I am a fan of Ryan Holiday. Was looking forward to “Stillness is the Key: An Ancient Strategy for Modern Life”. A version of Brian Solis’ “Life scale” and a few others. It is a book about stillness.
The Buddhist word for it was upekkha. The Muslims spoke of aslama. The Hebrews, hishtavut. 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.” The Greeks, euthymia and hesychia. The Epicureans, ataraxia. The Christians, aequanimitas. In English: stillness. To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude—exterior and interior—on command. Stillness as the highest good and as the key to elite performance and a happy life. To achieve stillness, you need to focus on three domains, the timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the flesh.
Ryan Holiday uses Napoleon, President Kennedy, Eisenhower, Churchill, Marcus Aurelius to illustrate techniques to achieve stillness. That is the first obligation of a leader and a decision-maker. Our job is not to “go with our gut” or fixate on the first impression we form about an issue. No, we need to be strong enough to resist thinking that is too neat, too plausible, and therefore almost always wrong. Because if the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the bigger picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is?
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. Careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream. Alert as a warrior in enemy territory. Courteous as a guest. Fluid as melting ice. Shapable as a block of wood. Receptive as a valley. Clear as a glass of water.
Three domains, 48 tips
The premise of his book is that your three domains—the mind, the heart, and the body—must be in harmony. The book then gives a large number of tips, which you will find in many other good books. Ryan Holiday brings it all back into one book.
- Be fully present
- Limit your inputs
- Start journaling
- Cultivate silence
- Seek wisdom
- Find confidence
- Reject distraction
- Avoid ego
- Let go
- Be still
- Empty our mind of preconceptions
- Take your time
- Sit quietly and reflect
- Choose virtue
- Develop a strong moral compass
- Steer clear of envy and jealousy and harmful desires
- Heal the inner child. Come to terms with the painful wounds of their childhood
- Practice gratitude and appreciation for the world around you
- We are all one
- Cultivate relationships and love in their lives
- Place belief and control in the hands of something larger than themselves
- Understand that there will never be “enough” and that the unchecked pursuit of more ends only in bankruptcy
- Conserve energy
- Waste no energy on grudges, duplicity, or infighting
- Make room for joy
- Strong mind in a strong body
- Love the discipline you know and let it support you
- Develop a reliable, disciplined routine
- Rise above our physical limitations.
- Find hobbies that rest and replenish you
- Spend time getting active outdoors
- Seek out solitude and perspective
- Get enough sleep and rein in our workaholism
- Commit to causes bigger than ourselves
- Say no
- Take a walk
- Get rid of your stuff
- Seek solitude
- Beware of desire, realise you have enough
- Bathe in beauty
- Accept a higher power
- Enter relationships
- Conquer your anger
- Be a human being
- Go to sleep
- Find a hobby
- Beware of escapism
- Act bravely
Love, Freud said, is the great educator. We learn when we give it. We learn when we get it. We get closer to stillness through it. It is also spelt W-O-R-K and S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E and D-I-F-F-I-C-U-L-T-Y, C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T, and occasionally M-A-D-N-E-S-S. But it is always punctuated by R-E-W-A-R-D. Even ones that end.
Action is what matter
“Be natural” is the same as “Do the right thing.” For Aristotle, virtue wasn’t just something contained in the soul—it was how we lived. It was what we did. He called it eudaimonia: human flourishing. Action is what matters. Do the hard-good deeds.
Remember death. It was Cicero who said that to study philosophy is to learn how to die. If you follow the tips, you will die with a smile on your face.