lives are stressful and under-resourced, replacing any semblance of privacy or solitude in an office with cube farms that cram the maximum number of people in the minimum amount of space.
In his new book Stillness Is the Key, author Ryan Holiday warns that such constant overwhelm does both spiritual and physical damage that can only go untreated for so long before the body and mind inevitably suffer. His earlier books have reached out to Stoicism and Buddhism for answers, and his approach is similar here, with an impressive blend of both historical and modern figures who have found a solution to stress in serenity. Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Confucius are acknowledged alongside Anne Frank, Winston Churchill, Tiger Woods, and Mr. Rogers––all experienced stress and obstacles in different forms; each found a way back to serenity.
The superficial simplicity of the author’s solution is deceptive. The road to stillness is not outward but inward. In other words, we have always had access to this state of calm, we have just forgotten how to get there under the constant barrage of noise and stress. The author draws a map by focusing on three key components.
Unlocking the Three Domains
Accessing the serenity that remains dormant for so many of us requires careful attention to the “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul––the head, the heart, the flesh”:
- The Mind––you may recognize the term ‘beginner’s mind,’ or even ‘monkey mind,’ but the problem is the same. Information overload plus an aggressive inner critic can leave stillness beyond your reach. The author’s reference to Anne Frank is a logical connection to his proposed solution––daily journaling. Getting what’s rattling around in your head onto a page, without any concern for quality or grammar, provides a release of psychic space that gives you room to think, breathe, and develop the discipline to keep out the noise.
- The Spirit follows a more metaphysical path by embracing moral character, the idea of enough, and the acceptance of a higher power. Tracking the rise and fall of Tiger Woods’ professional and personal lives aligns closely with the underlying question for this domain: “For what does a man profit…if he should gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”.
- The Body warns of the dangers of burning the candle at both ends. Winston Churchill led Britain through very dark times under unimaginable stress. He coped by balancing peak productivity with creative and restorative play, including painting and bricklaying. Purposeful motion that conserves energy rather than wasting it, combined with regular exercise can overcome the stress generated by hours of immobility at your desk.
Holiday makes it clear that stillness is closer than we might think. The concept is deceptively simple to grasp. It’s the journey to attain it that requires commitment and discipline.
Stillness Is the Key offers a simple but compelling antidote to the constant noise of this modern life. Deliberately calming the mind and body can provide contentment, meaning, and a path to excellence.
Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.
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