Stillness isn’t a lack of physical movement. You begin to read Ryan Holiday’s brilliant book, Stillness is the Key, and you understand that the stillness he’s talking about occurs even in the most chaotic and dire situations, rather, it must exist when it seems like the proverbial shit is hitting that fan. (read: how to think like a king)
I won’t review a book on this site – or anywhere – for that matter, that I won’t give at least 4 out of 5 starts, simply because a book that isn’t on that level isn’t one I’m going to finish.
You should do the same. If you’re struggling to read a single page of a book because the content doesn’t interest you. Put it down. That doesn’t mean read easy books. This past year I read the most challenging books I’ve ever read, but they were interesting.
Holiday’s book is, indeed, interesting. It’s also enlightening, thought-provoking, and real. You can apply what he’s found or recommends in the book to your daily life immediately. And it works.
Why do we know that the practices and wisdom in Stillness is the Key work? Because it’s been tested.
This isn’t a new age book filled with new and untested wisdom. Almost everything in the book has been proven to work for over a thousand years – 2,000 or more, typically. That’s the kind of wisdom I like. I don’t need new hacks or tricks or tactics to navigate through a world that, at its core, isn’t all that much different than it was 2,000 years ago. No, give me what works, what’s been proven to work.
Stillness is the Key – 5/5 stars
This will be part summary, part review. I’ve never written nor read a book review, so I’ll give some takeaways from the book, proof in its insights, but not so much that you won’t buy it and read it.
Mind. Body. Spirit.
The book is split up into 3 parts. Three parts and three aspects of stillness. Here are some of the takeaways from each – though the book offers much more than you’ll find here.
Guard your thoughts. Limit your inputs. (read: what is the good life?)
At the same time, by spending time in the future or in the past in an effort to create a better future, you’re guaranteeing a horrible one. The future can only be won in the present and the past can only be fixed in the present.
“Remember, there is no greatness in the future. Or clarity. Or insight. Or happiness. Or peace. There is only the moment.”
Story from the book: Napoleon would only get his news or ‘current events’ delivered to him days, even months after they had been written. He found that most of the problems that came to him would have resolved themselves by the time he finally did read them.
Do you really need to know current events? Wouldn’t you be better off studying wisdom or history? Current events have no bearing on your life or on you, other than adding stress.
“Ask yourself at every moment, ‘is this necessary’”. ~ Marcus Aurelius
I’ve added that, and another gem from the book to my day. Is what I’m doing right now necessary? That is, does it bring me closer to my ideal – goal, being, state – or is it a waste of time and effort? This applies to work, to thoughts, to everything.
Another one – in an effort to stay present, I say, ‘this is what I’m doing right now’, it’s simple, but it’s a truth we rarely have today. We’re often elsewhere, rarely present, thus our work, creativity, and peace of mind suffer. It’s useless to be anywhere but the present.
Aggressively, rigorously grade your day. Go over your day with a critical eye. Did you live up to the highest standard?
Think about that…
You can live by any standard you so choose, why not live by the highest and grade yourself by the highest standard possible.
Critiquing your day is a wonderful thing to do. It forces you to take heed of your actions, who you’re living as in relation to who you want to be. Most of us just live with little purpose, intention, or direction. By grading your day you’re acknowledging how you’re living, and as such, you force yourself to live better.
How wonderful does it feel to live a day where you don’t give into desires of the moment?
In self-help type books they rarely address the soul, which leaves an emptiness to the reader. They rarely address the conscience, virtues, living rightly, or why we have to address that there is something greater than us – if only for our own sanity.
Choosing to live a virtuous life, from experience, from the days where virtue wins versus the days where desires win, is the best decision a man can make. Even where we’re talking about output, you get more work done, you have more energy, you think more clearly, you know what decisions to make because you have a code driving those decisions.
Your life has a spine.
Confucious, “the gentleman is self-possessed and relaxed, while the petty man is perpetually full of worry.”
Without a moral code you cannot have peace, stillness, or calm in life’s chaos.
Epicurus, “sex has never benefitted any man, and it’s a marvel if it doesn’t injure him.”
And he didn’t have pornography…
If porn’s a struggle for you, check out this app: Coventanteyes.com
Here’s the thing with desires, they rarely give us joy. They seldom give us peace. They most often bring us shame, regret, turmoil, and despair. Yet, in that moment they’re strong, very strong.
To understand the outcome that the desire will bring, write it down. Bring rational thinking into an emotional situation and be strong enough to go with the truth.
One interesting note that Holiday makes in the book is the need to accept a higher power. It doesn’t say which you should accept, but if you look at history we’ve always held that there is something bigger than us at play.
“There is no stillness for the mind that thinks of nothing but itself, nor will there be peace for the body and spirit that follows every urge and values nothing but themselves.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn says it perfectly, as quoted from the book:
“…but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hype in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.”
Typically you have to buy a book that’s Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or whatever religion you’re interested in to hear any mention of the soul. That’s what makes this book more meaningful than most in its genre, it simply notes that every ‘group’ of wisdom, be it the Stoics, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and so on, in our history as humans, who have figured out how to best live have accepted that there is a higher power, albeit by different names and different meanings.
We can’t discard that wisdom, if we do its at our own peril.
As my favorite author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb notes – as it’s quoted in Stillness: “It’s not that we need to believe that God is great, only that God is greater than us.”
I realize that so far I’ve been summarizing the book, rather than reviewing. If I reviewed the book it would be simply to praise it, and to not give some take-aways to the reader – you – seems like a waste of time.
This book helps you become what you want to become.
You do not want to be frantic. You do not want to be an emotional mess, always chaotic, always running around like a chicken with your head cut off.
Confidence comes from calmness and stillness and peace, as does elite performance, character, happiness, heck, even charisma.
You want to be the man who can deal with anything.
You want to be the man who knows what’s important and what isn’t.
You, simply, want to be the man. And this book delivers what you need to become that and more.
The body section is great as well. Build a body that can endure greater struggles. Conserve energy by not allowing needless worries in. Spend time on the important things, the things that matter, don’t waste time on gossip or fear or worry. Be strong. Be still.
Stillness, when we’re talking about the body isn’t physically being still. It’s being at peace even though physically you may be struggling.
“The advantages of non-action – Few in the world attain these.” ~ the Daodejing
Not doing, saying no, is as powerful as doing. Most jump in, and they jump into things based on what other tell them to do or expect them to do. Be your own man. Say no if you think it’s the best decision.
“Work is what horses die of. Everybody should know that.” Aleskandr Solzhenitzyn
Simply put, live.
In our pursuits we can end up living drone-like lives. We stop being human and instead act as everyone else acts.
He mentions it in the book, but having a hobby or multiple hobbies is a necessity.
Churchill painted and laid bricks. William Gladstone hiked and chopped down trees with his axe.
Hobbies help you focus. I’ve taken up archery and shooting my handgun as well as the guitar recently. It’s a place in your day where you find purposeful peace and stillness. Hiking is about the best hobby you can have. Nature provides a stillness that our man-made traps can’t.
Stillness Is, Indeed, The Key
Holiday writes books with a Stoic foundation. He brings the ancient into the modern to help the reader understand how to best live.
Today we’re pulled in many directions by dozens of influences. The movies and shows we watch subtly tell us how we ought to live – and they provide typically horrible advice. As do websites and social media, where we watch others live and wish to emulate it, not knowing who they really are.
This book shows you how to be.
It helps you understand even practically what that looks like and how to be your best by being still.