I’ve been slowly working my way through Ryan Holiday’s book “Stillness is the Key“, and the other day, I read a chapter that really captured the essence of things I’ve been feeling and experiencing lately.
To call 2020 a wild year would be an understatement. From the pandemic upending everything and transforming how we do things, to personal changes and challenges, we have all had our fair share of problems to face and overcome.
For me personally, the year ended in an insane whirlwind of activity, by the time the minute hand crossed 12am on New Year’s day, one thing was crystal clear to me…I needed everything to stop.
I had the desperate desire to slow down, to strip away as much as possible and leave only what was essential. From posting even less on social media, to chatting sporadically, it would be fair to assume that I fell off the face of the earth into a hole somewhere.
On one level it felt wrong, feels like neglecting people, or being a recluse, sinking deeper into a personal bubble. On the other hand, and after reading that chapter, I understand what I’ve been trying to do.
Trying to sink deeper, into essence, into truth, into vision, into creativity.
The year ahead is a year of potential power. Sure the challenges are great, but pressure builds diamonds. As far as personal development is concerned, I have been focused on the mechanics of my day-to-day. Not the grandiose ideas and plans, just the nuts and bolts, the habits and actions that make up the mundane hours of my day.
It is hard to focus on getting those right if I’m running around distracted.
If you want to get results, you have to dig deep and major in the basics. you have to know them cold, you need to have that strong foundation. To be able to cut through the noise, and know exactly what to do and how to do that, one needs true clarity of mind, true focus.
You only get a chance of accessing that when you slow down.
The world is noisy. And more often than not, our lives get noisy too. And I don’t mean literal actual noise, but just the noise of streams, feeds, platforms, voices, anxieties, news, etc. There is always something vying for your attention.
If we are to live by design, we have to limit input. We have to slow down and invest our energy and attention to the places they need to go. That means taking a step back, that means slowing down, and thinking deeply.
In the chapter I read, Ryan talks about the Buddhist tradition of koans – inscrutable statements or questions that are meant to be contemplated. For instance – what is the sound of one hand clapping? It is the kind of paradoxical brain twister that is easy to dismiss but when engaged with can provide months and years of intense mental work.
In wrestling with these, the mind is forced into deeper and deeper states of contemplation. It is in these spaces that true insight begins to arise. Not necessarily in answer to the koan, but clarity into other vexing problems, or opportunities. The act of such slow, deliberate meditation creates the conditions for incredible breakthroughs.
So take the time to slow down, to think deeply. You can accomplish more in an hour of silent contemplation than you think. In the words of Ryan
Think about what’s important to you
Think about what’s actually going on
Think about what might be hidden from view
Think about what the rest of the chessboard looks like
Think about what the meaning of life really is
When we spend the time to think like this, we allow ourselves to find treasures, interesting ideas or our next creative project. It is in these moments that we find truth, the answers that must be drawn from the depths.
So relax, into yourself, into your environment, into the very flow of the universe, and grasp the gifts waiting for you.