Pico joined us on Monday for a wide-ranging discussion on creativity, meditation, Leonard Cohen and the Dalai Lama.
We lead our lives in the outer world, we understand them through the inner. So here are a set of journeys through inner and outer and the places in between . . .
From his writing:
“Creativity comes from a place I can’t name, let alone control or anticipate. It is unanswerable; a vast darkness you can’t penetrate. I was talking to a friend in Santa Barbara a couple of years ago and said, ‘My writing comes from out of the blue.’ He asked, ‘What is the blue?’
“What I’ve learned in transitioning from journalistic writing is to never to use my notes at all. When my house burned down in 1990, I lost everything in the world because I write everything by hand. I lost my next three books; eight years of writing. My editor commiserated, and then said, ‘You know Pico, losing your notes was probably the best thing that could happen to you as a writer because now you’re going to have to write from memory, imagination and heart.’
“I’ve never formally meditated in my life … but for me, that’s what writing is. And what comes out of my writing is really immaterial. The process of sitting eight hours a day in absolute quiet without anything there is the best way for me to find clarity and freedom from clutter in my life. It’s baby steps toward mindfulness.
“My most important entry point into Zen, as a neutral observer, was through spending 20 years in close friendship with Leonard Cohen. It was very moving to see the effects of Zen practice on somebody who, metaphorically, had all the riches in the world, yet was prepared to give them up because he felt Zen practice a richer, deeper adventure than anything he’d ever done. Leonard was without, doubt, the kindest, deepest, wisest person I’ve ever met. Except for the Dalai Lama, who is a special case.
“I have been with His Holiness for nearly a half century, and accompanied him on ten trips through Japan, the only Mahayana country to welcome him. He comes here to Japan, and has deep faith in the Japanese to help carry on the Vajrayana tradition, yet it is such a radically different tradition.
“Spending time in the Benedictine monastery in Santa Barbara—over a hundred retreats in the last thirty-two years—has been a center of my life for a very long time, even though I will never be a Catholic. That is my next book.”
Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England in 1957. In 1980, he became a Teaching Fellow at Harvard, where he received a second Master’s degree, and in subsequent years received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters. Since 1982, he has been a full-time writer, publishing fifteen books translated into twenty-three languages, on subjects ranging from the Dalai Lama to globalism, from the Cuban Revolution to Islamic mysticism.
His books 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 been a constant contributor for more than thirty years to Time, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and more than 250 periodicals worldwide. His four recent talks for TED have received more than eleven million views.
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.