How Staying Still Can Take Us on Our Greatest Journeys
Yet the days of Pascal and even Admiral Byrd seem positively tranquil by today's standards. The amount of data humanity will collect while you're reading The Art of Stillness is five times greater than the amount that exists in the entire Library of Congress. Anyone reading it will take in as much information today as Shakespeare took in over a lifetime. Researchers in the new field of interruption science have found that it takes an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call. Yet such interruptions come every eleven minutes — which means we're never caught up with our lives.
And the more facts come streaming in on us, the less time we have to process any one of them. The one thing technology doesn't provide us with is a sense of how to make the best use of technology. Put another way, the ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is now far less important than the ability to sift through it.
It's easy to feel as if we're standing two inches away from a huge canvas that's noisy and crowded and changing with every microsecond. It's only by stepping farther back and standing still that we can begin to see what that canvas (which is our life) really means, and to take in the larger picture.
One day I visited Google's headquarters to give a talk on the Dalai Lama book I'd completed and, like most visitors, was much impressed by the trampolines, the indoor tree houses, and the workers at the time enjoying a fifth of their working hours free, letting their minds wander off leash to where inspiration might be hiding. As I travel the world, one of the greatest surprises I have encountered has been that the people who seem wisest about the necessity of placing limits on the newest technologies are, often, precisely the ones who helped develop those technologies, which have bulldozed over so many of the limits of old. The very people, in short, who have worked to speed up the world are the same ones most sensitive to the virtue of slowing down.
But what impressed me even more were the two people who greeted me as I waited for my digital ID: the Chief Evangelist for Google+, as his business card would have it, a bright-eyed, visibly spirited young soul from India who was setting up a "Yogler" program whereby the many Googlers who practice yoga could actually be trained to teach it; and the seasoned software engineer beside him who ran a celebrated and popular seven-week program called "Search Inside Yourself," whose curriculum had shown more than a thousand Googlers the quantifiable, scientific evidence that meditation could lead not just to clearer thinking and better health but to emotional intelligence.
A self-selecting pair, no doubt; these were the kind of guys who wanted to hear about the Dalai Lama. Every company has its own chief evangelists, eager to share their illuminations. But I was struck by how often Gopi, the founder of the Yogler program, spoke of how easy it was, day or night, to go into a conference room and close his eyes. It sounded a bit like Dickinson again.