Pico Iyer —
The Art of Stillness

Pico Iyer is one of our most eloquent explorers of what he calls the "inner world" — in himself and in the 21st century world at large. The journalist and novelist travels the globe from Ethiopia to North Korea and lives in Japan. But he also experiences a remote Benedictine hermitage as his second home, retreating there many times each year. In this intimate conversation, we explore the discoveries he's making and his practice of "the art of stillness.”

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is a journalist and writer. He's written over a dozen books including The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.

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Our overscheduled lives leave little time for contemplation and reflection. How do we enable each other to pause and reflect together and ask how our hearts are doing?

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A visitor stands in front of a photograph at Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography in Amsterdam.

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This is the first time I have heard of and listened to Pico Iyer. He seems like an accomplished introvert for lack of a better description. Lot's of interesting thoughts throughout the talk. I have a similar view on mysticism as he, seeing it as getting to the root of human existence. Unfortunately, the mystics of each religion are a small minority even though they represent the essence of each religion. I've always thought of the mystical view of life as a stepping stone (or halfway house) on the march towards full authenticity.

I feel that Pico and I are kindred spirits. I'll be reading more of what he has to say.

I feel this way too Larry. And had never heard or heard of Pico either.
And btw, this means we too are kindred, especially as my last name is Davis also. Ha! I will not only read him, I want to listen to this again. So glad my wife turned on the radio when she did : )

Good morning Krista Tippett,
I am enjoying - tremendously! - your conversation with Pico Ayer. I recall hearing or reading about him some years ago. What a great metaphor: spirituality is the water and religion the tea (he said) or (you said) the cup.
Then he quoted the Dalai Lama saying 'kindness is the water and religion the tea' ...we can do without tea but not without water. This observation is a lovely way to start the day, especially since I am not going to church (rueful smile).
Evening before last I was putting one of my granddaughters to bed.. she asked if we could sing the song 'Mine eyes have seen the glory...' which we did. Then she asked, about the words in the chorus, 'What does glory mean?' and 'What does 'hallelujah mean?' My answer for glory: the shining beauty that comes from within, and for hallelujah, what we exclaim when we see something glorious.
Moments of reflection, like those in 'On Being' and unexpected delights such as that in-the-dark exchange with my granddaughter, are such gifts. Thank you.

Yes, the words of Iyer were so moving and helped to locate me and my sense of spirituality - seeking what is deep within us and finding it in the context of community. Thanks Ms. Tippet. My morning meditation was well nurtured

i hope i was mis-hearing but this fascinating man seemed to mentioned thetv in his non-retreat house. no tv. no phone are the first genuine steps to stillness. email works fine.

meaning of GOD


wow farOUT

rechargeSOUl 2beCONNECTED
2be human2findBETTERpartOF yourself

The tone & rhythm of your voices drew me forth of the dream world. Such a lovely way to wake up. Mr Iyer's measured tones served as a trampoline for Ms Tippett's bubbling brook. Iyer is a Master at giving word to the inner sanctum. Tippett is a charming locksmith. Thank you.

Another meditation from the affluent set.

The value of his message transcends economic status.

I am native Irish and, when I need a homeland "fix", I replay your extended interview with the late Irish poet and mystic, John O'Donahue. I did a 5 day retreat with John back in the mid '90s when John came on his first North American book tour. When I need a homeland "fix" I listen to that wonderful podcast. The quality and spirit of your work is needed now, more than ever, and your light can never be extinguished. Thank you! Ann V Quinlan, Portland Maine

On your show broadcast in Key West this morning I heard Mr. Iyer say, not really sure enough to say I quote but close,

Not thru my mind, but in my spirit, in my heart. A much deeper level than the mind.

To start I love (a word i very seldom use) your show.

When I hear such as above statements I hear: " the earth is the center of the Universe", "the earth is flat".
At the time these were said almost everyone, the science comunity, the religious comunity etc., believed they were true statements.
But as science got better at understanding 'things' they were proven very wrong.
So entranched were the beliefs that Galieo??sorry
almost lost his live to a false belief.
The heart is just a pump.
If i give you a small (able to fit in your chest) electromechanical pump, to replace the heart you were born with, do you lose the ability to love, to feel?
No those are functions of your mind. everything that is you is your mind. All the rest, limbs, eyes, etc. are but means for the mind to function, to know where it exists.
To carry to extreme if I put you in an iron lung, with your new mechanical heart, and poke out your eyes, and plug your ears, are you still you?

The only place you exist in in your mind, and all that is you is in your mind.

I think we try too hard, maybe we think we need, to know.
Example, light travels 6 trillion miles in one of our years. Most places scientist talk about are outside our solar system, in the real universe. So is it realistic to think we can go / or send envoys to these places?
The fastest thing we have sent into space just hit the outer reaches of our soloar system. It is traveling a little under 50,000 mph.
That is 1000 miles per minute or 1/2 billion miles (a little rounding off here) per year. So to go one billion miles would take 2 years.
A trillion , one thousand billion, would be 2000 years. A Light Year, just one would take 12,000 years. A round trip of 24,000 years.
Almost longer that modern man has existed on this earth. And ALL the places science talks about are many multiple C away. Most
hundreds, or millions, to billions of C away.
Like Hawkins Radiation, just numbers thrown out to sound important. Really imposible to prove right or wrong.

Point, science can and does reach truths, why do we keep repeating what has been proven untrue?
As to how persistant we are, the sun raises, the moon sets. When the earth was the unmoving center of the universe they were
true statements. Problem was what the statements were based on was not true. Yet we still say the sun raises in the morning.

Someone once told me it was a metifore, but these and others were at one point in time belived truths that were proven wrong.
It was not a metifore to Fr. Merton.
And I really do not think Mr. Iyer is/was useing a it as a metifore. listening to him talk on your interview, i get the distinct impression he believes our minds and out hearts do hold different parts of our being.
A spiritual part and a physical part.
There is only one our mind.

really rambled on -sorry, keep up the show. best kevin kevin@kmsmith.com

A bit uncertain about what your point is.

To Everything There Is A Season

These days in the Western world there is much discussion given to the practice of euthanasia. What are the ethics surrounding the act of putting someone to death painlessly or allowing that person to die by withholding medical measures?
Yet, in some cultures there can be ethical questions raised around the act of keeping someone alive when it may be understood by the majority in that tradition that there is in fact a time to die. That time is to be honoured as something sacred.
For nineteen years of my life I worked in remote areas of the interior of China as an instructor in teacher training colleges. Recently I visited one of my former students now a teacher back home in his small village.
My former student spoke of a recent decision he had made regarding his grandfather.
During the past winter the grandfather in his early 80's had become quite ill. Assuming that it was indeed time for the grandfather's passing, the family began preparations according to local customs. The elderly man was put to bed. Warm fires were prepared for his comfort. Prayers and offerings were made at the local temple in a combination of local folk religion traditions and Daoist beliefs. It was assumed that death for this man was simply a matter of time and that time had now come. Fate would decide exactly when.
The young man, my former student, decided to intervene.
He announced to the family that the grandfather should be taken to a hospital in a nearby town. No one in the family had been to a hospital before. This grandson's spoken words were met with cold silence. He realized that in this decision he would act alone. And, he would defy generations of strongly held beliefs and traditions.
The grandson lifted his grandfather to his back and left for the hospital. Family members neither spoke words of protest nor made efforts to stop the grandson. No one offered to help. Backs were turned.
The end result was that the grandfather spent three months in a hospital. His diagnosis was pneumonia. My former student covered all expenses. No other family members visited that grandfather in hospital. Upon the grandfather's release from hospital, the son carried him home.
This spring I visited the family including an active and seemingly now healthy grandfather.
My former student told me that no family member has ever spoken of his taking the grandfather to hospital. Yet he knows that the people of his village hold a strong belief that to interfere with the process of death is to challenge fate. Now there would be a yet unknown debt to be paid.
To everything there is a season.

Below is a photo I took of the grandfather holding his great grandson. The photo was taken this spring after the grandfather returned home from hospital.

We all need to be refreshed and wash away from the "too much of everything." And yet, 2000 years ago they, too, needed to go to the mountain to replenish. It is not just technology, it is other humans that make us crazy!

A human needs to seek renewal, and make it part of the WaY we live.

Thankfully we are a fragile species, and teachers along the way gently tell us for the salve, save ;is to actively seek ,PEACE in ourselves. Thank you for this conversation. And let attention to life be the WAY we collectively continue on this unique planet to thrive. With appreciation from a practicing Quaker.

Exquisite and resonant conversation. I knew within the first five minutes that I would be listening to the long, unedited version as well. I hadn't read Iyer, but his work is now on my wish list. Thank you for bringing him into my sphere of awareness and for all the episodes for which I'm deeply grateful. Blessings!

Pico Iyer mentioned not subscribing to any established religion. LIke many in the 21st Cent. and especially Americans, we're prone to improvise and come up with our own spiritual practices. I've admired Zen Buddhism but by now have my own version of American practice still includes meditation but I've shucked dogma and feel that embracing the Golden Rule and committing to the betterment of Self and my important personal relationships, attempting to better my community, nation and the global community all in the effort to better the world is how I view Enlightenment.

There may be even monks who practice in an egoistic way for personal salvation in a self-absorbed way but I like what was said that monks meditate and spend their lives meditating for the rest of humanity who don't.

To forgo an adherence to any established religion may result in not having any entity in which to take refuge and comfort in times of anguish as those who are religious find in God.

I takeaway what Pico says that the Child of Tomorrow precedes the present generation (think the 60s Hippies) and are the precursors of the avant garde of humanity's future yet to be.

Thank you for your lovely and very appreciated programs. Aloha, Frank Luke

what a wonderful exploration with pico iyer. i've not heard of him before (one of the many reasons i start my sunday mornings with on being) but so glad i did. i've replayed the interview on my on being podcast library already and see many opportunities for reflection and routes for connection with what's important. oh to be able to tell time by the shadows on the wall! and the exchange you and he had on the ultimate luxury of time was wonderful...the ultimate luxury indeed! thanks much krista. i'll be tuning in next sunday.


What a wonderful treat to listen to this interview. Thank you!

Judaism values the Sabbath, "Shabbat", one 24-hour period each week devoted to contemplation, enjoying family, being "unplugged", and NOT creating anything. And the wilderness is what the Jewish people lived in for 40 years, just prior to receiving the Torah, the recipe for a moral life. I found it interesting that this historical yet contemporary approach to life was not mentioned in your discussion this evening.

What does it mean to be human?

After September 11, I questioned my own purpose, resolving to accomplish something that might have a lifetime beyond the time that remains for me. After years of experimentation and introspection, I have come to understand that for me being human is the beginning and the end, it is the experience of living as often and as closely in the present regardless of the value judgments I place on my time. Sooner or later my time in this known world will run out regardless of what I accomplish. If I die tomorrow, my actions may survive me but I will not be present for the accolades or contempt. If I experience each breath as the extraordinary gift given me, it would seem that I have fulfilled my purpose. To live. The final message in Goethe's Faust rings truest in my ear.

Hello from Switzerland. Every week I look forward to the latest installment Of Being and often listen while running through the Alps. Thank you for the, as always, excellent interview. I resonate almost entirely with the sentiments discussed, particularly those related to time and the importance of attentiveness.

However, I have a lingering question in my mind that is always unanswered by these sorts of discussions. How does the “average” person achieve this? I am by no means chasing a career, but I still must spend about 9 hours per day in the office. Life costs money, after all. I have two young children. I try to exercise regularly. I fully admit that things could be cut out, and I am certainly not complaining about my situation, but even living minimally (I bike to work, don’t have a TV) I find that I am always either busy or tired.

My question in the end is quite simple. What are some practical ways that someone who does not have the luxury of working from home, or otherwise dictating one’s own schedule, can still live the life described by Mr. Iyer?

John: As with any practice, you have to start somewhere.

Start very small. Select a practice - perhaps mindfulness of breath - and do it for a short, untimed period. Importantly, connect the very small practice to something you already do.

B.J. Fogg at Stanford calls it "Tiny Habits". Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School calls it "Micro Successes".

Over time, gently expand the practice.

For an example, after you open your eyes in the morning when you awaken, take two mindful breaths. Give yourself a pat on the back to reinforce your success.

I listened to this interview three times, and parts of it even more than that. It had lots of texture and depth.

I previously knew of Pico Iyer as someone who wrote about the Dalai Lama. Now I know of him as a thoughtful and expressive contemplative.

At around 38:50 Krista started a discussion of mysticism. Pico said that the mystics - he offered as examples: Dogen, St. John of the Cross, Leonard Cohen(!), Meister Eckhart and Rumi - interpreted their experiences in the framework of their own spiritual paths, but that they all reflected the same experience of what he eventually calls Reality, outside of time, larger than us - where distinctions dissolve, beyond dualism, and where all the great traditions converge.

I am an Orthodox Jew. My path has led me to the mystical side of Judaism and to be a bit active in interfaith contact.

I once had a discussion with Rabbi Alan Lew (ordained by the Conservative seminary and who had a Zen practice before returning to Judaism), and Zoketsu Norman Fischer (teacher at Everyday Zen, former co-Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, who was born Jewish). I consider both to be friends and teachers.

They co-founded Makor Or, a Jewish meditation center in San Francisco. Makor Or brought silent meditation to that Jewish community to support the normative Jewish practices of prayer, Torah study and observance of the Sabbath and holidays.

I asked them both, separately, about whether after 13 years of silent sitting, if any of the Makor Or community encountered Kensho. (In the Zen world, Kensho is the sometimes dramatic, momentary experience that is considered the initial opening to enlightenment and one-ness. It can appear after years of zazen sitting meditation practice.)

They both answered "no".

When I asked why, Norman answered that he felt it was the cultural/religious/spiritual context that determined the experience, and that the Jewish world had no context for or expectation of Kensho, so it didn't happen. In the Zen world, it was expected so it did.

For me, it's true that the mystics of all paths may share some common experiences, but that fact is very secondary - it's what one does with the experiences that matters. And I agree with Norman (and apparently Pico too) that it's the context of one's culture/religion/spiritual path that determines how we interpret that mystical experience, and then what we do with it.

There we seem to have the essence of the difference between religions and spiritual paths.

What one spiritual path sees as good and kind and compassionate, may, in another path, be not-good, not-kind and not-compassionate. They may agree on some things but severely diverge on others.

I wonder what Pico Iyer would say about the differences.

I know it was my choice to read

you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

I found this interview very moving. I loved Pico's reflections about paring his life down and the freedom of living without watches and time. As a blogger, I often get seduced by various streams of information and feel rushed. This was an amazing reminder about getting truly present in the moment. It was prayerful.
Thank you,

here's a link to my blog post where I talked about this interview with Pico Iyer:

deeply grateful for this discussion and so many that I've listened to here On Being.