Ryan Holiday likes to write books about the Stoics. This is his latest at the time of this writing and is called, “Stillness Is The Key.” Not a bad title. There are a couple of ideas I liked in the book. One was the importance of sitting and letting your mind wander. The other is how journaling is just for you, not for someone else to read.
There is one other area Holiday discusses which I will briefly cover and that is Virtue. I suppose the main focus is on journaling and sitting alone because I spend so much time alone and then because journaling is one of the four strategies I discuss in my book.
Holiday says we need to sit, empty our minds and think. He says we should think about the following:
“Think about what’s important to you.”
“Think about what’s actually going on.”
“Think about what might be hidden from view.”
“Think about what the rest of the chessboard looks like.”
“Think about what the meaning of life really is.”
So that gets you started. The interesting thing was not what Holiday had to say but someone he quotes at length. It is Twyla Tharp, author, dancer and I would say a very wise person. In fact, I am looking forward to reading some of her books. So, what does she say about sitting and thinking?
“Sit alone in a room and let your thoughts go wherever they will. Do this for one minute…Work up to ten minutes a day of this mindless mental wandering. Then start paying attention to your thoughts to see if a word or goal materializes. If it doesn’t, extend the exercise to eleven minutes, then twelve, then thirteen…until you find the length of time you need to ensure that something interesting will come to mind. The Gaelic phrase for this state of mind is “quietness without loneliness.”
Isn’t that fantastic? I think it is. It is the best thing in this book.
As I said this is one of my four strategies in “Attacking Adversity.” It has helped me immensely over the years. Holiday devotes an entire chapter to it. Maybe he read my book! He points out that Anne Frank kept a journal and that “she didn’t write every day, but always wrote when she was upset or dealing with a problem.” That is exactly what I do. Not as brilliantly as Anne Frank, but it gets the job done. Holiday liked her observation that “Paper has more patience than people.”
Holiday says, “this is what the best journals look like. They aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.” I sure agree with that last part. “Wage peace with oneself.” After writing in my journal I am so much more peaceful than a few minutes before that. As Holiday says, writing things down helps you see your thinking from a distance. That is helpful as well.
Holiday has a whole chapter on virtue. Here are two things I thought were very good. He says, “…the person who knows what they value? Who has a strong sense of decency and principle and behaves accordingly? Who possesses easy moral self-command, who leans comfortably on this goodness, day in and day out? This person has found stillness.”
Then discussing what someone might do in different situations he offers this:
“Different situations naturally call for different virtues and different epithets for the self. When we are going into a tough assignment, we can say to ourselves over and over again, “Strength and courage.” Before a tough conversation with a significant other: “Patience and kindness.” In times of corruption and evil “Goodness and honesty.”