I think it was sometime earlier this year that I came across this conversation between Pico Iyer and Krista Tippett on On Being. It was the first time that I’d learnt a bit more about Pico Iyer and deepened my understanding of him as a person (previously I’d only seen his name on books in the travel section in the bookstore). What he talked about on that podcast really seemed to resonate deep inside me – on the importance of stillness in our increasingly accelerated world. (He also wrote a book about this topic after having given a TED Talk about it. It’s a short book and an easy enough read so I do recommend checking it out.)
“In the age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
– Pico Iyer
It’s a very interesting conversation that I would highly recommend listening to, for someone who has traveled the world for a living, he found that he could only begin to make sense of things when he got back home to a place of stillness. Or as he says it with his knack for wordplay, “begin to convert the sights I’ve seen into lasting insights”. It really got me thinking because I’m one person who has always wanted to make use of every spare bit of holiday/leave from work to travel. I figured, it’s such a golden opportunity to get out of the country, obtain some wonderful new experiences, who cares if I’m all tired out at the end of it because these holidays are so hard to come by nowadays. So ever since I’ve started work a few years ago, I’ve gone overseas pretty much every single time I’ve had more than a week of leave. This week, will be the very first week since starting work, that I’ve not gone overseas despite having the entire week off. It still feels weird to some extent and of course I found myself occasionally battling the question of, did I just waste a golden opportunity to travel? But at the same time, it feels like the right thing for me at this point in time. After having been introduced to the idea of Going Nowhere, it felt as if the time was ripe for me to take my first vacation to Nowhere.
So this week, the majority of my hours have been spent in the confines and comforts of my room, often in the same ensconced position on my bed for hours on end with a book and a pot of tea by my bedside. It’s been quite an experience, because I don’t think I’ve had the chance to focus on reading for such uninterrupted length of time in a long time. And the more I think about it, what a luxury it’s been. I’d been craving for quite a while the chance to catch up on all the books I’ve collected over the past few months (I blame Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings for introducing me to so many incredible books in the world that I have been ordering/ordered/have arrived but yet to have read) and of course in my mind, I envisioned myself getting up at dawn, enjoying the infinite stretch of a quiet morning ahead of me, finishing up say, 2 books a day, steadily whittling down my list of books to read, all the while imbibing the immensities of knowledge within each book, ready to utilise it in every day life as an ever more empowered and wiser person.
MEH. As I should have expected, it was more like pressing on the snooze button of my alarm every 10 minutes till I finally woke up sometime in the mid-morning to a feeling of guilt in my belly, before deciding to work on something more pressing such as revising my Japanese (for an upcoming exam in a few weeks time), before going off to lunch with D and then feeling sleepy in the afternoon after visiting my grandma… and perhaps only late in the afternoon or at night would I finally settle down to immerse myself fully in the pages of a book.
But still, I’m grateful for these past few days of quiet and stillness. I feel like I’ve loaded up on words, images, ideas, allusions and the like these past few days. Today’s the day when I’m going to sift through them finally and figure out for myself what I have gleaned from those books.
These days it feels like a lot of my learning has come from online sources – podcasts, YouTube videos and the like, since I can access those while on the road or at the gym. But it’s definitely harder to remember a good quote or take notes on something I want to explore further while listening and doing something else. After awhile it feels as if all that I’ve been exposed to as a previously gentle bubbling of thoughts in my mind has grown into a full blown boil and I need to turn off the kettle and let things subside down to a manageable simmer by sorting through my thoughts. If not, I would only have touched the surface of something that has the potential to impact me much more, if only I take the time to sift through it.
I suppose now my mode of learning has become slightly different. I used to think that if I were smart or quick I should be able to ‘get’ something after one read or after listening to it once. Why is it that I keep feeling the need to go back to a podcast and each time I do, I pick up on something new? Maria Popova said it best:
” The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time.”
– Maria Popova
Being able to be comfortable with things taking time is something that I think we all would stand to benefit from. From really learning something to actualising our goals in work, health or our relationships, there are times when we just need to be patient, and know that anything of importance to us is going to take time. There’s no shortcut or hack to those things and in the end, that’s precisely the reason they are going to be meaningful and important to us.