Stillness Is the Key- Reflections on Ryan Holiday’s Book

Stunning landscape image of still stream in Lake District forest with beautiful sun beams and glow behind the trees reflected in the still water

Stillness is the key- a book review
Stillness is the key

Stillness Is The Key

is the title of an excellent book by Ryan Holiday. This quote is an example of the deceptively simple wisdom contained in it:

The world is like muddy water. To see through it, we have to let things settle. We can’t be disturbed by initial appearances, and if we are patient and still, the truth will be revealed to us.
Holiday, Ryan. Stillness Is the Key (p. 47). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I say deceptively simple because

the author’s words sound almost banal…if we are patient and still…the too simple words make it sound easily done…any and all can accomplish such common terms.

We are accustomed to hyperbole-exaggeration- in our speech, films, movie stars, food, in most everything. Plain-speak is rare these days and therein lies the rub. Think for just a moment or three about the last time you sat still. Thinking…pondering, meditating.

Silence, stillness and solitude are compelling to me, and I would guess, to you, and to most of the seven- or is it now eight?- billion souls living on the planet Earth. In recent years our need for all three has increased exponentially.
Politicians and pundits (self-proclaimed or not) talk…and talk and talk, providing information masquerading as knowledge- ceaselessly.

“In much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”

Kahil Gibran The Prophet

Although, I recognize the critical need for them, I have trouble with patience and stillness. They make me feel powerless, weak, and out of control- which, of course, I am, about everything but myself.

A primary reason, I suspect, that I love the craft of writing: I am forced

  • To sit.
  • Be still.
  • To think.

To read, then read it again, and again…

On that point, Holiday claims that we

… have to do the kind of thinking that 99 percent of the population is just not doing, and we have to stop doing the destructive thinking that they spend 99 percent of their time doing.
Holiday, Ryan. Stillness Is the Key

Years ago I started reading Ryan’s blog because he too, is an admirer of the Stoics. His posts recalled my long ago love for Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. A book that helped get me through several dark phases of my atheistic -more accurately, my lost– years. This is true because Aurelius’s thoughts revealed that my questions and yearnings were not unique to me, or to my culture, or even to the time I lived in. Mine were universal questions that each person must ask and answer for herself.

Here is one of my favorites: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

His is a classic observation from a Stoic. It is applicable regardless of the century or even the millennium we live in. And here is another of the ancient Roman Emperor’s remarkably relevant advice for twenty-first century ears:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I will deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own-not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel anger at my relative or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth upper and lower. To obstruct one another is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

Meditations: A New Translation
By now, you see the value of these Stoic friends, I trust…no one can implicate me in ugliness…

Ryan’s blog articles were eminently helpful in directing me to Stoic mentors for two of my recent major characters: Lucius Pontius Pilate in I, Claudia and Saul in my latest novel, My Name is Saul.

Lest a fear that The Key is Stillness is pure philosophy and therefore too academic, or irrelevant because you are or are not Christian, or a lover of theory, keeps you from reading the book, no worries. Holiday leaves no tradition unnamed. He makes use of all of them- whether speaking through the lips of Anne Frank, John Kennedy, Mr. Rogers, or Tiger Woods. He writes simply and practically with a intriguing discussion of methods like journaling and meditation to help attain mastery over our unruly selves: Therefore attaining that elusive goal of peace.

Happy New Year!

Stillness is the key

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