Nathan Scolaro on Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer has spent much of his life travelling. He’s described himself as “something of a global creature”—having been born in England to Indian parents and then raised in California, later moving to New York and now living in Japan—and sought out places as a travel writer and explorer that piece together, much like his own inner world, disparate cultures and identities “to make a stained-glass whole.”
It’s this resonant, unifying “global soul” at the centre of modern day life that informs much of Pico’s worldview: his sense that home is something we carry in us, and that our lives will be infinitely richer the more we accept and even embrace the “Century of the Other” that is upon us.
I first came across Pico’s writing during a work hiatus a few years back. I was finishing some studies, and had the luxury of time to read, write and go for long walks. Pico’s article, “The Joy of Quiet,” published in The New York Times, was about a different kind of travel journey—an inner one. And it cut to the heart of what I was experiencing: the simple pleasure of slowing down, of not checking emails every five minutes and rushing to meet never-ending deadlines, and in turn being able to listen to what was going on inside me. “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,” he writes. “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.” For all his movement, Pico has taken rather extreme measures to summon this very clarity: leaving his fast-paced Manhattan life as a staff writer for Time magazine at age 29 to pursue a simpler, less digitally-connected life in rural Japan, where he has lived now for nearly 30 years. He also regularly visits a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, California to practice what he calls “the art of stillness.”
When the opportunity arose to speak with Pico, I realised a great deal of busyness had crept back into my life since discovering his work those years ago. I noticed that I had become less thoughtful, less attentive, less generous with loved ones and my work, despite having the same 24 hours in my day. Busyness had become the enemy. But Pico, in his delightfully grounded and eloquent manner, reminded me that we can’t expect ourselves to be busy-free 100 percent of the time. It’s the nature of our modern lives that we are plugged in and “doing” in contrast to “being” for some proportion of the day. The key is to not let those scales tip too much to the “doing” side of things, and to remember that our happiness, our clarity, our ability to be attentive and of benefit to ourselves and the world really is dependent on building that stillness into our days to slow down a little and travel in.