The noise and distractions of the empire were enough “to make me hate my very powers of hearing,” Seneca told a friend.
Yet for good reason, this scene has tantalized admirers for centuries. How does a man, besieged by adversity and difficulty, not only not go out of his mind, but actually find the serenity to think clearly and to write incisive, perfectly crafted essays, some in that very room, which would reach millions upon millions and touch on truths that few have ever accessed?
“I have toughened my nerves against all that sort of thing,” Seneca explained to that same friend about the noise. “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.”
In this state, nothing could touch them (not even a deranged emperor), no emotion could disturb them, no threat could interrupt them, and every beat of the present moment would be theirs for living.
The second book of the Bhagavad Gita, the epic poem of the warrior Arjuna, speaks of samatvam, an “evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same.”
To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard.
In addition to the clatter and chatter and intrigue and infighting that would be familiar to the citizens of Seneca’s time, we have car horns, stereos, cell phone alarms, social media notifications, chainsaws, airplanes.
Who has the power to stop? Who has time to think? Is there anyone not affected by the din and dysfunctions of our time?
While the magnitude and urgency of our struggle is modern, it is rooted in a timeless problem. Indeed, history shows that the ability to cultivate quiet and quell the turmoil inside us, to slow the mind down, to understand our emotions, and to conquer our bodies has always been extremely difficult. “All of humanity’s problems,” Blaise Pascal said in 1654, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Which is why this idea of stillness is not some soft New Age nonsense or the domain of monks and sages, but in fact desperately necessary to all of us, whether we’re running a hedge fund or playing in a Super Bowl, pioneering research in a new field or raising a family. It is an attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence, for every kind of person.
It generates a vision, helps us resist the passions of the mob, makes space for gratitude and wonder.
The promise of this book is the location of that key . . . and a call not only for possessing stillness, but for radiating it outward like a star—like the sun—for a world that needs light more than ever.
The Key to Everything
In our own lives, we face a seemingly equal number of problems and are pulled in countless directions by competing priorities and beliefs.
Martin Luther King Jr. observed that there was a violent civil war raging within each and every person—between our good and bad impulses, between our ambitions and our principles, between what we can be and how hard it is to actually get there.
In those battles, in that war, stillness is the river and the railroad junction through which so much depends.
This Stillness Can Be Yours
Anyone who has concentrated so deeply that a flash of insight or inspiration suddenly visited them knows stillness. Anyone who has given their best to something, felt pride of completion, of knowing they left absolutely nothing in reserve—that’s stillness.
Staring at the blank page in front of us and watching as the words pour out in perfect prose, at a loss for where they came from.
“You are seeking for an ox while you are yourself on it.”
You have tasted stillness before. You have felt it in your soul. And you want more of it.
You need more of it.
If the quiet moments are the best moments, and if so many wise, virtuous people have sung their praises, why are they so rare?
Well, the answer is that while we may naturally possess stillness, accessing it is not easy. One must really listen to hear it speaking to us. And answering the call requires stamina and mastery. “To hold the mind still is an enormous discipline,”
“one which must be faced with the greatest commitment of your life.”
To achieve stillness, we’ll need to focus on three domains, the timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the flesh.
In each domain, we will seek to reduce the disturbances and perturbations that make stillness impossible. To cease to be at war with the world and within ourselves, and to establish a lasting inner and outer peace instead.
PART I: MIND
The mind is restless, Krishna, impetuous, self-willed, hard to train: to master the mind seems as difficult as to master the mighty winds.
—THE BHAGAVAD GITA