Stillness Is the Key

Author: Ryan Holiday

Rating: 8/10

A book about stillness – a virtue that is the key to being better at everything you do. This time (it’s the third book in the trilogy) Ryan goes beyond Stoicism and shows that inner peace is the highest good in virtually any religion and philosophical school. “And when basically all the wisdom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.”

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Highlights:

“You will never feel okay by way of external accomplishments. Enough comes from the inside. It comes from stepping off the train. From seeing what you already have, what you’ve always had.”

“People who don’t read have no advantage over those who cannot read.”

“The struggle is great, the task divine—to gain mastery, freedom, happiness, and tranquility. —EPICTETUS”

“We do not live in this moment. We, in fact, try desperately to get out of it—by thinking, doing, talking, worrying, remembering, hoping, whatever. We pay thousands of dollars to have a device in our pocket to ensure that we are never bored. We sign up for endless activities and obligations, chase money and accomplishments, all with the naïve belief that at the end of it will be happiness.”

“Confucius said that virtue is a kind of polestar. It not only provides guidance to the navigator, but it attracts fellow travelers too.

“I force my mind to concentrate, and keep it from straying to things outside itself; all outdoors may be bedlam, provided that there is no disturbance within.”

“Tolstoy observed that love can’t exist off in the future. Love is only real if it’s happening right now. If you think about it, that’s true for basically everything we think, feel, or do. The best athletes, in the biggest games, are completely there. They are within themselves, within the now.”

“The Japanese have a concept, shinrin yoku—forest bathing—which is a form of therapy that uses nature as a treatment for mental and spiritual issues.”

“You may be sure that you are at peace with yourself,” Seneca wrote, “when no noise reaches you, when no word shakes you out of yourself, whether it be flattery or a threat, or merely an empty sound buzzing about you with unmeaning sin.”

“It is impossible to live the pleasant life without also living sensibly, nobly, and justly, and conversely it is impossible to live sensibly, nobly, and justly without living pleasantly. A person who does not have a pleasant life is not living sensibly, nobly, and justly, and conversely the person who does not have these virtues cannot live pleasantly.”

“Find people you admire and ask how they got where they are. Seek book recommendations. Isn’t that what Socrates would do? Add experience and experimentation on top of this. Put yourself in tough situations. Accept challenges. Familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar. That’s how you widen your perspective and your understanding. The wise are still because they have seen it all. They know what to expect because they’ve been through so much. They’ve made mistakes and learned from them. And so must you.”

“Knowing what not to think about. What to ignore and not to do. It’s your first and most important job.”

“All of humanity’s problems,” Blaise Pascal said in 1654, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

“It is the key . . . To thinking clearly. To seeing the whole chessboard. To making tough decisions. To managing our emotions. To identifying the right goals. To handling high-pressure situations. To maintaining relationships. To building good habits. To being productive. To physical excellence. To feeling fulfilled. To capturing moments of laughter and joy. Stillness is the key to, well, just about everything.”

“Recognition is dependent on other people. Getting rich requires business opportunities. You can be blocked from your goals by the weather just as easily as you can by a dictator. But virtue? No one can stop you from knowing what’s right. Nothing stands between you and it . . . but yourself.”

“L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. What’s essential is invisible to the eye.”

“Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self-blinding.”

“‘People don’t understand that the hardest thing is actually doing something that is close to nothing,’ Abramović said about the performance. ‘It demands all of you . . . there is no object to hide behind. It’s just you.’ Being present demands all of us. It’s not nothing. It may be the hardest thing in the world.”

“Indeed, it is in Stoicism and Buddhism and countless other schools that we find the same analogy: 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.”

“Xunzi was more explicit: ‘Learning must never cease. . . . The noble person who studies widely and examines himself each day will become clear in his knowing and faultless in his conduct.'”

“Each school has its own take on wisdom, but the same themes appear in all of them: The need to ask questions. The need to study and reflect.”

“Tolstoy expressed his exasperation at people who didn’t read deeply and regularly. ‘I cannot understand,’ he said, ‘how some people can live without communicating with the wisest people who ever lived on earth.'”

“Which is why each of us needs to sit down and examine ourselves. What do we stand for? What do we believe to be essential and important? What are we really living for? Deep in the marrow of our bones, in the chambers of our heart, we know the answer.”

“Wrestle with big questions. Wrestle with big ideas. Treat your brain like the muscle that it is. Get stronger through resistance and exposure and training.”

“What is better than these two extremes—ego and imposter syndrome—but simple confidence? Earned. Rational. Objective. Still.”

“The world hurls at us so many hurricanes. Those who have decided to go through existence as an island are the most exposed and the most ravaged by the storms and whirlwinds.”

“Confidence is the freedom to set your own standards and unshackle yourself from the need to prove yourself.”

“An open heart. Meaningful relationships. Selflessness. Moderation. A sense of right and wrong. These are not just important elements of a balanced life; they are sources of stillness that allow us to endure defeat and enjoy victory. Mental stillness will be short-lived if our hearts are on fire, or our souls ache with emptiness.”

“We are incapable of seeing what is essential in the world if we are blind to what’s going on within us. We cannot be in harmony with anyone or anything if the need for more, more, more is gnawing at our insides like a maggot.”

“Each of us must cultivate a moral code, a higher standard that we love almost more than life itself. Each of us must sit down and ask: What’s important to me? What would I rather die for than betray? How am I going to live and why?”

“Take the time to think about the pain you carry from your early experiences. Think about the “age” of the emotional reactions you have when you are hurt or betrayed or unexpectedly challenged in some way. That’s your inner child. They need a hug from you. They need you to say, ‘Hey, buddy. It’s okay. I know you’re hurt, but I am going to take care of you.'”

“Give more. Give what you didn’t get. Love more. Drop the old story. Try it, if you can.”

“Get out now. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people. . . . Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run. . . . Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Ride a bike and coast along a lot. Explore.”

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself. —ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE”

“A good relationship requires us to be virtuous, faithful, present, empathetic, generous, open, and willing to be a part of a larger whole. It requires, in order to create growth, real surrender. No one would say that’s easy.”

“The single best decision you can make in life, professionally and personally, is to find a partner who complements and supports you and makes you better and for whom you do the same. Conversely, choosing partners and friends who do the opposite endangers both career and happiness.”

“Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”

“Take something you care about deeply, a possession you cherish, a person you love, or an experience that means a lot to you. Now take that feeling, that radiating warmth that comes up when you think about it, and consider how every single person, even murderers on death row, even the jerk who just shoved you in the supermarket, has that same feeling about something in their lives. Together, you share that.”

“Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner. To understand all is to forgive all. To love all is to be at peace with all, including yourself.”

“Sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?” Immediately, Churchill replied, “Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”

“Epicurus once said that the wise will accomplish three things in their life: leave written works behind them, be financially prudent and provide for the future, and cherish country living.”

“Rise above our physical limitations. Find hobbies that rest and replenish us. Develop a reliable, disciplined routine. Spend time getting active outdoors. Seek out solitude and perspective. Learn to sit—to do nothing when called for. Get enough sleep and rein in our workaholism. Commit to causes bigger than ourselves.”

“The truth is that a good routine is not only a source of great comfort and stability, it’s the platform from which stimulating and fulfilling work is possible.”

“Don’t use your money to purchase loneliness, or headaches, or status anxiety.”

“It is difficult to think clearly in rooms filled with other people. It’s difficult to understand yourself if you are never by yourself. It’s difficult to have much in the way of clarity and insight if your life is a constant party and your home is a construction site. Sometimes you have to disconnect in order to better connect with yourself and with the people you serve and love.”

“Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.”

“It’s human being, not human doing, for a reason. Moderation. Being present. Knowing your limits. This is the key. The body that each of us has was a gift. Don’t work it to death. Don’t burn it out. Protect the gift.”

“Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death. The higher the interest rate and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.”

“As a well-spent day brings a happy sleep, so a well-employed life brings a happy death. —LEONARDO DA VINCI”

“Build a life that you don’t need to escape from.”

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