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Sounds of Silence: A Workshop With Pico Iyer

Essayist and novelist Pico Iyer leads a writing workshop at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness of California, helping his pupils to understand the role of silence—and its relationship to language—in their work.

Eclectic writer Pico Iyer is best known for travel writing and fiction but has published articles and essays in a variety of venues. "The Eloquent Sounds of Silence" is from the January 25, 1993 issue of TIME.

The Eloquent Sounds of Silence

Every one of us knows the sensation of going up, on retreat, to a high place and feeling ourselves so lifted up that we can hardly imagine the circumstances of our usual lives, or all the things that make us fret. In such a place, in such a state, we start to recite the standard litany: that silence is sunshine, where company is clouds; that silence is rapture, where company is doubt; that silence is golden, where company is brass.

But silence is not so easily won. And before we race off to go prospecting in those hills, we might usefully recall that fool's gold is much more common and that gold has to be panned for, dug out from other substances. "All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence," wrote Herman Melville, one of the loftiest and most eloquent of souls. Working himself up to an ever more thunderous cry of affirmation, he went on, "Silence is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on of the Divine Pontiff's hands upon the world. Silence is the only Voice of our God.'' For Melville, though, silence finally meant darkness and hopelessness and self-annihilation. Devastated by the silence that greeted his heartfelt novels, he retired into a public silence from which he did not emerge for more than 30 years. Then, just before his death, he came forth with his final utterance -- the luminous tale of Billy Budd -- and showed that silence is only as worthy as what we can bring back from it.

We have to earn silence, then, to work for it: to make it not an absence but a presence; not emptiness but repletion. Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows. In silence, we might better say, we can hear someone else think.

Or simply breathe. For silence is responsiveness, and in silence we can listen to something behind the clamor of the world. "A man who loves God, necessarily loves silence,'' wrote Thomas Merton, who was, as a Trappist, a connoisseur, a caretaker of silences. It is no coincidence that places of worship are places of silence: if idleness is the devil's playground, silence may be the angels'. It is no surprise that silence is an anagram of license. And it is only right that Quakers all but worship silence, for it is the place where everyone finds his God, however he may express it. Silence is an ecumenical state, beyond the doctrines and divisions created by the mind. If everyone has a spiritual story to tell of his life, everyone has a spiritual silence to preserve.

So it is that we might almost say silence is the tribute we pay to holiness; we slip off words when we enter a sacred space, just as we slip off shoes. A "moment of silence'' is the highest honor we can pay someone; it is the point at which the mind stops and something else takes over (words run out when feelings rush in). A "vow of silence'' is for holy men the highest devotional act. We hold our breath, we hold our words; we suspend our chattering selves and let ourselves "fall silent,'' and fall into the highest place of all.

It often seems that the world is getting noisier these days: in Japan, which may be a model of our future, cars and buses have voices, doors and elevators speak. The answering machine talks to us, and for us, somewhere above the din of the TV; the Walkman preserves a public silence but ensures that we need never -- in the bathtub, on a mountaintop, even at our desks -- be without the clangor of the world. White noise becomes the aural equivalent of the clash of images, the nonstop blast of fragments that increasingly agitates our minds. As Ben Okri, the young Nigerian novelist, puts it, "When chaos is the god of an era, clamorous music is the deity's chief instrument.''

There is, of course, a place for noise, as there is for daily lives. There is a place for roaring, for the shouting exultation of a baseball game, for hymns and spoken prayers, for orchestras and cries of pleasure. Silence, like all the best things, is best appreciated in its absence: if noise is the signature tune of the world, silence is the music of the other world, the closest thing we know to the harmony of the spheres. But the greatest charm of noise is when it ceases. In silence, suddenly, it seems as if all the windows of the world are thrown open and everything is as clear as on a morning after rain. Silence, ideally, hums. It charges the air. In Tibet, where the silence has a tragic cause, it is still quickened by the fluttering of prayer flags, the tolling of temple bells, the roar of wind across the plains, the memory of chant.

Silence, then, could be said to be the ultimate province of trust: it is the place where we trust ourselves to be alone; where we trust others to understand the things we do not say; where we trust a higher harmony to assert itself. We all know how treacherous are words, and how often we use them to paper over embarrassment, or emptiness, or fear of the larger spaces that silence brings. "Words, words, words'' commit us to positions we do not really hold, the imperatives of chatter; words are what we use for lies, false promises and gossip. We babble with strangers; with intimates we can be silent. We "make conversation'' when we are at a loss; we unmake it when we are alone, or with those so close to us that we can afford to be alone with them.

In love, we are speechless; in awe, we say, words fail us.

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The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

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First published November 4, 2014

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In an age of speed, nothing can be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feelmore luxorious than paying attention. In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

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Pico Iyer Sits in Silence for 5 Hours Every Morning

The art of stillness author in conversation with paul holdengraber.

In this episode of A Phone Call From Paul, Paul Holdengraber talks to the essayist and novelist Pico Iyer about the attention economy, the LeBron James of literature, Act IV of life, the depth and graciousness of Leonard Cohen, watching films in North Korea, and reading Proust on his terrace.

Pico Iyer on spending five hours a day in silence Every morning I wake up in our tiny apartment in Japan and I go to a corner and I just sit there for the next five hours trying to sift through my projections, my distortions, trying to find the voice behind my chatter, trying to find, of all the things passing through my head, is any one worth committing to the page. As experiences of recent days go through me, as a writer I’m committed to trying to cut through the silly or surface things one would say or find about them and see if there’s anything more durable in them.

Pico Iyer on being grateful for his occupation The writing job has many occupational hazards, but it struck me that one of the few advantages it has is it allows you to sort through your experience for a living. Especially nowadays as the world gets so full of acceleration and distraction, so much of the time we are racing from sound bite to text message to CNN breaking news updates. The luxury of spending five hours a day just stepping back from that clamor, trying to gain some clarity, is a huge one. I’m grateful for being a writer in that way.

Pico Iyer on turning to literature for self-help I spend one hour reading a book, either a novel or a substantial work of non-fiction, and I’m amazed at the end of that hour I do feel so much deeper than when I’m just racing around Times Square or doing the kind of stuff I would do otherwise. I feel more intimate and I feel as if I’ve emerged from a conversation with a really soulful, challenging, interesting friend, whether that friend is called Emily Dickinson or Zadie Smith.

Pico Iyer on the LeBron James of literature Being a basketball fan, I am most excited when I’m watching LeBron James and Kevin Durant. When I want to find out how to deal with an aging parent, what to do with the prospect of death, how to sift through the distortions that I entertain when I’m in love, I want to turn to the LeBron James of thinking and writing. That’s exactly where literature comes in.

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Where Silence Is Sacred

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Giant figures are talking and strutting and singing on enormous screens above me, and someone is chattering away on the mini-screen in the cab from which I just stepped. Nine people at this street corner are shouting into thin air, wearing wires around their chins and jabbing at the screens in their hands. One teenager, I read recently, sent 300,000 text messages in a month–or 10 a minute for every minute of her waking day, assuming that she was awake 16 hours a day. There are more cell phones than people on the planet now, almost (ten mobiles for every one at the beginning of the century). Even by the end of the past century, the average human being in a country such as ours saw as many images in a day as a Victorian inhaled in a lifetime.

And then I walk off crowded Fifth Avenue and into the capacious silence of Saint Patrick’s. Candles are flickering here and there, intensifying my sense of all I cannot see. Figures are on their knees, heads bowed, drawing my attention to what cannot be said. Light is flooding through the great blue windows, and I have entered a realm where no I or realm exists. I register everything around me: the worn stones, the little crosses, the hymnbooks, the upturned faces; then I sit down, close my eyes–and step out of time, into everything that stretches beyond it.

When I look back on my life, the parts that matter and sustain me, all I see is a series of chapels. They may be old or young, cracked brown or open space; they may be lectories or afterthoughts, hidden corners of a city or deserted spaces in the forest. They are as visible as people. But like people they have a stillness at the core of them that makes all discussion of high and low, East and West, you and me dissolve. Bells toll and toll and I lose all sense of whether they are chiming within me or without.

The first time I was asked to enter a New York office building–for a job interview 28 years ago–I gathered myself, in all senses, in Saint Patrick’s, and knew that it would put everything I was about to face (a company, a new life, my twittering ambitions) into place. It was the frame that gave everything else definition. Ever since, I’ve made it my practice to step into that great thronged space whenever I return to the city, to remind myself of what is real, what is lasting, before giving myself to everything that isn’t. A chapel is the deepest silence we can absorb, unless we stay in a cloister. A chapel is where we allow ourselves to be broken open as if we were children again, trembling at home before our parents.

In 1929 the British Broad­casting Corporation decided to start broadcasting “live silence” in memory of the dead instead of just halting transmission for two minutes every day; it was important, it was felt, to hear the rustle of papers, the singing of the birds outside, an occasional cough. As a BBC spokesman put it, with rare wisdom, silence is “a solvent which destroys personality and gives us leave to be great and universal.” It permits us, in short, to be who we are and could be if only we had the openness and trust. A chapel is where we hear something and nothing, ourselves and everyone else, a silence that is not the absence of noise, but the presence of something much deeper: the depth beneath our thoughts.

Many years ago, when I was too young to know better, I worked in a 25th-floor office four blocks from Times Square in New York City. Teletypes juddered the news furiously into our midst every second–this was the World Affairs department of Time magazine–and messengers breathlessly brought the latest reports from our correspondents to our offices. Editors barked, early computers sputtered, televisions in our senior editors’ offices gave us the news as it was breaking. We spoke and conferred and checked facts and wrote, often, 20 or 25 pages in an evening.

I left all that for a monastery on the backstreets of Kyoto. I wanted to learn about silence. I wanted to learn about who I was when I wasn’t thinking about it. The Japanese are masters of not saying anything, both because their attention is always on listening, on saying little, even on speaking generically, and because, when they do talk, they are very eager to say nothing offensive, outrageous, or confrontational. They’re like talk-show hosts in a nation where self-display is almost forbidden. You learn more by listening than talking, they know; you create a wider circle by thinking not about yourself, but about the people around you, and how you can find common ground with them. The Japanese idea of a dream date–I’ve been with my Japanese sweetheart for 23 years and I’ve learned the hard way–is to go to a movie and come out saying nothing.

Perhaps I wouldn’t need this kind of training in paying attention and keeping quiet were it not for the fact that I used to love babbling, and my colleagues and friends in England and the United States trained and encouraged me to talk, to thrust myself forward, to assert my little self in all its puny glory. Perhaps we wouldn’t need chapels if our lives were already clear and calm (a saint or a Jesus may never need to go into a church; he’s always carrying one inside himself). Chapels are emergency rooms for the soul. They are the one place we can reliably go to find who we are and what we should be doing with our own lives–usually by finding all we aren’t, and what is much greater than us, to which we can only give ourselves up.

“I like the silent church,” Emerson wrote, “before the service begins.”

I grew up in chapels, at school in England. For all those years of my growing up, we had to go to chapel every morning and to say prayers in a smaller room every evening. Chapel became every­thing we longed to flee; it was where we made faces at one another, doodled in our hymnbooks, sniggered at each other every time we sang about “the bosom of the Lord” or the “breast” of a green hill. All we wanted was open space, mobility, freedom–the California of the soul. But as the years went on, I started to see that no movement made sense unless it had a changelessness beneath it; that all our explorations were only as rich as the still place we brought them back to.

I noticed, in my early 30s, that I had accumulated 1.5 million miles with United Airlines alone; I started going to a monastery. It wasn’t in order to become religious or to attend services in the chapel, though I did go there, over and over, as Emerson might have done, when nobody was present. The real chapel was my little cell in the hermitage, looking out on the boundless blue of the Pacific Ocean below, the Steller’s jay that just alighted on the splintered fence in my garden. Chapel was silence and spaciousness and whatever put the human round, my human, all too human thoughts, in some kind of vaster context.

I’ve stayed in those little cells in a Benedictine hermitage above the sea more than 50 times by now, over almost 20 years. I’ve stayed in the cloister with the monks; spent three weeks at a time in silence; stayed in a trailer in the dark, and in a house for the monastery’s laborers, where I’d come upon monks doing press-ups against the rafters on the ground floor and planning their next raid upon the monastery computer.

Now the place lives inside me so power­fully that my home in Japan looks and feels like a Benedictine hermitage. I receive no newspapers or magazines there, and I watch no television. I’ve never had a cell phone, and I’ve ensured that we have almost no Internet connections at all. We own no car or bicycle, and the whole apartment (formerly, population four, my wife and two children and myself) consists of two rooms. I sleep on a couch in the living room at 8:30 every night, and think this is the most luxurious, expansive, liberating adventure I could imagine.

A chapel is where you can hear something beating below your heart.

Pico Iyer is the author, most recently, of The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Vintage). Excerpted from Portland (Winter 2010), a nonprofit quarterly magazine published by the University of Portland. www.up.edu/portland

This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader .

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Leonard Cohen and the Art of Stillness: Pico Iyer on What the Monastic Musician Taught Him About Presence

“going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.”, by maria popova.

Leonard Cohen and the Art of Stillness: Pico Iyer on What the Monastic Musician Taught Him About Presence

“Faith is the ability to honor stillness at some moments,” Alan Lightman wrote in his sublime meditation on science and spirituality , “and at others to ride the passion and exuberance.” In his conversation with E.O. Wilson , the poet Robert Hass described beauty as a “paradox of stillness and motion.” But in our Productivity Age of perpetual motion, it’s increasingly hard — yet increasingly imperative — to honor stillness, to build pockets of it into our lives , so that our faith in beauty doesn’t become half-hearted, lopsided, crippled. The delicate bridling of that paradox is what novelist and essayist Pico Iyer explores in The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere ( public library ) — a beautifully argued case for the unexpected pleasures of “sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it,” revealed through one man’s sincere record of learning to “take care of his loved ones, do his job, and hold on to some direction in a madly accelerating world.”

Iyer begins by recounting a snaking drive up the San Gabriel Mountains outside Los Angeles to visit his boyhood hero — legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. In 1994, shortly after the most revealing interview he ever gave , Cohen had moved to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center to embark on five years of seclusion, serving as personal assistant to the great Japanese Zen teacher Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, then in his late eighties. Midway through his time at the Zen Center, Cohen was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and given the Dharma name Jikan — Pali for “silence.”


Iyer writes:

I’d come up here in order to write about my host’s near-silent, anonymous life on the mountain, but for the moment I lost all sense of where I was. I could hardly believe that this rabbinical-seeming gentleman in wire-rimmed glasses and wool cap was in truth the singer and poet who’d been renowned for thirty years as an international heartthrob, a constant traveler, and an Armani-clad man of the world.

Cohen, who once described the hubbub of his ordinary state of mind as “very much like the waiting room at the DMV,” had sought in the sequestered Zen community a more extreme, more committed version of a respite most of us long for in the midst of modern life — at least at times, at least on some level, and often wholeheartedly, achingly. Iyer reflects on Cohen’s particular impulse and what it reveals about our shared yearning:

Leonard Cohen had come to this Old World redoubt to make a life — an art — out of stillness. And he was working on simplifying himself as fiercely as he might on the verses of one of his songs, which he spends more than ten years polishing to perfection. The week I was visiting, he was essentially spending seven days and nights in a bare meditation hall, sitting stock-still. His name in the monastery, Jikan, referred to the silence between two thoughts. […] One evening — four in the morning, the end of December — Cohen took time out from his meditations to walk down to my cabin and try to explain what he was doing here. Sitting still, he said with unexpected passion, was “the real deep entertainment” he had found in his sixty-one years on the planet. “Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available within this activity.” Was he kidding? Cohen is famous for his mischief and ironies. He wasn’t, I realized as he went on. “What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.” Typically lofty and pitiless words; living on such close terms with silence clearly hadn’t diminished his gift for golden sentences. But the words carried weight when coming from one who seemed to have tasted all the pleasures that the world has to offer.

pico iyer essay on silence

Iyer beholds his encounter with Cohen with the same incredulous amazement that most of us modern cynics experience, at first reluctantly, when confronted with something or someone incomprehensibly earnest, for nothing dissolves snark like unflinching sincerity. For Cohen, Iyer observes, the Zen practice was not a matter of “piety or purity” but of practical salvation and refuge from “the confusion and terror that had long been his bedfellows.” Iyer writes:

Sitting still with his aged Japanese friend, sipping Courvoisier, and listening to the crickets deep into the night, was the closest he’d come to finding lasting happiness, the kind that doesn’t change even when life throws up one of its regular challenges and disruptions. “Nothing touches it,” Cohen said, as the light came into the cabin, of sitting still… Going nowhere, as Cohen described it, was the grand adventure that makes sense of everywhere else.

But the paradox thickens the closer we get to its source. The kind of stillness Cohen bows to is a capacity most reliably acquired through meditation. And yet even though meditation is our greatest gateway to everyday transcendence , most adults in the West don’t practice it. The second most common reason nonpractitioners have against meditating is that they don’t have the time to do it — not enough time to learn to live with presence. (The most common reason to resist, of course, is people’s protestation that they simply can’t do it or aren’t cut out for it, which is merely the time argument by a guise of greater denial — it simply means that they haven’t put in the time to get good at it; there is a reason it’s termed a meditation practice — mastering it obeys the same basic principles of attaining excellence as any skill.)

A century after Bertrand Russell admonished that the conquest of leisure and health would be of no use if no one remembers how to use them , Iyer paints an empirical caricature of the paradoxical time argument against stillness. Citing a sociological study of time diaries that found Americans were working fewer hours than they were 30 years earlier but felt as if they were working more, he writes:

We’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off — our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.

pico iyer essay on silence

As most of us would begrudgingly admit, not without some necessary tussle with denial and rationalization, the challenge of staying present in the era of productivity is in no small part a product of our age itself. Iyer captures this elegantly:

Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize. Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources — it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources. Going nowhere, as Cohen had shown me, is not about austerity so much as about coming closer to one’s senses.

Much like we find ourselves by getting lost , Iyer suggests, we inhabit the world more fully by mindfully vacating its mayhem:

Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.

pico iyer essay on silence

In a sentiment that calls to mind Annie Dillard’s memorable notion of “unmerited grace [that] is handed to you, but only if you look for it,” Iyer considers the rewards that beckon us from that space of stillness:

It’s only by taking myself away from clutter and distraction that I can begin to hear something out of earshot and recall that listening is much more invigorating than giving voice to all the thoughts and prejudices that anyway keep me company twenty-four hours a day. And it’s only by going nowhere — by sitting still or letting my mind relax — that I find that the thoughts that come to me unbidden are far fresher and more imaginative than the ones I consciously seek out.

With a wink of wisdom that would’ve made William James proud , Iyer adds:

It takes courage, of course, to step out of the fray, as it takes courage to do anything that’s necessary, whether tending to a loved one on her deathbed or turning away from that sugarcoated doughnut.

The Art of Stillness , which comes from TED Books , is a wonderful read in its entirety. Complement it with Alan Watts on happiness and how to live with presence , Rebecca Solnit’s magnificent field guide to getting lost , Annie Dillard on presence vs. productivity , and some thoughts on wisdom in the age of information .

— Published November 10, 2014 — https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/11/10/pico-iyer-the-art-of-stillness/ —





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Book Reviews

Pico iyer's 'the half known life' upends the conventional travel genre.

The Half Known Life cover

A mesmerizing collection of essays that vividly recalls sojourns to mostly contentious yet fabled realms, Pico Iyer's The Half Known Life upends the conventional travel genre by offering a paradoxical investigation of paradise.

Iyer's deeply reflective explorations at once affirm and challenge the French philosopher Blaise Pascal's statement that "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

After years of traversing the globe as the Dalai Lama's biographer and observing first-hand how people struggle with the search for a meaningful existence, Iyer, a noted British-American essayist of Tamil ancestry, has often wondered what kind of paradise can be found in our increasingly fractious world.

Since travel is often tied to escape/refuge as well as conquest/acquisition, the notion of paradise in today's context inevitably brings up attendant issues of loss, instability, violence and oppression. Voyaging from shadowy mosques and gardens of Iran (where the same Farsi word is used for both "garden" and "paradise") to the sterile skyline of North Korea; the deceptively peaceful lakes of Kashmir to the unyielding terrains of Ladakh and the tense sunlit lawns of Sri Lanka; the wrathful Old Testament landscape of Broome, Australia to the fog-shrouded, Bardo-like embankments of Varanasi; the clamorous streets of Jerusalem to the hushed temples of Koyasan, Japan, Iyer poetically depicts the otherworldly beauty of these places while trenchantly examining the paradox of utopia. Why do so many seeming paradises rupture in suffering and chaos? Is the serpent an inherent feature of paradise? In the process he also questions our idea of knowledge by positing that "the half known life is where so many of our possibilities lie."

While acknowledging that a flawed understanding of other cultures can create tragic consequences, Iyer believes "it's everything half known, from love to faith to wonder and terror," that actually guides the trajectory of one's life. Accordingly, there is usually a gap between our preconceived notion of happiness and a deeper, realer truth that we may intuit but tend to overlook in our pursuit of happiness. "The places we avoid [are] often closer to us than the ones we eagerly seek out," Iyer insightfully observes.

The notion of home/truth versus exile/illusion is fluid one — Iyer is less interested in binary thinking than in embracing contradictions. In his view, it's precisely our imperfect grasp of reality that both invites us to commune with other worlds and teaches us to be humble when we find ourselves untethered from the familiar. Therefore Iyer's idea of paradise, in embracing both engagement and conscious solitude, affirms yet also modifies Pascal's isolationist sentiment. In some way Iyer's worldview is closer to Olga Tokarczuk's Boschian universe of provisionary heretics in The Books of Jacob , and shares more kinship with limbo or hell than what we normally envision as the kingdom of perfect happiness.

In acknowledging suffering as an indispensable feature of paradise, Iyer emphatically renounces a pristine image of Eden, as embodied by North Korea's "massive stage set, all Legoland skyscrapers and false fronts." Seeing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as a necessary fall, and the Buddha's departure from his princely estate as a conscious acceptance of human frailties, Iyer concludes that a true paradise is only attainable through displacement.

While The Half Known Land is not without its romantic seductions — Iyer's indelible prose often conjures the hypnotic, teeming vista of a David Lean epic or the evocative interior of a Mira Nair picture — his descriptions are suffused with an awareness of loss. Although we are deeply enchanted by Iyer's recounting of his mother's fairytale childhood in Kashmir's alpine hills, we also understand his wish to relinquish this illusory past:

"Could [my mother's] memories of Kashmir still be found? Should they? The very British who had raised her and educated her so beautifully had also cut the honeymooners' valley into pieces and left it in the hands of implacable [Pakistan, Indian and Chinese] rivals ...."

In another bittersweet story about Kashmir, a Westerner's dream of escape turns into a long lasting, sustainable engagement with the region after the man suffered a devastating loss. In Iyer's riveting anecdotes, a sudden intimacy with death brings one closer to glimpses of paradise. This unflinching yet organic acceptance of death seems to nullify any hubristic attempt toward absolutes. Iyer's discussion of the Dalai Lama's pragmatism in treating various religious traditions as complementary medical systems — rather than mystical truths — seems especially apt. By concentrating on relieving human suffering, His Holiness's teachings are situated in the here and now, rather than in any theoretical exaltation of eternal life.

Finally, The Half Known Life offers us a revelatory refresher on American literature. Iyer's intimations of mortality help us embrace Herman Melville's visceral terror of the unknown in Moby Dick , and his engagement of diverse worlds brings to mind both Emily Dickinson's dwelling in possibility ("The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise") and Elizabeth Bishop's ambiguous epiphany in "Questions of Travel":

"Continent, city, country, society: the choice is never wide and never free."

Thúy Đinh is a freelance critic and literary translator. Her work can be found at thuydinhwriter.com. She tweets @ThuyTBDinh


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The Joy of Quiet

By Pico Iyer

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ABOUT a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began — I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign — was stillness.

A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”

Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.

Has it really come to this?

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China try to save kids addicted to the screen.

Writer friends of mine pay good money to get the Freedom software that enables them to disable (for up to eight hours) the very Internet connections that seemed so emancipating not long ago. Even Intel (of all companies) experimented in 2007 with conferring four uninterrupted hours of quiet time every Tuesday morning on 300 engineers and managers. (The average office worker today, researchers have found, enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.) During this period the workers were not allowed to use the phone or send e-mail, but simply had the chance to clear their heads and to hear themselves think. A majority of Intel’s trial group recommended that the policy be extended to others.

pico iyer essay on silence

THE average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow, I heard myself tell the marketers in Singapore, will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

When telegraphs and trains brought in the idea that convenience was more important than content — and speedier means could make up for unimproved ends — Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but by also acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister.

Yet few of those voices can be heard these days, precisely because “breaking news” is coming through (perpetually) on CNN and Debbie is just posting images of her summer vacation and the phone is ringing. We barely have enough time to see how little time we have (most Web pages, researchers find, are visited for 10 seconds or less). And the more that floods in on us (the Kardashians, Obamacare, “Dancing with the Stars”), the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet. All we notice is that the distinctions that used to guide and steady us — between Sunday and Monday, public and private, here and there — are gone.

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

MAYBE that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation. Finding myself at breakfast with a group of lawyers in Oxford four months ago, I noticed that all their talk was of sailing — or riding or bridge: anything that would allow them to get out of radio contact for a few hours.

Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.

In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures to try to keep my sanity and ensure that I have time to do nothing at all (which is the only time when I can see what I should be doing the rest of the time). I’ve yet to use a cellphone and I’ve never Tweeted or entered Facebook. I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.

None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it’s just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better — calmer, clearer and happier — than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

It’s vital, of course, to stay in touch with the world, and to know what’s going on; I took pains this past year to make separate trips to Jerusalem and Hyderabad and Oman and St. Petersburg, to rural Arkansas and Thailand and the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima and Dubai. But it’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it.

For more than 20 years, therefore, I’ve been going several times a year — often for no longer than three days — to a Benedictine hermitage, 40 minutes down the road, as it happens, from the Post Ranch Inn. I don’t attend services when I’m there, and I’ve never meditated, there or anywhere; I just take walks and read and lose myself in the stillness, recalling that it’s only by stepping briefly away from my wife and bosses and friends that I’ll have anything useful to bring to them. The last time I was in the hermitage, three months ago, I happened to pass, on the monastery road, a youngish-looking man with a 3-year-old around his shoulders.

“You’re Pico, aren’t you?” the man said, and introduced himself as Larry; we’d met, I gathered, 19 years before, when he’d been living in the cloister as an assistant to one of the monks.

“What are you doing now?” I asked.

“I work for MTV. Down in L.A.”

We smiled. No words were necessary.

“I try to bring my kids here as often as I can,” he went on, as he looked out at the great blue expanse of the Pacific on one side of us, the high, brown hills of the Central Coast on the other. “My oldest son” — he pointed at a 7-year-old running along the deserted, radiant mountain road in front of his mother — “this is his third time.”

The child of tomorrow, I realized, may actually be ahead of us, in terms of sensing not what’s new, but what’s essential.

pico iyer essay on silence

Going Nowhere: Learning Haiku from Pico Iyer

First published in Frogpond 43:2, Spring/Summer 2020, pages 120–125. A PDF version of this essay is also available on the Haiku Society of America website. Originally written in December of 2019, before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but quickly relevant to this global situation. I’ve given this as an online Zoom meeting presentation, during lock-down, for the King County Library System (view on YouTube ; this presentation lacks the PowerPoint show I created for later online presentations), the Southern California Haiku Study Group, Haiku Northwest, the Vancouver Haiku Group, the Haiku Poets of the Garden State (New Jersey), the Ohaio-ku Study Group (Ohio), the San Diego Haiku Group (California), the Kiwi-ku Haiku Poets (New Zealand), the Paperbark haiku group in Perth, Australia, the London Haiku Group in England, for the Fringe Myrtles haiku group in Melbourne, Australia (see a report about this meeting), for the Japan Writers Conference, for Haiku Arbutus in Victoria, British Columbia, and elsewhere. I’ve also made a few revisions to the following text since its original publication. The first postscript was included with the original publication in Frogpond , but since then I’ve added “A Few More Nowhere Poems” at the end and a second postscript about the charge of escapism. In a similar vein to Iyer’s book, I also recommend Erling Kagge’s book, Silence in the Age of Noise (Vintage Books, 2018). +

“Stillness is what creates love. Movement is what creates life.

To be still, yet still moving—that is everything!” —Do Hyun Choe

nowhere I have to be . . .

driftwood floats

on the tide

Cara Holman, A Hundred Gourds 2:3, June 2013, 11

nowhere I need to be

a cabbage moth flits

among the daylilies

Hannah Mahoney, Acorn 39, Fall 2017, 2

deep autumn . . .

knowing there is nowhere

I have to be

Bill Kenney, Frogpond 35:1, Winter 2012, 22

pico iyer essay on silence

It would seem that travel writers are always eager to extol the virtues of travel, how it broadens your mind, makes you aware of other points of view, challenges your assumptions about possibly everything, and thus gives you growth. But Pico Iyer is a travel writer who recognizes the value of home, of going nowhere, of how an appreciation for the ordinary, as with haiku poetry, can enhance your daily life. It’s a different kind of growth. As he says, quoting Dorothy from Wizard of Oz , “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.”

out of nowhere isn’t

Marlene Mountain, Roadrunner VII:4, November 2007

Timothy Russell, Heron Quarterly 2:2, April 1998

summer i go nowhere twice

Gregory Hopkins, Roadrunner IX:2, May 2009

Many haiku poets know Pico Iyer for his 1991 book The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto , about a year spent in Japan. His most recent books, both published by Knopf in 2019, are Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells and A Beginner’s Guide to Japan . In 2017, he published The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (New York: TED Books / Simon & Schuster). It grew out of a 2014 TED talk that you can find online. The book is enhanced by contemplative pictures of oceans, mountains, clouds, and forests. He begins by describing a meeting with Leonard Cohen at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, and tells us that Cohen’s monastery name was Jikan, which means the silence between two thoughts (2). This is the space of “ma” in haiku, the “dreaming room” between the poem’s two juxtaposed parts where the best haiku find their deepest reverberation, much like, as Iyer notes, “the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape” (53). He also says, “Going nowhere, as Cohen described it, was the grand adventure that makes sense of everywhere else” (4). Iyer also says, “as Cohen talked about the art of sitting still . . . I observed the sense of attention, kindness, and even delight that seemed to arise out of his life of going nowhere” (5), and that “Going nowhere . . . is not about austerity so much as about coming closer to one’s senses” (6). I think of Mary Oliver, who said, in her prose poem “ Yes! No! ” (from New and Selected Poems, Volume Two , Boston: Beacon Press, 2005, 151), “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” She also said, in A Poetry Handbook (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994, 106), that poetry “began through the process of seeing, and feeling, and hearing, and smelling, and touching, and then remembering—I mean remembering in words —what these perceptual experiences were like.” That’s haiku. We can practice this sensing, this attention to the ordinary, right at home—nowhere. Home is the realm of haiku, of self care, and Iyer invites us to join “the adventure of going nowhere” (7). Nowhere, he asserts, is “a place of trust” (65). Or, as the Beatles once sang, “Oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go.”

first flakes

the nowhere voices

Ann K. Schwader, The Heron’s Nest 14:2, June 2012

Under the full moon

I will stay nowhere this evening

but beside this pine tree

Buson, W. S. Merwin and Takako Lento, trans., Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson ,

Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press 2013, #530, 143

Footprints in the snow

Anita Arita, Modern Haiku 7:3, August 1976, 23

Iyer extends his invitation to writing too: “Writers, of course, are obliged by our professions to spend much of our time nowhere. Our creations come not when we’re out in the world, gathering impressions, but when we’re sitting still, turning those impressions into sentences [or haiku]. Our job, you could say, is to turn, through stillness, a life of movement into art” (21). German diplomat Karlfried Graf Durckheim once said, “A thousand secrets are hidden simply in sitting still.” And as Wordsworth said, poetry is heightened emotion recollected in tranquility. In A Bamboo Broom , Harold G. Henderson described Bashō’s famous old-pond jumping-frog poem by saying that “there must have been external quiet for the sound to have been heard and internal quiet for it to have been noticed” (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1934, 34, emphasis added). Without silence, we cannot have words, and silence precedes utterance, including haiku. As Walter E. Harris put it in Haiku One Breaths (Hauppauge, New York: Allbook Books, 2004, 29), “Considering that one ‘speaks’ on the out-breath (exhale), it is worth contemplating what occurs on the in-breath, which is another way of saying ‘inspiration,’ a word meaning ‘to breath in spirit.’ Thus, if a haiku can be spoken in One Breath (or really, one exhaled breath), the other half is just as important, or it is the silent place before the words are spoken.” As Iyer says, “it’s only when you stop moving that you can be moved in some far deeper way” (22). And yet, in contrast, he adds, “the external environment can too easily be a reflection of—sometimes a catalyst for—an inner one” (33). With practice, we can balance the inner and the outer, and facilitate a pathway for their communication.

walking the tracks

my thoughts

Tom Clausen, Cornell University Mann Library’s Daily Haiku, 25 January 2010

I’m back here in the middle

of nowhere—

At least I think so

Jack Kerouac, Book of Haikus , Regina Weinreich, ed., New York: Penguin, 2003, 89

closing time

nowhere to go

Renée Owen, Contemporary Haibun Online 5:2, 2009

Iyer proposes that the art of going nowhere can help give you contentment, and when life circumstances might even require us to stay home, we can learn to make the most of it. He quotes Blaise Pascal, who said, “All the unhappiness of men arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber” (41). Earlier he quoted Cohen, who said “Going nowhere . . . isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply” (13). Or, as Abu Sa’id noted, “Take one step away from yourself—and behold!—the Path!” Indeed, Iyer emphasizes that “the ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is now far less important than the ability to sift through it” (42).

winter morning

a down comforter

and nowhere to go

Megan Elizabeth Monish, Mainichi Daily News , March 2010

belonging nowhere—

wheat ripens

Yoshitomo Abe, World Haiku , 2007, 6

carousel ride

laughing children going

nowhere . . . everywhere

Robert J. Gaurnier, Modern Haiku 31:1, Winter–Spring 2000, 10

Iyer also speaks of taking a “secular Sabbath.” “Doing nothing for a while,” he says, “is one of the hardest things in life” (53), and quotes Emily Dickinson, who wrote, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church . . . I keep it, staying at Home” (56). He later says, “The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or mountaintop but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world” (63). This desire to gather stillness, a kind of belonging, is a goal of haiku, or at least an effect. Ultimately, Pico Iyer concludes as follows (66):

In an age of speed . . . 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.

Of course, there’s no such thing as nowhere. Nowhere is effectively a metaphor for any place that may be ordinary or indistinct. Nor do poems about the “nowheres” of our lives need to use the word “nowhere.” Rather, they can celebrate whatever might be ordinary in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our towns, and in every other aspect of our lives. As Kerouac said, “Haiku should be as simple as porridge.” Haiku poets celebrate the ordinary so we are well inclined and even encouraged to go nowhere as often as possible, to recognize the mysticism of the ordinary. Here’s to going nowhere with our lives, at least at times, and to writing haiku about the adventures of the ordinary.

the pleasure

of going nowhere

Deb Baker, The Heron’s Nest 15:2, June 2013, 5

what the hell I’ll take a walk nowhere

Gerard John Conforti, Modern Haiku 38:2, Summer 2007, 16

in the middle of nowhere

making it somewhere

Graham High, Earth , British Haiku Society, 2009

I had the chance to meet Pico Iyer on 25 May 2019 at the Seattle Art Museum, where he gave a reading from his book, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells . We talked for a few minutes about common acquaintances, Kyoto, the fact that my wife is Japanese, and how much I appreciated his Art of Stillness book. When I asked him if he wrote haiku, he laughed and said, “Oh, no—I stopped very quickly when I discovered how difficult it was!”

pico iyer essay on silence

A Few More Nowhere Poems

from nowhere

Robert MacLean, Wintermoon (2022)

A cloud of bugs

busily going nowhere

in a ray of sun.

James W. Hackett, The Zen Haiku and Other Zen Poems of J.W. Hackett (1983), 73

a kingfisher calls

from out of nowhere

Renée Owen, Modern Haiku 42:2 (summer 2011), 106

April Fool—

I do up my hair

and go nowhere

Masajo Suzuki, Emiko Miyashita and Lee Gurga, trans., Love Haiku (2000)

childhood home

my concrete footprints

going nowhere

Ernest J. Berry, Getting On (2016)

cold April wind . . .

I watch the snail

Stanford M. Forrester, Haiku Canada Newsletter 16:3

briskly blowing

Jody Toya, Modern Haiku 9:3 ( A utumn 1978), 45

with nowhere to turn

Christopher Herold, The Heron’s Nest 11:4 (December 2009)

faraway train whistle

the sound of me

Alan S. Bridges, Ephemerae 1A (April 2018)

in the creekbed

Tom Clausen, Upstate Dim Sum 2012/II, 10

standing in the middle of now here

Peter Newton, What We Find (2011)

nowhere to be

wind chimes

Deborah P Kolodji, Blithe Spirit , 30:2 (May 2020)

Another Postscript

One of my online presentations of this essay, using PowerPoint, was for the Japan Writers Conference in October of 2020. In the discussion that followed, Goro Takano raised a pertinent question, which led to a fruitful group exchange. I’ll paraphrase the discussion to ask this question: To what extent is “going nowhere” a form of escapism, and how can escapism be resolved against the pressure of social activism? I agree that haiku need not be all about rainbows and doilies—a sort of escapism. In fact, I would soon tire of poems that were simply perceived as “beautiful” in too narrow or precious a definition. I recently read Mary Ruefle’s “On Secrets,” from her essay collection, Madness, Rack, and Honey (Seattle, Washington: Wave Books, 2012). In it she says “the rose is not beautiful. You think the rose is beautiful. . . . What beauty is is your ability to apprehend it. The ability to apprehend beauty is the human spirit and it is what all such moments are about, which is why such moments occur in places and at times that may strike another as unlikely or inconceivable” (98–99). She adds that “the larger the human spirit, the more it will apprehend beauty in increasingly unlikely and inconceivable situations” (99).

Beauty, obviously, is in the eye of the beholder. But a larger question is whether haiku needs to limit itself to focusing on beauty. Poets may choose to write about whatever they prefer, which could be limited to what they see as being beautiful, but haiku itself needs no such limitations. I immediately think of Bashō’s poem about the horse pissing by his pillow. As James W. Hackett has said, “lifefulness, not beauty, is the real quality of haiku.”

A larger question yet is the danger of escapism. Escape is one of the possibilities that art affords, both for the maker and the consumer, as an antidote to the world’s stresses, but it risks the problems of the ivory tower, the irresponsible disconnectedness of isolation. During the pandemic of 2020, many of us have been forced into isolation, perhaps confronting the value of going nowhere as explored in my essay—written a few months before the pandemic began. Ultimately, I take Pico Iyer’s point to be that it is to our advantage to know or learn how to make the most of going nowhere, whether we have to or not, because it is often while removed from something that we might begin to make sense of it.

You may recall the words of Jesus who urged his disciples to be in the world but not of the world. A key part of that admonition is to remain in the world, and I believe this applies to haiku poets, and indeed all poets—to be aware, not wary, and to be part, not apart. One cannot write of the world without being in the world, and even if one is quarantined, it is the poet’s duty or at least an opportunity to remain connected if he or she wishes to be.

I think too of the notion of “retreat.” We need to recharge ourselves at times, which is why going on a retreat is useful. Think of sabbaticals, vacations, and your garden-variety writing retreat. But “retreat” can also mean to back away, to withdraw and disconnect in possibly negative ways, like an army retreating in failure. Yet even that sort of retreat is a way to save oneself, or as much as possible. I hope my promotion of going nowhere, or seeing the value in that, dwells chiefly in the notion of recharging oneself, connection in balance with useful disconnection, and does not imply the abdication of societal obligations.

We then come to the question of social activism, and its possible role in haiku. In the discussion we had, I mentioned the haiku of John Dunphy, who has frequently written about social issues. Other poets in a similar vein are Marlene Mountain before him and Lori A Minor after him, among others. I am glad that these poets are having their say and saying things that need to be said, whether they are speaking for themselves or speaking for others. But I would also suggest that not everyone has to say such things, in haiku or other poetry. Social activism in poetry, as in life, is a personal choice, and poets are free to engage in such activism to whatever degree they prefer—though I would caution against letting any agenda overshadow the poetry itself, and to avoid preachiness. The power of poetry can be harnessed in many ways, and I don’t think any poet should feel guilty or shamed for not promoting social activism. So, for me, the question really remains on escapism, which is more of a charge to consider than whether haiku or other poetry should engage in social activism.

What is escapism? That’s the question to consider, not just in terms of pandemic lock-downs but the very diversion of poetry itself. Is each haiku a way of pushing the world away, of keeping it at bay, because by naming an experience one somehow controls it? To return to Mary Ruefle, I believe she has an answer. She says, “An expansion takes place [when reading poetry], the hearer is made to feel human, alive; he feels as though the teller’s being were his own, and so experiences a change of being where that which is inside himself takes on the proportions of that which is outside himself” (100). This is a description of connection and empathy, and a benefit of connection and empathy can be empowerment.

I’d like to conclude, therefore, by saying that the best haiku are the very opposite of escapism. Instead, they recognize the full range of outward experience, and the full range of inner emotional or intellectual response, combining both the inner and outer through a charged verbal empathy. To quote Harold G. Henderson again, in describing Bashō’s old-pond poem, “there must have been external quiet for the sound to have been heard and internal quiet for it to have been noticed.” This is the soul of what attracts me to haiku, a poetry of connection and sharing. Haiku is not escapism but realism, not avoidance but engagement, not cowardice but bravery, a bravery so potentially intense that it can crumble mountains.

—18, 19 October 2020 (see also “Beauty in Haiku” )

pico iyer essay on silence

Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England in 1957. Since 1982 he has been a full-time writer, publishing 15 books, translated into 23 languages, on subjects ranging from the Dalai Lama to globalism, from the Cuban Revolution to Islamic mysticism. They include such long- running sellers as Video Night in Kathmandu , The Open Road and The Art of Stillness . At the same time he has been writing for Time , the New York Times , Granta , the Financial Times and more than 250 other periodicals worldwide. His four talks for TED have received more than 10 million views so far. Since 1992 Iyer has spent much of his time at a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, California, and most of the rest in Nara, Japan.

Pico Iyer on Granta.com

In conversation | the online edition, in conversation, pico iyer & caryl phillips.

‘The immigrant’s dream – that he or she can make a better life for the children – becomes a kind of tragedy when it comes true.’ Pico Iyer and Caryl Phillips discuss migration, V. S. Naipaul and the meaning of home.

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition

Out of the cell.

‘I was inside a silence that was not an absence of noise so much as the living presence of everything I habitually walked – or sleep-walked – past.’

Essays & Memoir | Issue 138

Pico iyer | is travel writing dead.

‘The writer on place has to go further inward, into the realm of silence and nuance and personal enquiry.’

Essays & Memoir | Issue 127

The beauty of the package.

‘You can throw yourself into any fantasy, she (and her country) might have been saying, so long as you don’t mistake it for real life.’

Dividing the Kingdom

‘I get on the train to hear the funereal call of my boyhood: ‘Reading, Didcot Parkway, Oxford.’’

Essays & Memoir | Issue 116

The terminal check.

‘The world is all mixed up these days, and America can no longer claim immunity.’

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Pico Iyer on the secret of immersive travel

A traveller's capacity to be stirred is often in direct proportion to their ability to quietly contemplate the world around them (Credit: mantaphoto/Getty Images)

I walked off a cruise ship this January, having sailed for 10 days around the Antarctic Peninsula, in a rare state of exaltation. I’d wandered among a huge colony of penguins before, in Patagonia, but nothing had prepared me for standing, day after day, surrounded by the irresistible birds as they waddled past, threw back their heads to squawk, or glided, with surpassing grace, through the icy water.

The deepest reason why I was moved, I came to realise, was that I spent so much of each day sitting still

I’d seen calving glaciers in Alaska, but that somehow paled next to the sensation of drifting in a 10-person Zodiac for one midsummer morning across a sea of turquoise and aqua and silver icebergs. Even the time I’d watched my mother swim with dolphins in Tahiti, 20 years ago, was nothing next to the sight of 50 orcas porpoising beside our ship in bright light, long after dinnertime.

By freeing himself of other people and quietly watching the world around him, the author felt a deep sense of liberation and clarity (Credit: Ray Hems/Getty Images)

By freeing himself of other people and quietly watching the world around him, the author felt a deep sense of liberation and clarity (Credit: Ray Hems/Getty Images)

What was it that had transported me so profoundly, I wondered? Of course, there’s a special clarity in sailing through a noiseless world where there’s often no sign of human habitation. And nearly all my fellow passengers seemed as liberated as I by the fact that phone calls were almost impossible on the ship and the internet punitively slow. Every morning, a four-page digest of news told us of a virus in faraway Wuhan, but that barely translated to this unpeopled landscape with its 360-degree horizons. Yet the deepest reason why I was moved, I came to realise, was that I spent so much of each day sitting still.

Destinations can only be as rich as what we bring to them

It’s a relationship that has come to haunt me more and more over 46 years of travel: my capacity to be stirred is in direct proportion to my ability to be quiet. That’s one reason why, whenever I visit Midtown Manhattan, I reflexively seek out St Patrick’s Cathedral to inhale, in silence, everything I’ve just experienced and to prepare myself for the honking horns and noisy meetings to come. It’s also the reason so many of us try to sit on a rock in Petra before the tour buses arrive, or walk along the treeless emptiness of Iceland at 02:00 in mid-June when the sun is just beginning to sit on top of the sea.

We’re most transported when we’re least distracted. And we’re most at peace – ready to be transformed, in fact – when most deeply absorbed. I’d much rather converse with one sight for 60 minutes than 60 places for one minute each. When I travel with the Dalai Lama – as I’ve done for 10 recent Novembers across Japan – I’m convinced that the wide-awake responsiveness he brings to every last convenience store and passing toddler is partly the result of the three hours he spends at the beginning of every day in meditation. Destinations can only be as rich as what we bring to them.

A traveller's capacity to be stirred is often in direct proportion to their ability to quietly contemplate the world around them (Credit: mantaphoto/Getty Images)

During this new season of the virus, I’ve been spending many happy hours on the tiny sunlit terrace outside my apartment in Nara, Japan, with the poet laureate of lockdowns, Marcel Proust. I think of him also as the patron saint of travellers, precisely because he was confined by severe asthma to spending three years alone in his cork-lined bedroom. What allowed him to read with such acuity the small print of every crowded soiree? To recall with such fresh immediacy a long-ago gaggle of young beauties on a beach? To record with wakeful precision the sight of a loved one asleep? That time in solitary, I suspect. It was Proust, I never forget, who reminded us that the point of every trip is not new sights but new eyes. Once we have those, even the old sights are reborn.

The point of every trip is not new sights but new eyes

I think, too, of the preternatural vividness of Emily Dickinson. Not leaving her house for 26 years brought her to such a high pitch of attention that she could see South Pole and North – and wild nights and heaven and carriage-rides with death – just by standing at her window. It was through going nowhere that she made everywhere seem wondrous.

You may also be interested in: • When everything falls away • The travel 'ache' you can't translate • A wartime solution to isolation

I got my own first taste of the richness and stimulation of sitting still on one of my greatest adventures, 29 years ago, when I drove to a Catholic hermitage three and a half hours from my parents’ home in California. I stepped, on arrival, into a room consisting of a single bed, a long desk, a chest of drawers and windows looking out on a private walled garden and the still, blue plate of the Pacific Ocean, extending in every direction, 1200ft below. In the absence of disturbances – no television, no telephone reception, no internet connection – every tolling bell seemed momentous. I noticed every Steller’s jay as I never did when they alighted outside my room in my family home. Nothing I’d seen in Bhutan or Ushuaia had carried me so far or deep. I’m not a Christian but I realised that silence is non-denominational.

From Proust to Dickinson, many great travellers have found that prolonged periods of isolation have helped them see the world in vivid detail (Credit: fizkes/Getty Images)

From Proust to Dickinson, many great travellers have found that prolonged periods of isolation have helped them see the world in vivid detail (Credit: fizkes/Getty Images)

Three days later, of course, I was back in my all-over-the-place, multitasking, split-screen life. But those three days in silence opened a door to possibility, to the point where, by now, I’ve returned to stay in that hermitage more than 90 times, on occasion for as long as three weeks.

No-one has yet mastered the art of seeing the world deeply while running around

More than that, it’s thrown a fresh light on all my other travels. Returning to Myanmar four years ago, I simply took myself every morning, before breakfast, to the Shwedagon Pagoda: there was no need to go anywhere else, since young lovers, schoolkids, nuns, family historians – the entire city – seemed to be walking past me. Every time I visit San Francisco now, even on business, I try to take a long walk soon after I wake up, and not to go online for as long as possible. I’d rather see the world around me than be back amidst presidential tweets or messages from my bosses.

I think back to the teenager who bumped by bus from San Diego to Bolivia in 1975. At that time, I was so excited by new stamps in my passport and the prospect of telling my friends I’d crossed a pass at 15,000ft and stayed (inadvertently) for three nights in a house of ill repute that I measured my days by the quantity of experiences they threw up. It took years of travel to appreciate how a single morning in Kyoto, wide-awake in a quiet garden, could transform me more than any packed three-week itinerary across Asia.

By making the most of our enforced stillness now, we may all become better, more thoughtful travellers later (Credit: manjik/Getty Images)

By making the most of our enforced stillness now, we may all become better, more thoughtful travellers later (Credit: manjik/Getty Images)

Many of us now are waiting to emerge from long weeks of enforced stillness and to think about what travel can be in the future. In my case, discouraged from taking buses or trains, my wife and I enjoy walks every day around our neighbourhood and have discovered a bamboo forest, lined with flowering cherry trees, only five minutes from the apartment where we’ve been living for 27 years. Staying inside has helped me notice the light, the song of nightingales, even an occasionally passing motorbike as never before.

I’ve also got to hear from my too-seldom encountered best friend, reporting that he’s on his way to Antarctica next February. How should he prepare, he asked? I told him to read Admiral Byrd’s book, Alone, about all that the famous explorer discovered while trapped inside a tiny space near the South Pole, alone, for five months. I also told him to make the most of his stillness in advance. No-one has yet mastered the art of seeing the world deeply while running around.

Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, translated into 23 languages, including The Art of Stillness and, most recently, Autumn Light and A Beginner’s Guide to Japan .

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pico iyer essay on silence

Pico Iyer’s “In Praise of the Humble Comma”

Pico Iyer in his essay draws the attention of the audience to the importance of punctuation in our life, to the value of commas, in particular. To create the audience’s motivation for the study of the article, the author explains the role of a comma in our life that is often underestimated. To show our wrong attitude towards the comma, Iyer intentionally resorts to metaphoric exaggeration of its influence, saying that comma, as well as, gods “give breath … and … take it away” (paragraph 1). The author asserts that a comma is “breath itself”, no matter how hard we may try to oppress it or ignore its significance (Iyer paragraph 1).

The author explains the main purpose of punctuation as the keeper of order very accessibly. He builds a comparison between the rules of punctuation and rules of the road, which is simple but eloquent since we are aware of the latter in childhood already. He compares a period with “the unblinking finality of a red light”; the comma with “flashing yellow light”; and the semicolon with “a stop sign” (Iyer paragraph 2). Thus, the author justifies his point of view that the rules of punctuation help people to establish a harmonious relationship with one another.

Further, the author gives another figurative comparison of a run-on sentence and “a sink piled high with dirty dishes” (Iyer paragraph 3). Here the author appeals to human feelings again trying to arouse disgust at clumsy sentences that we usually have when observing untidy people or dirty dishes. Besides, the author makes use of historical examples, comparing Victorian time with its strong observance of punctuation and the modern literary trend of “stream of consciousness” and the picturesque example of James Joyce’s heroine from “Ulysses” with her famous inner monologue of more than thirty pages without punctuation.

Iyer presents a multidimensional view of the functions of punctuation in human life, society, and cultures. He parallels the peculiarities of people’s temperaments and their usage of punctuation marks, like the expression of the passion of “hot-blooded Spaniards” with the help of double exclamation points (Iyer paragraph 4). The author finds a deep interrelation between time, political regime, and punctuation, for instance, capitalization of “Ministries, Cub-Committees and Secretariats” in absolutist Communist society (Iyer par.4).

However, the scientist stresses that the relationship between punctuation and culture is not the final stage of the importance of punctuation. The relationship between people and punctuation is much more significant. It may be unapparent, but commas and other punctuation marks rule our feelings, they, certainly, influence a person when one “bats one’s eyes, lowers one’s voice of blushes demurely” (Iyer paragraph 5).

Further, Pico Iyer illustrates a cardinal shift of meaning, which can make people nervous, offended or scared if punctuation marks are changed in the utterances. With the help of bright examples, he shows that punctuation makes such a deep influence on people like the arousal of suspicion or painful abuse of feelings. The point of view of the author is proven by diverse examples, starting with the generalized example of “every child who knows the menace of dropped apostrophe” and ending with the concrete example of “the Gloomy Dane”, Hamlet, and his eternal phrase “To be or not to be” (Iyer paragraph 6).

The subtle meaning of commas is also tackled by P. Iyer after his analysis of the vital role of punctuation in human life and communication. He emphasizes the simple but valuable beauty that may be created by commas, choosing a prompt metaphor that compares a comma with “the necklace that gives an outfit quiet elegance” (Iyer paragraph 7). Such a little thing as a comma can “give the description a spin”, a zest (Iyer paragraph 7).

The last but one paragraph focuses on the importance of comma again. The author is starting to conclude the information he has presented. Again, he parallels a tiny comma and a world that is shaped and rules by commas to a certain extent. The key statement here is that the world without commas is “a world without shade” (Iyer paragraph 8).

Drawing a conclusion, it should be stated that the assay about punctuation, which at first suggested the idea of an arid and boring set of rules about the usage of punctuation in the text, turned out to be a captivation excursion into history, culture, and human psychology. The nontriviality of the author’s ideas, which was supported by the pleasant accessibility of his arguments, has proved to be very convincing. One of the merits of the essay is the masterful usage of figures of speech, like metaphors, epithets, which has turned the essay into the ode to a comma. This essay praises punctuation and makes us believe it can “bring us back … to gods” (Iyer par. 9).

Works Cited

Iyer, Pico. “In Praise of the Humble Comma.” Time . (1988). Web.

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Pico Iyer Journeys

Pico Iyer Journeys

pico iyer essay on silence


pico iyer essay on silence


pico iyer essay on silence

I’m more than a little surprised to find myself in this box: my idea of NEWS is something that happened in 1848, and I think there are better things to advertise and take notice of than my tiny doings or scribbles.

But now that ddb singapore has brought me into the 20th century – with every sign of coaxing me into the 21st – i’m happy to welcome anyone who’s interested to this space, where we may now and then post something that’s not easily found elsewhere, a video clip from our recent journeys or something that might be of interest to anyone who’s traveled as far as this unexpected corner., thank you for your time and attention, and if you’re irritated by something here, please blame the brilliant designers of these pages. without them, i’d still be in some black hole.

pico iyer essay on silence

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pico iyer essay on silence

Pico Iyer  was born in Oxford, England in 1957. He won a King’s Scholarship to Eton and then a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a Congratulatory Double First with the highest marks of any English Literature student in the university. In 1980 he became a Teaching Fellow at Harvard, where he received a second Master’s degree, and in subsequent years he has received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters.

Since 1982 he has been a full-time writer, publishing 15 books, translated into 23 languages, on subjects ranging from the dalai lama to globalism, from the cuban revolution to islamic mysticism. they include such long-running sellers as video night in kathmandu, the lady and the monk, the global soul, the open road and the art of stillness. he has also written the introductions to more than 70 other books, as well as liner and program notes, a screenplay for miramax and a libretto.  at the same time he has been writing up to 100 articles a year for time, the new york times, the new york review of books, the financial times and more than 250 other periodicals worldwide., his four talks for ted have received more than 10 million views so far., since 1992 iyer has spent much of his time at a benedictine hermitage in big sur, california, and most of the rest in suburban japan., all the photos on this site, other than the portraits on the welcome page and above, are taken by pico iyer. in many of these journeys, we’ve put a picture of bali next to a mention of l.a., and a photo of an old friend next to a mention of somerset maugham. that’s not a mistake. in our fluid new century, many places are parts of other places, and all of us are a part of others. ultimately, inner world and outer world may not be so different, either., if you want to find original, non-syndicated pico iyer articles, some of the places where they appear regularly or have appeared in the past include:, click on each category to view more ».


In recent years, Pico Iyer has spoken at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, West Point, Stanford, Wellesley, the University of Toronto and many other institutions of higher learning. He has given four talks for TED, including the closing talk at the first TED Summit, in 2016, and the opening talk at the second TED Summit, in 2019, and his talks for TED have received more than ten million views so far. He has also addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, the World Government Forum in Dubai, Coca-Cola, Google, SAP, Fox Television, The Association of American Museums, the World Monuments Fund and other associations across North America and the world.

Recent feature-length programs with him can be found on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday, Krista Tippett’s On Being, Larry King’s show, NHK World and on CNN.

He is the host of the “Speaking with Pico” series of onstage conversations at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and has conducted onstage interviews, there and elsewhere, with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, Martin Scorsese, Phillip Glass, Meredith Monk, Zadie Smith, Werner Herzog, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, George Saunders, Evan Williams, Annie Leibovitz, Matthieu Ricard, Maria Popova, BJ Miller and others in many fields.


French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Polish, Greek, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovakian, Croatian, Hungarian, Hebrew, Russian, Turkish, Romanian, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Mandarin.

Articles have appeared in Hindi, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Flemish and many more.


In recent years, Pico Iyer has spoken at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, West Point, Stanford, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, the University of Toronto and many, many other institutions of higher learning, and has addressed such groups as The World Economic Forum in Davos, The World Government Summit, The Association of American Museums,, Dance/USA, the World Monuments Fund, SAP Labs, Coca-Cola, Google, Citigroup, Fox Television and Virtuoso, as well as giving three talks for TED (one of them to close the TED Summit in 2016) and telling a story for The Moth.

He has appeared regularly at the New York Public Library, the 92nd Street Y, the Los Angeles Central Library, the Asia Society (in many of its centers), the Los Angeles County Museum, the Guggenheim, the National Geographic Society, the Rubin Museum and many others.

He has also appeared at literary festivals in Bogota, Jamaica, Edinburgh, Ireland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Macao, Singapore, Jaipur, Sri Lanka, Bali, New Zealand, and across the United States, Australia and Canada; and he has conducted onstage conversations with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, Martin Scorsese, Sebastiao Salgado, Werner Herzog, Salman Rushdie, Takashi Murakami, Krista Tippett, Matthieu Ricard, Elizabeth Gilbert, Chris Anderson (head of TED), Meredith Monk, Zadie Smith, Evan Williams, Maria Popova and innumerable others.

If you want to learn more about his work and life, you can see the program-length features on him broadcast on PBS, CNN, the Oprah Winfrey Network and NHK World, among others.

pico iyer essay on silence

Please contact the following if you need to get in touch:

Bianca flores.

Penguin Random House

Miriam Feuerle

Lyceum Agency

Cullen Stanley

Janklow & Nesbit Associates

Sally Willcox


 Iyer Office

And let me add here that i owe huge and heartfelt thanks to the astonishing jeff cheong and his team at ddb in singapore and to david tang and the other terrifically generous friends there who first suggested that some set of journeys be made up in digital form – and then brought them to life on-screen with a sense of style, of fun, of imagination and vitality that humbled me. yeo wee lee, francis chong, rosslyn chay, and lim si ping have brought me vividly into the present moment and taught me, in inspiring ways, where our new world is going..

Pico Iyer and students sitting around table

Pico Iyer teaches ‘The Literature of Fact — Writing and Reporting on Place’

Essayist Pico Iyer, a visiting lecturer in the Humanities Council and a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton, shares stories about his writing and travel across 80 countries with students in his spring semester course, “The Literature of Fact — Writing and Reporting on Place.”

Exploring the idea of place is taking students enrolled in essayist Pico Iyer ’s spring journalism course well beyond the geographic coordinates of the Princeton campus.

“Issues about home and belonging and juggling cultures are going to be a theme throughout their lives,” said Iyer, a visiting lecturer in the Humanities Council and a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton this spring. “And I think happily, because it’s a theme I share.”

In teaching “The Literature of Fact — Writing and Reporting on Place,” Iyer said he has been impressed by the global outlook and awareness of his 16 students, who have striking travel stories of their own.

A former staff writer and longtime contributor for Time, Iyer is the author of two novels and 11 works of nonfiction, many of them travel-related. His titles include “Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World,” “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,” “The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home,” and “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.”

Owen Matthews speaking during class

Many of the students enrolled in the course are already well-traveled, Iyer said. Owen Matthews, center, a first-year student, participated in Princeton’s Novogratz Bridge Year Program in China and was excited to find Peter Hessler’s “Oracle Bones,” on the course reading list.

His explorations have taken him to at least 80 countries over the years, including places like North Korea, Easter Island, Ethiopia and Bhutan, he said. His students — a mix of first-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors, some of international origin — have already been keeping their own count. Several have traveled with funding from Princeton University, such as for senior thesis research.

A lifelong itinerant, Iyer was born in Oxford, England, to Indian parents who moved to Santa Barbara, California, when he was 7, though Iyer continued his schooling in England.

“Even then I realized I’m 100 percent Indian by blood, but I’d never been to India and don’t speak a word of any of its languages, and I’m 100 percent English by birth, but no one would ever take me for a traditional Englishman,” he said. “I’m 100 percent American by residency, but I don’t really feel American after many years here. So everywhere in the world is partly foreign to me and therefore endlessly interesting.”

Iyer and his wife reside near Kyoto, Japan, where he has lived for 32 years. For the spring 2019 semester at Princeton, Iyer said he is happily lodged at Olden House, just a seven-minute walk from where he teaches at Joseph Henry House.

Pico Iyer listening to students during class

Iyer and his students gather once a week in a small room in Joseph Henry House. Lively conversations about writing and travel sustain the nearly three-hour class. Guest speakers have included James Kelly, former managing editor of Time, and Colleen Kinder, co-founder and editor of the online travel magazine Off Assignment.

Iyer’s latest book, “Autumn Light,” a nonfiction narrative about life in his Japanese neighborhood, will be released April 16. He has two more books debuting this year: “This Could Be Home: Raffles Hotel and the City of Tomorrow,” and “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan.”

Given his students’ well-developed wanderlust, Iyer said he’s mostly focused on providing them a foundation for their writing that calls upon aspects of both journalism and creative nonfiction.

The class meets once a week for almost three hours. Before each session, students are asked to read two travel essays or book excerpts and write a 500-word response. Short- to medium-length writing assignments are due every other week, and a longform article is a required final project.

On one day, the readings for discussion included excerpts from Donald Richie, an American-born author who lived in Japan for the better part of 66 years, and Andrew McCarthy, the actor and director, who more recently turned to travel writing and now serves as an editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler. 

Iyer used the texts to get students thinking about their own observations in foreign environments and to examine how they might evoke aspects of a culture through a single point of view without being reductive or simplistic.                                                                       

Avanti Divan and Pico Iyer listening to students during class

Avanti Divan, a junior, left, and Iyer listen intently as a student discusses his views of the week’s reading assignment. Among the authors whose works are explored in depth are Zadie Smith, Richard Rodriguez, Joan Didion and John McPhee, a Ferris Professor of Journalism in Residence at Princeton.

Also on the syllabus are works by John McPhee , a Ferris Professor of Journalism in Residence at Princeton; George Saunders; Barack Obama; Zadie Smith; and Annie Dillard. Lessons revolve around a variety of loose themes including “The People We Meet,” “Choosing a Self” and “Nowhere is Uninteresting.”

The class brings in guest writers. James Kelly, former managing editor of Time, and Colleen Kinder, co-founder and editor of the online travel magazine Off Assignment, have visited. Richard Rodriguez, who won a Peabody Award for his visual essays on “PBS NewsHour,” and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling travel memoir “Eat Pray Love,” are due to appear in the coming weeks.

One of the ideas Iyer hopes students will take away from the class is that “travel writing is most interesting when it goes far beyond travel.”

Owen Matthews, a first-year student, said that after participating in Princeton’s Novogratz Bridge Year Program in China, she discovered she enjoyed travel writing about China. She was excited to find some of the books she’s read, such as Peter Hessler’s “Oracle Bones,” on Iyer’s reading list.

“Thus far, the course has lived up to and exceeded my expectations,” she said. “Professor Iyer is extremely dedicated to his students, and makes himself available for one-on-one meetings every week. At these office hours, we can talk to him about anything from our current pieces to career advice to places we’ve traveled and our relations to them.”

Avanti Divan, a junior majoring in history, said she first read Iyer’s work at her home in Mumbai, and that a piece he wrote about the city was particularly memorable.

“I love stories and people, and I think writing about place and travel yields such an exciting and dynamic interaction between these,” she said. “I also took [the class] as a way to work on my writing.”

Jordan Salama, a senior concentrating in Spanish and Portuguese, whose senior thesis is a nonfiction book of travel writing about people and places along Colombia’s Magdalena River, said he is interested in ordinary people with extraordinary stories that can be told in entertaining, engaging ways.

“Professor Iyer writes precisely those kinds of stories, and is so good at it,” Salama said. “It is a pleasure to learn from him.”

One day, all of Iyer’s students might have similar stories to share with others. “For all of them,” Iyer said, “global life is going to be a part of their future in ways that my generation couldn’t have imagined.”

Iyer will be in conversation with Christy Wampole , associate professor of French and Italian, at noon on April 11 at Joseph Henry House. The event, part of a new discussion series sponsored by the Program in Journalism, is open to faculty, graduate students and staff by reservation only.

He will give a public reading at 6 p.m. on April 24 at Labyrinth Books in Princeton. Iyer also will appear at a campus event held in conjunction with Princeton Writes .

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Campus communicators connect at princeton writes symposium, princeton's pre-read is by class of 2019 graduate jordan salama, whose senior thesis became a celebrated nonfiction book, assembling the written word: mcphee reveals how the pieces go together, what i think: john mcphee, ask, write, edit: princeton students discover journalistic paths, salama navigates colombia’s magdalena river, one story at a time, princeton seniors alagappan and malhotra win rhodes scholarships.

pico iyer essay on silence

Don Pio Pico

Don Pio Pico, a renowned figure of early Mexican/American culture, was known for his exquisite fashion sense, intelligence and leadership, whose family experience with early California authority and religion progressed the integration of both societies. During his childhood, Pio’s father isn’t just a symbol of his leadership, as he moves from a man of wealth and taste to an inspirational political force, whose father becomes a symbol of his political rise in defining his own identity. Nonetheless

Analysis Of In The Dark By Pico Iyer

also comes the fake reality that becomes indisputable history. “In the Dark” by, Pico Iyer, accounts the first person journey to a strange magical island where bizarre circumstances take place in the shadowy vale of night. The island in discussion is Bali, an Indonesian Island located on the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, the people are predominantly Hindu and inhabits just about 2,000 square miles. Pico Iyers literary bias leans towards the use of “travel novels” and “crossing cultures

Where Worlds Collide By Pico Iyer

“Where Worlds Collide” is an essay by Pico Iyer who talks about the expectations and reality of Los Angeles through the perspectives of travelers from different backgrounds. In “Where Worlds Collide,” Pico Iyer argues that even though Los Angeles is depicted as a vicinity to receive wealth, happiness, and many opportunities- it is actually the antithesis, and instead, many harsh prejudice and unending craziness will occur instead; Iyer argues this by using allusions, anaphoras, and juxtapositions

Analysis Of Pico Iyer's 'Where Worlds Collide'

I also love various things as well. So, before anyone feels like somebody is influencing their viewpoint on life and culture, they need to realize that their views are only sometimes persuaded by other people. In the story, “Where worlds collide”, Pico Iyer discusses the

Summary Of Pico Iyer's Where World Collide

Imagine believing a fantasy only to be faced with a harsh reality. In Pico Iyer’s Essay, Where World Collide, Iyer depicts multiple bustling scenes he witnesses at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Through his interactions, his observations of travelers at the airport, and his own perceptions based on his viewpoint as an immigrant traveling to a land often fantasized about, Iyer makes several assertions about Los Angeles. Through diction, juxtapositions, humor, and anecdotes in his essay

Comparison Between Pico Iyer's Joy Of Travel And Alfred Hitchcock And Why We Travel

While at first glance Pico Iyer’s joy of traveling and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller romance film might not have much in common, they actually do share several similar ideas about travel and how it changes one as a person. Pico Iyer expounds on his various experiences with traveling across the world and its transformative power on your worldview in “Why We Travel”. Alfred Hitchcock tells the tale of an established business man, rich with opinions, status, and money, who gets thrown into an

Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola Essay

At a time when humanist thinkers occupied themselves with determining man’s position in the world, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in the 15th century Oration on the Dignity of Man, asserted that man is master of both his dignity and destiny, and there was no limit to what scientists may achieve as long as they glorify God in the end. World history teaches that, though scientists might begin research with the intent of glorifying God , the rush to advance in science and technology and the fever to

Comparing Pico Della Mirandola And Montaigne

State of Human Nature Human nature is the idea of how humans act and behave in the state of human nature. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Michel de Montaigne both have different ideas of what human nature is. Pico believes that the state of human nature is based on what is within the person, such as their morals and how they treat themselves intellectually, and how they treat their body. Montaigne believes that the state of human nature should not be based on where people live but their way of

Pico Della Mirandola's Oration On The Dignity Of Man

Pico della Mirandola was a philosopher of the Italian Renaissance from 1463 to 1494 , a time when the relationship between God and man was rapidly changing. Secular humanism, or " humanism viewed as a system of values and beliefs that are opposed to the values and beliefs of traditional religions," was taking shape in the minds of philosophers across Europe. It was during this time that Pico della Mirandola undertook the task of writing out 900 theses on different areas of study, from mathematics

Pico : Depression : Pico

PICO: Depression Pico is a way to formulate clinical questions for research. It is composed of the population or problem, the intervention, a comparison group and the outcome. Using this approach, it is easier to formulate an answerable question. Once the question is formulated, search terms are selected and a search is performed. The results of the search are reviewed and the data analyzed to form the answer to the Pico question. The purpose of this paper is to formulate a question and research

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was an Italian humanist, philosopher, scholar, Neo-Platonist and

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was an Italian humanist, philosopher, scholar, Neo-Platonist and writer whose main passion was the reconciliation of philosophy and religion. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was born on the 24th of February 1463 to a wealthy and illustrious family and died on the 17th of November 1494. Being the youngest son of three boys, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was mostly outlived by his elder brothers who took on presumably significant roles; his brother Antonio became an imperial

The Method Of The Pico

PICO concept The PICO is a clinical hypothesis that focuses on the patient population or problem, the intervention, comparing intervention and the type of outcomes seen with the interventions. The patient population can be focused to a specific age group or group of people with a common health issue. An intervention is implemented to address the common age group or health issue for that patient population. Then another comparing intervention is necessary to evaluate if one or the other is better

PICO Summary

All selected articles are relevant to the PICO question as they share a common objective, to evaluate the efficacy of health coaches on chronic disease self-management, and evaluated in each study either as a primary or secondary outcome; all studies were experimental designs – RCTs; two are pragmatic design studies, a design which enhances external validity thereby extending generalizability to the PICO population, Wayne et al. (2015), and Ma et al. (2013), researchers in these two studies were

Are kidney patients who received a radical nephrectomy at a higher risk of impaired renal function and cardiac related death compared to those who received a partial nephrectomy? Kiara Wilson Nursing 3163 Dr. Linda Upchurch November 12, 2012 Background Are kidney patients who received a partial nephrectomy at a lower risk of impaired renal function and cardiac related death compared to those who received a radical nephrectomy? When a patient is diagnosed with kidney damage, a surgical nephrectomy

Pico Question

PICO Question: Is eccentric strengthening the best rehabilitation approach for an older, sedentary adult with fibularis tendiopathy seeking to stay independent in a home with stairs? (Pt. is 77 y/o female, presents with R Fibularis longus tendinopathy, needing return of ankle function for ascending/ descending 15 home stairs and community ambulation. Hx of hypothyroidism, spine compression fx, asthma, joint problems.) Clinical Bottom Line: • Sedentary tendinopathy pts did not respond as well to

PICO Research Proposal

State your proposed research question in the format of PICO(T) In patients with psychiatric illnesses (P), do technology-based intervention tools (I), in comparison to traditional non-technology-based intervention tools (C) , improve adherence to medication regimens (O)? Identify keywords that you would use to begin your review of the literature As I have begun my review of the literature, I have mainly used the following key words: psychiatric, mental health, medication adherence, technology-based

Pico Della Mirandola

I agree with you, Erin. The fundamental aspect of man that makes him marvelous, according to Pico, is that he is essentially free to choose his own destiny. I loved the question Pico posed: “Why, I asked, should we not admire the angels themselves and the beatific choirs more” (28)? After all, what makes man more marvelous than the angels they themselves praise? Following this, Pico made an important distinction between mankind and both the creatures that dwell in Heaven and on Earth: “The nature

Pico Case Interview

of treating the complications from HPV? Parts of the PICO question: P: Young Woman aged sixteen to thirty years of age I: Vaccinating for HPV C: No vaccination O: Reduction in the costs associated with managing complications from HPV What is the importance of the PICO question? A clinical question needs to be precisely significant to the patient or problem at hand and expressed in such a way as to aid in the search for an answer. PICO makes this process easier. It is a memory aid for the

Re-Writing the Creation Story: How Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola's "Oration on the Dignity of Man" Influenced the Renaissance and Man's Perception of Himself

Re-Writing the Creation Story: How Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man Influenced the Renaissance and Man’s Perception of Himself In the time before the Renaissance, there were two commonly accepted stories of the world’s Creation: those expressed in the first chapters of Genesis. These stories captured the work of God as he brought about the universe, the plants, the animals, and the humans, and they chronicled the fall of Adam and Eve, who used the free will that God

Pico Research Paper

WEEK 5 PICO(T) QUESTION 1Good Afternoon Class and Dr. Stephenson,In and out of the hospital high quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is crucial to survival of victims of cardiac arrest. This research topic will focus on implementation of in hospital chest compressions in CPR. It will be based on a comparison of the efficacy of manual compressions and automated chest compressions in relation to survival outcomes. The potential attributes and short comings related to manual and automated chest

Popular Topics

Pico Iyer’s latest melds the open road and inner journeys

In ‘the half known life: in search of paradise,’ iyer seeks beauty and enlightenment in iran, sri lanka, japan and india.

pico iyer essay on silence

In the hopeful promise of the new millennium, Pico Iyer became an essential and restless guide to the world that globalization was making. A hyper-eloquent and erudite son of many cultures, Iyer’s travel writing in the 1990s and early 2000s immersed readers in the farthest corners of a planet in transition. Books such as “ Tropical Classical ” and “ The Global Soul ” were international in scope and success. But over the past decade, Iyer’s once-roving gaze has turned curiously inward. In 2014, he published “ The Art of Stillness ” and argued that perhaps the greatest and most transformational form of elsewhere now lies in going “nowhere.” The book of staying home was an international bestseller and translated into 23 languages long before it became our mandated global reality.

Iyer’s latest — and his first to be published following the resumption of international travel — is “ The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise .” It’s a culmination of his shifting focus on inner journeys and an expansion of his argument that paradise is rarely found elsewhere. But unlike his slim book of stillness, this is a return to the open road: a grand, full-scale travelogue that traverses Iran, Sri Lanka and Japan before arriving at its final emotional destination. Like the author himself, it has multiple identities and registers — equally memoir, travelogue, cultural history and airport philosophy. It is also one of his very best.

Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England, into a family of Indian academics who eventually moved to Santa Barbara, Calif. A former journalist, he now lives in Kyoto with his Japanese wife, and his life across England, California and Asia has become a recurring thread in his work. There is a vintage, almost imperial quality to Iyer’s brand of wanderlust and a clear influence from the European Romantic tradition of finding and writing the self through far-flung grand tours. That kind of travel writing, however, can now feel dated and disconnected in its earnest, exclusively male self-absorption — not to mention tone deaf in a world of restricted access and rigid visa regimes. Fortunately, Iyer has remained both participant and critic of that privileged mode of travelogue-ing, and I’ve always found an electric charge of journalistic observation and acute political alertness in even his most romantic essays.

In a confessional mood, “The Half Known Life” breaks open Iyer’s journey to becoming a travel writer with the wistful tone of looking back at a younger, more assured self. The title is drawn from a line in Herman Melville’s “ Moby Dick ” about the mysteries and allure of that which we do not know. The book is haunted by Iyer’s lifelong obsession with pursuing paradise: searching for an external projection of refuge, beauty and peace through travel. The word “paradise” remains that most promising of advertising slogans for the likes of Bali, Barbados or Amalfi, and even with the indignities of modern travel, so many of us still take off in search of a temporary, Instagrammable slice of heaven. Iyer writes about both that secular market for paradise and the religious pursuit of heaven or Nirvana in distant, monastic destinations for the faithful.

The book opens with Iyer in the walled gardens of Iran’s ancient holy cities, where he’s come in search of the Islamic ideal of paradise, represented as architectural manifestations of Quranic gardens. Minders from the regime, however, are standing by at each turn, and it becomes abundantly clear that paradisiacal masterpieces from the past are policed by brutal forces from the present. As Iyer learns from conversations with Iranians, the Islamic republic is a “country where every road comes with speed bumps,” and despite his longings for Iran’s walled gardens, the lived experience, it turns out, does not afford him the paradise he seeks. In a later chapter set in Sri Lanka’s lush jungles amid ancient Buddhist statuary, the cemeteries of the genocidal civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority become stark reminders of a fallen paradise.

These early sections of the book can feel like fragmentary, rapid-fire visits to exotic destinations, punctuated with elliptical inner monologues and historical and literary asides. The writing, while always poetic, can feel unmoored and disorienting. As the book slows in its second half toward a majestic conclusion along the banks of the Ganges in the Hindu city of death, Varanasi, that structure becomes clearer in form and intention. The transition from confusion to clarity is by design. Like any great travelogue, “The Half Known Life” is a narrative cartography of personal growth and expansion. It is a work of spiritual evolution built around vivid, discernible images of real places by a master of description.

Iyer has always been one of my favorite carry-on companions on travels, even when the books are not about the place on the itinerary. As he has aged into his recent body of work about inner life and silence, deeply inspired by his travels with the Dalai Lama and reflections on digital-age restlessness and political fracture, he has become a different kind of fellow traveler. This book is dedicated to Iyer’s late mother, who died in 2022, and published in a post-pandemic world of loss and frayed societies, even though it never explicitly references the disease.

To be honest, I was looking forward to returning to a vintage, aspirational brand of wanderlust with a great roving chronicler of elsewhere. Instead, “The Half Known Life” is a masterful merging of Iyer’s past and current concerns, a book of inner journeys told through extraordinary exteriors, of hopeful optimism for a world rooted in the paradise of being home.

Bilal Qureshi is a culture writer and radio journalist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, the New York Times and Newsweek, and on NPR.

The Half Known Life

In Search of Paradise

By Pico Iyer

Riverhead. 225 pp. $26

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


pico iyer essay on silence

Pico Iyer Essays

My mother's pieced quilts summary.

Everyone's culture is different, that's why the majority of people have different opinions on certain subjects. Even though everyone goes through different experiences, the way they were taught growing up effects how they will be in the future. One's culture has a very big impact on how they view others and the world. In the essay, "Ethic Hash" by Patricia J. Williams, She is explaining how people's culture affects the way they see others. She talks about how people stereotype because of one's

Fools Crow Analysis

Not all Boys Grow up to be like their Fathers In Fools Crow by James Welch, the story of the Blackfeet Indians of Montana shares the growth and experiences of the Pikunis tribe and its people as they confront new white settlers and the impacts on its society and culture. As the United States expands westward in the late 1800’s, Native American tribes living on these frontier lands are often feared, misunderstood, and despised by white settlers who want to move onto the new land. Blackfoot society

Celebrity Culture Is Bad For Society Essay

Would you want you whole life stalked by people and paparazzi snapping pictures of you eating, sleeping, having personal time with friends or family, and somehow always finding out where you are and getting no private time to yourself? Most people prefer to don’t want to be stalked everyday, especially when your sleeping or eating with someone. Gossip tends to ruin or somewhat help people’s lives because it spreads certain things you didn’t want some people to know that have now found out due to

Celebrities Are Not Good Role Models Essay

Everybody makes mistakes and we are all human beings. We learn from the mistakes we make and the mistakes stay between us. When it comes to famous people, everything they do it monitored and judged by millions of people. This means that everything they do affects the world and the way they see things. There are many people who look up to celebrities and see them as role models. Celebrities are not good role models because they don’t use their social media the right way, they give out the impression

Examples Of Cultural Narrative Essay

Cultural Narrative Culture is recognized as a noun and according to the dictionary it is defined as, “The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation or people.” In other words, culture is the identity of a particular community that is learned by previous generations and is implied by certain institutions. Culture never remains the same because the future generations keep on evolving their beliefs and ways, of which they do things. There is a probability that your

Pico Iyer Why We Travel Analysis

drives us to seek to leave our home? Why is it that we travel, even if we are completely comfortable in the country we live in? Pico Iyer, in his travel essay titled ‘Why We Travel’ states different reasons why he believes we seek the unknown. One of the points he claims that we travel for the “self and anonymity”. As he expands on this idea, it is clear to the reader that Iyer believes one of the reasons we travel is to be able to be “free of caste and job and standing” in order to better comprehend

Summary Of The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

Imagine having to leave a location that has been your hometown forever. Also imagine living in a place that is so violent, you could feel the chaos from a mile away. Beli shows extreme hatred to the Dominican Republic where she was born. The Dominican Republic swallowed Beli into this deep dark hole. She can’t escape it even if she wanted to. She hates the drama, the unnecessary conflicts, and the violence. In fact she hates it so much that she decide to leave the Dominican Republic. All she wanted

The Butterflies Gender Roles

In the Time of the Butterflies is published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 1994. Julia Alvarez (1950- ) selected a story that had haunted her since she was ten. This novel should be considered as a historical novel due to narrate the lives and deaths of the Mirabal sisters also known as “Las Mariposas” (Sirias 6). Julia is profoundly influenced by their deaths as states that “their stories ended just as ours began” (Garza 5). In the Time of the Butterflies was named a Notable Book by the American

In The Time Of The Butterflies Religion Essay

Religion in The Butterflies The theme of religion is found throughout the book In the Time of the Butterflies. Julia Alvarez uses the theme to give life and development to the characters as well as advance the story. It provides a brighter more pure side to contrast the events of the Rebellion and Trujillo’s actions. Religion also keeps the people of the Dominican Republic together providing guidance for them. Religion deepens the reader's understanding of what the characters in the book

Patriarchy In Trujillo

The novel tells the various experiences of the women that existed in oscar’s life. There is a consistence of maltreatment of women starting from the beginning of the Cabral history and their fuku. The dominican republic is where the idea is patriarchy and the abuse of women stem from in the novel. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic, felt as ruler he could do whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted. This was true about the dictator, he was most noted for his desire for

Personal Narrative: Pico De Gallo

spice was her Pico De Gallo. Pico de Gallo also called salsa Fresca, is made from chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, fresh Serrano’s (jalapeños or habaneros are used as alternatives), salt, and key lime juice. At first I did not like Pico de Gallo because I couldn’t bear how spicy it was. My grandma noticed I would not eat the Pico De Gallo, therefore she decided to make the taste less spicy specifically for myself. Whenever my grandma would cook she always made sure to prepare Pico De Gallo. Because

Pico Della Mirandola Vs Machiavelli Essay

The views on humanity and human nature of Pico della Mirandola and Machiavelli had both similarities and differences. Pico della Mirandola developed over 900 theses that the pope declared heretical, and as an introduction to these theses, he wrote On the Dignity of Man, where he shares his views on humanity regarding God and the first man. Mirandola begins by stating all the magnificent things that God had created, and the complications of creating man. God then created man, “a creature of undetermined

Pico Della Mirandola's An Oration On The Dignity Of Man

Pico della Mirandola’s An Oration on the Dignity of Man emphasizes humanism in which all human beings and the creations of God possess knowledge, reason, and a sense of morality. Mirandola also puts both references of the Bible and the classical philosophy of Plato that share a unity of thought of the appreciation of mankind and their intelligence. Man was created and is appreciated for their possession of great, unlimited potential and knowledge within his work and they are within the Great Chain

Narnia Lucy Character Analysis

Lucy is the character who has major experience adventures of Narnia and she is the protagonist of the story. Lucy’s characteristics develop through the story. Firstly she was a shy girl and then become brave and courageous girl. Lucy is, at the beginning of the novel, a very shy and fearful character, as seen in the first meeting with the Professor. The Professor’s odd-looking appearance and his “shaggy white hair” that grows over his head and face (Lion 2) frighten Lucy, who seems to be a very shy

Leonardo Bruni Florentine

This oration is an example of the modern outlook on the glory of man. Pico Mirandola believes that “there is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.” This is in accordance with page 512 of our notes, which says, “(there) is no greater expression of beauty than the human body” and these two quotes are what inspired Michelangelo’s

The Rebirth Of The Renaissance

The rebirth of knowledge began in Italy in (c.1400-1550). This period was a huge step to creativity and especially, change. Around the 15th century in Florence the Renaissance, which was a massive cultural movement, spread across all of Europe. This meant that a break was taken from the medieval traditions and a new era began in Philosophy, art, politics, economy and literature. Along with Renaissance came the Enlightenment of new ideas. Scientist prospered and new, and exciting inventions were beginning

Rhetorical Analysis Of Pico Iyer's The Joy Of Quiet

Does being alone for help a person to think well? In Pico Iyer’s article, “The Joy of Quiet,” he addresses the issue of children not having enough time alone. The question posed by many is what made rhetorical strategies did he use to convince the reader of his main idea. Iyer uses many different types of rhetorical strategies, but the ones, which stood out were the evidences he backed up his main idea with. In “The Joy of Quiet,” Pico Iyers convinces the reader of his main idea that children should

Environment And Social Norms Essay

personal history” by Jennifer New shows a perfect example of that.”I definitely couldn’t pan out far enough to see that i was just a teenager yearning for a bigger world a change of pace.” Another example of that was proven in “Where worlds collide” by Pico Tyler. “The great american stage line, the movies shuttle, the transport, ride-4-you, and 42 other magic buses waiting to whisk them away everywhere from bakersfield to disneyland.”

The Joy Of Quiet Analysis

Pico Iyer’s “The Joy of Quiet” article in the New York Times begins with the awareness of the effects of Internet infested electronics. Acknowledging that the technology available to individuals today can be helpful, he also mentions the effects of it can be quite dramatic. For instance, Iyer explains how a night at Post Ranch Inn will charge customers extra just to receive a room with no television. Individuals have to force themselves to peel away and distract themselves from their devices with

Everyday Use Movie Analysis

behind the quilts. How other’s see different cultures can be seen by those people in a whole new world than their own culture. Their perspective can also be different depending on what country they are from. In the story Where Worlds Collide by Pico Iyer the Korean’s arrive in Los Angles. When they arrive there thinking is there going to


  1. A Conversation with Author Pico Iyer

    pico iyer essay on silence

  2. India Today Conclave 2017: Author Pico Iyer on silence in a world of noise

    pico iyer essay on silence

  3. Pico Iyer on how the pandemic is forcing us to look inward

    pico iyer essay on silence

  4. Author Pico Iyer on how we can keep a sense of wonder in our day-to-day

    pico iyer essay on silence

  5. Pico Iyer Chooses Stillness, by Nathan Scolaro

    pico iyer essay on silence

  6. Pico Iyer to Speak at the Lobero Theatre

    pico iyer essay on silence


  1. Studio 360 in Japan: Pejk and Bambi

  2. Globalcity Ft. Secreto


  4. PICO

  5. Toni Morrison on Censorship

  6. Pico resting. 13.02.2015


  1. The Eloquent Sounds of Silence

    "All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence," wrote Herman Melville, one of the loftiest and most eloquent of souls. Working himself up to an ever more...

  2. Sounds of Silence: A Workshop With Pico Iyer

    Essayist and novelist Pico Iyer leads a writing workshop at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness of California, helping his pupils to understand the role of silence—and its relationship to language—in their work. ... stories, essays, and reviews by researching over one thousand literary magazines. In the Literary ...

  3. Pico Iyer: The Eloquent Sounds of Silence

    Pico Iyer: The Eloquent Sounds of Silence Eclectic writer Pico Iyer is best known for travel writing and fiction but has published articles and essays in a variety of venues. "The Eloquent Sounds of Silence" is from the January 25, 1993 issue of TIME. The Eloquent Sounds of Silence

  4. Pico Iyer on the Infinite Silences of Japan ‹ Literary Hub

    Pico Iyer on the Infinite Silences of Japan Kawabata: "No word can say as much as silence." By Pico Iyer September 18, 2019 I. More important than learning to speak Japanese when you come to Japan is learning to speak silence. My neighbors seem most at home with nonverbal cues, with pauses and the exchange of formulae.

  5. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

    Pico Iyer is a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian descent. As an acclaimed travel writer, he began his career documenting a neglected aspect of travel -- the sometimes surreal disconnect between local tradition and imported global pop culture.

  6. Pico Iyer Sits in Silence for 5 Hours Every Morning

    In this episode of A Phone Call From Paul, Paul Holdengraber talks to the essayist and novelist Pico Iyer about the attention economy, the LeBron James of literature, Act IV of life, the depth and graciousness of Leonard Cohen, watching films in North Korea, and reading Proust on his terrace. Pico Iyer on spending five hours a day in silence

  7. Out of the Cell

    Pico Iyer 'I was inside a silence that was not an absence of noise so much as the living presence of everything I habitually walked - or sleep-walked - past.' As a little boy in Oxford, I was encouraged to worship the mind.

  8. Where Silence Is Sacred

    As a BBC spokesman put it, with rare wisdom, silence is "a solvent which destroys personality and gives us leave to be great and universal." It permits us, in short, to be who we are and could be if only we had the openness and trust.

  9. Leonard Cohen and the Art of Stillness: Pico Iyer on What the Monastic

    Iyer writes: Sitting still with his aged Japanese friend, sipping Courvoisier, and listening to the crickets deep into the night, was the closest he'd come to finding lasting happiness, the kind that doesn't change even when life throws up one of its regular challenges and disruptions.

  10. In Praise of the Humble Comma

    A comma, by comparison, catches the gentle drift of the mind in thought, turning in on itself and back on itself, reversing, redoubling and returning along the course of its own sweet river music;...

  11. Book review: Pico Iyer's 'The Half Known Life' : NPR

    Pico Iyer's 'The Half Known Life' upends the conventional travel genre. A mesmerizing collection of essays that vividly recalls sojourns to mostly contentious yet fabled realms, Pico Iyer's The ...

  12. The Joy Of Quiet Analysis

    552 Words3 Pages. Pico Iyer's "The Joy of Quiet" article in the New York Times begins with the awareness of the effects of Internet infested electronics. Acknowledging that the technology available to individuals today can be helpful, he also mentions the effects of it can be quite dramatic. For instance, Iyer explains how a night at Post ...

  13. Opinion

    The Joy of Quiet By Pico Iyer Dec. 29, 2011 ABOUT a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan...

  14. Graceguts

    Going Nowhere:Learning Haiku from Pico Iyer. First published in Frogpond 43:2, Spring/Summer 2020, pages 120-125. A PDF version of this essay is also available on the Haiku Society of America website. Originally written in December of 2019, before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but quickly relevant to this global situation.

  15. Pico Iyer

    Pico Iyer. Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England in 1957. Since 1982 he has been a full-time writer, publishing 15 books, translated into 23 languages, on subjects ranging from the Dalai Lama to globalism, from the Cuban Revolution to Islamic mysticism. ... Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition Out of the Cell Pico Iyer 'I was inside a silence ...

  16. Pico Iyer on the secret of immersive travel

    By Pico Iyer 11th June 2020 The celebrated writer reflects on how this once-in-a-lifetime experiment of global stillness can teach us to see the world with new eyes. I I walked off a cruise...

  17. Pico Iyer's "In Praise of the Humble Comma"

    The author asserts that a comma is "breath itself", no matter how hard we may try to oppress it or ignore its significance (Iyer paragraph 1). Our experts can deliver a Pico Iyer's "In Praise of the Humble Comma" essay. tailored to your instructions. for only $13.00 $11.05/page. 308 qualified specialists online.

  18. Pico Iyer

    Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (born 11 February 1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born essayist and novelist known chiefly for his travel writing.He is the author of numerous books on crossing cultures including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul.He has been a contributor to Time, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times.

  19. Home Page

    Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England in 1957. He won a King's Scholarship to Eton and then a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a Congratulatory Double First with the highest marks of any English Literature student in the university.

  20. Pico Iyer teaches 'The Literature of Fact

    Essayist Pico Iyer, a visiting lecturer in the Humanities Council and a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton, shares stories about his writing and travel across 80 countries with students in his spring semester course, "The Literature of Fact — Writing and Reporting on Place." Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications

  21. Pico Essay

    In Pico Iyer's Essay, Where World Collide, Iyer depicts multiple bustling scenes he witnesses at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Through his interactions, his observations of travelers at the airport, and his own perceptions based on his viewpoint as an immigrant traveling to a land often fantasized about, Iyer makes several ...

  22. Pico Iyer's latest melds the open road and inner journeys

    In 'The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise,' Iyer seeks beauty and enlightenment in Iran, Sri Lanka, Japan and India. Review by Bilal Qureshi. January 19, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. EST. Pico Iyer ...

  23. Pico Iyer Essays

    The Joy Of Quiet Analysis. Pico Iyer's "The Joy of Quiet" article in the New York Times begins with the awareness of the effects of Internet infested electronics. Acknowledging that the technology available to individuals today can be helpful, he also mentions the effects of it can be quite dramatic.