Stillness is the Key

Another amazing book by Ryan Holiday.

Living in a highly connected and complex world, taking time to find stillness will have huge benefits. How to find it is the main focus of this book.

Each chapter in this book is a principle which tries to help you on different levels (mind, spirit and body) to become still. One could get the overall picture by just looking at the table of contents:

  • PART 1 : MIND
    • The domain of mind
    • Become present
    • Limit your inputs
    • Empty your mind
    • Slow down, think deeply
    • Start journaling
    • Seek wisdom
    • Find confidence, avoid ego
    • Let go
    • On to what’s next
    • The domain of the soul
    • Choose virtue
    • Heal the inner child
    • Beware desire
    • Enough
    • Bathe in Beauty
    • Accept a higher power
    • Enter relationships
    • Conquer your anger
    • All is one
    • On to what’s next
  • PART 3 : BODY
    • The domain of the body
    • Say No
    • Take a walk
    • Build a routine
    • Get rid of your stuff
    • Seek solitude
    • Be a human being
    • Go to sleep
    • Find a hobby
    • Beware escapism
    • Act bravely
    • On the final act

Each chapter is filled with examples of how people found their sense of stillness in their lives and you are free to check if it works for you. The following are some quotes and notes from the book, please read the book to learn more.

Quotes & Notes from the book

Part 1 – MIND

“Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience.”
– John F Kennedy

“Aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.”
– John F Kennedy

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
– Herbert Simon

The first thing great chiefs of staff do – whether it’s for a general or a president or the CEO of a local bank – is limit the amount of people who have access to the boss.

Don’t overanalyze. Do the work.

What’s essential is invisible to the eye.

Journaling is a way to ask tough questions.

Wisdom is: The need to ask questions. The need to study and reflect. The importance of intellectual humility. The power of experiences – most of all failure and mistakes – to open our eyes to truth and understanding.

Add experience and experimentation on top of this. Put yourself in tough situations. Accept challenges. Familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar.

Kennedy learned then that panic solved nothing, and that salvation rarely came from rash action.

Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for the reward; but never cease to do thy work.

The Bhagavad Gita

What we need in life, in the arts, in sports, is to loosen up, to become flexible, to get to a place where there is nothing in our way – including our own obsession with certain outcomes.

“If the mind is disciplined, the heart turns quickly from fear to love.”
– John Cage

Part 2 : SPIRIT

A person enslaved to their urges is not free – whether they are a plumber or the president.

“Sex has never benefited any man, and it’s a marvel if it hasn’t injured him.”

If wanting something makes you miserable while you don’t have it, doesn’t that diminish the true value of the reward ?

Only those of us who take the time to explore, to question, to extrapolate the consequences of our desires have an opportunity to overcome them and to stop regrets before they start. Only they know that real pleasure lies in having a soul that’s true and stable, happy and secure.

Enough is a beautiful thing.

The need for of progress can be the enemy of enjoying the process.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.


“Beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance.”
– Anne Frank

“Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature. Come to your final resting place gracefully, just as a ripened olive might drop, praising the earth that nourished it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.”
– Marcus Aurelius

To understand all is to forgive all. To love all is to be at peace with all, including yourself.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Part 3 : BODY

“Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”
– Churchill

Four lessons from Churchill’s life were to aim high; to never allow mistakes or criticism to get you down; to waste no energy on grudges, duplicity, or infighting; and to make room for joy.

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.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems, and also mo’ stuff, less freedom.

“If a man can reduce his needs to zero, he is truly free: there is nothing that can be taken from him and nothing anyone can do to hurt him.”
– John Boyd

“Solitude without purpose” is a killer of creativity.

You must do the thing you cannot do. It will be scary. It won’t always be easy, but know that what is on the other side of goodness is true stillness.

To study philosophy is to learn how to die.

In this moment. I am at peace. It doesn’t matter how tough things have been lately. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world.

Some final thoughts

Ryan Holiday’s previous books mostly revolved around Stoic philosophy and its principles. What’s interesting about this book is that it has a lot of quotes from Epicurean philosophy (which counters Stoic school of philosophy in many ways). I have added the book The Art of Happiness” by Epicurus (Penguin Classics) to my future reading list. Stay tuned for more book reviews, notes and quotes.

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