Still, small voices

The world is too damned noisy.

Here are three books I’ve been reading about peace and quiet.

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Broadway Books, 2013) by Susan Cain. Cain was a big-shot Wall Street lawyer who, for years, had a nagging sense that her job wasn’t exactly her heart’s desire. So she quit and did what all smart introverts want to do (ha!): she became a writer.

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Cain’s research turned up lots of studies about introversion and some lovely anecdotes about geniuses. The thesis gets a bit repetitive at times and occasionally, when the author is hinting at the folly of extroverts, I found myself thinking, “that’s not extroversion; that’s just people being morons.” However, as a lifelong introvert who fakes extroversion in front of audiences, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Another book I’m quietly devouring is Richard Mahler’s Stillness: Daily Gifts of Solitude (Red Wheel, 2003). I’m reading it because of a tragedy. The author, a friend of mine, died just a couple of months ago at an unripe age, and I wanted to revisit his work. Stillness is part-memoir, part how-to book and all Mahler – elegantly written and with a wry, barely discernible humor.

Around the turn of the century, the author “disappeared into the snow-covered Tusas Mountains of Northern New Mexico” – a voluntary solitary confinement, following in the footsteps of Thoreau, Pete Fromm, Terry Tempest Williams and many other writer/recluses. Mahler’s exploration of solitude is well worth the journey.

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The third book in this gentle trio is another oldie, Think on These Things ((Perennial Library, 1989), by Krishnamurti.

My advice is: if you want peace, look eastwards, to Asia, land of Gandhi and saddhus and meditation, tai chi and green tea. They also have all the best aphorisms. Here’s Lao Zi: “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” (The Way of Lao Zi)

Think on These Things is made up of questions and answers. Krishnamurti’s disciples ask him about all kinds of worldly and other-worldly issues. Why do we seek fame? What is power? Why do men fight? Why are we burdened with sorrow? Krishnamurti riffs and discourses and tells stories and tosses back questions. The book isn’t specifically about peace and quiet, but, besides Krishnamurti’s raging intelligence, what strikes the reader is the calmness that underpins his every response.

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If you’re looking for a little tranquillity and wisdom, pick up one of these three vastly different tomes, find a good, sturdy hammock, and whatever you do, don’t watch the news.

 

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