In the light of early morning, Ryan Holiday does the most sacred thing he can imagine. He silently welcomes the new day with stillness. Stillness sets the tone for the day for this devoted husband and father, passionate abandoner of his phone, and seeker of solitude and wisdom. On this episode of On Purpose with Jay Shetty, Holiday confesses that the biggest lesson he has learned is how little he knows.
Holiday, a writer, philosopher, and expert on ancient wisdom and Stoicism, has just completed his ninth book, Stillness Is the Key. While writing this book, he experienced an unlearning that he is convinced comes with greater wisdom. For him, moving out of a space of having all of the answers and into a dynamic tension of sitting with the mystery of not knowing is the true definition of wisdom.
FLOURISH IN THE MOMENT
For Holiday, the journey of wisdom and solitude starts with the present in every sense of the word. Holiday starts his mornings exploring nature and soaking in stillness with his children in tow. He prioritizes starting each day in the moment, and he’s convinced that refusing to touch his phone until 11 a.m. every day has become one of the greatest gifts he could give himself and his family.
“We're outside and we experience nature,” Holiday tells Jay Shetty. “We see things, they sing, and we talk.” What may seem like a cute way for Holiday to entertain his kids is actually a deeply profound part of the family intentionally starting their day well. “What's interesting to me is how much crazier the day is if we don't do that,” he continues. “It somehow ripples through the day if we don't have that kind of centering.”
Holiday explains to Jay Shetty that he is in a much better frame of mind to write and work if he doesn’t start his day glued to what transpired on Twitter overnight or the latest Facebook gossip. Putting the things he loves first ensures he’s able to give the best of himself to them.
“The whole point is that you don't wake up and be reactive. You should wake up and be intentional,” he told Jay Shetty. “I don't want to be reactive if it comes at the expense of the daily practices that I have. Yeah, to me, that's what stillness is actually about.”
Not only does Holiday see this posture as vital for his own health and wellbeing, he believes it is a gift to his children as well. Spending that concerted time with them and on what really matters is not simply a treasure in his eyes. It is paving a different path for them in a world that is inundated with noise and distraction.
Less Noise, More Honesty
Holiday is all too aware of how challenging it can be to find quiet in the midst of the noisy world today. The constant bombardment of noise and distraction is one of the biggest hindrances to achieving peace and solitude. He recognizes that people are constantly bombarded by distractions and things that demand attention and lure us to forget the present moment.
Holiday also emphasizes that it’s more than just not being able to fully focus. He says it’s impossible for people to fully know themselves if they are constantly giving in to noise and distraction. After all, it’s easier to ignore the demons that need to be confronted when they can be tucked behind the mask of distraction. Jay Shetty agrees.
“I feel like stillness and silence, they're so rare now,” Jay Shetty said. “We're almost scared of them.”
Holiday explained that stillness and silence is not a place of hiding but of bravery and reckoning. It is a place of confronting the realities of life and learning to deal with things that need to be dealt with. Holiday tells Jay Shetty that people don’t want to sit in silence, because they are afraid to have to deal with the reality or the emptiness of their lives if they do.
“People are glued to the television, glued to their phone, glued to consuming, consuming, consuming,” he told Jay Shetty. “They don't have to create, they don't have to face, they don't have to think. I think that's the problem of our time.”
In a world that seems to be fueled by social media, entertainment and noise, the way of wisdom calls people to turn it off and get real. This, Holiday said, takes courage. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
“I think we’re afraid of what the silence is going to reveal,” he told Jay Shetty. “I think we are afraid to look in the mirror, so we distract ourselves. We know that the silence will reveal emptiness.”
Instead, we turn on the TV, reach for our phones, or just keep talking.
Good Dog, Healthy Emotions
Once you’re honest about the emotions that are uncovered in stillness, then what?
“It’s not about eliminating emotions,” explains Ryan Holiday to Jay Shetty. “It is about domesticating them.”
A person committed to Stoicism understands that the power of authentic living is embracing emotions as they come. Holiday uses the example of a wolf and a dog. They’re much the same, but one has been trained and the other has not. The same is true with feeling and emotions. We are able to feel our feelings and we can sit with those. What makes the difference is what we do with them.
Often, Jay Shetty agrees with Holiday, people have a negative perception of what healthy emotions look like. The assumption is that healthy people only possess positive emotions. This wrong thinking causes people to try to do away with negative feelings or emotions. According to Holiday, this is not healthy, realistic or honest.
Holiday proposes dealing with emotion in a different way. Negative emotions happen and are part of life. We must train our bodies and brains to handle them well. That will look different for different people. Some may need to see a therapist, have a hard conversation, or maybe write a letter to express anger, even if they never send it.
“We train ourselves to feel negative emotions less, or we work to feel them within a safe space of not hurting others,” said Jay Shetty of this process.
Part of solitude and stillness is learning to sit with the emotions – learning to face them and put them into perspective. We don’t need to be afraid or ashamed of our emotions, we just need to know how to handle them well.
Hello Inner Child
Childhood can be a lot to unpack for an adult. Often, the full scope of how an event affected someone is not realized until they are older.
“You realize,” explains Jay Shetty, “that a lot of the really strong reactions and feelings and things that you have are not you as an adult, they are you at whatever age you're stuck in.” This “stuckness” is a result of trauma. For Holiday, addressing this trauma so it can heal has been a key part of recovery. Holiday explains that significant trauma alters or halts maturity at the stage it happens.
“We all have experienced trauma and pain, deficiencies and problems,” he said to Jay Shetty. “There's a part of us that is that age that needed something then that we didn't get, and now we have to do the work to parent that inner child.”
The things that happened in the past can still affect us today. Some adults will be unable to handle conflict in a healthy manner because of an event that happened when they were 16. Shutting down when insulted could be a result of a teacher berating them in front of the class at the age of 12. Constantly seeking approval may stem from their father telling them they would never be good enough. Dealing with the hurt and trauma are vital to the process of finding true wisdom and peace.
“The act of deciding to parent that inner child, to reassure them, to comfort them, to be what you didn't get from the people who should have done it when you were that age, is really important,” he told Jay Shetty. He believes allowing for that healing is the foundation for one’s ability to find true peace and stillness.
“If you don't have that, you cannot settle that inner child,” he said to Jay Shetty. “You will not have stillness and you will not have success or you will end up destroying that success because you're not capable. You're not mature enough to deal with it.”
This can be difficult and painful work, Holiday warns, but the benefits are worth it.
“When we parent the inner child, we show up for ourselves in the places someone else didn’t show up for us, so we can seek healing and move on,” he said.
FORM, NOT TARGET
If there is anything that becomes clear from Holiday’s work, it is that seeking wisdom and solitude is a process. The life of Stoicism cannot be found in the contents of a magic pill. Deep, daily inner work is what brings about a lifetime wisdom and peace. It takes patience and intentional effort.
Holiday shares the example taught to him by a mentor. Becoming successful at archery does not start with a focus on the target. It stems from attention given to form. Getting form right is an exercise of centering and living in the present.
This is the practice of Stoicism – learning to focus on the present, not simply being fixated on the goal. That attention fine tunes the process, and eventually it becomes second nature.
Holiday would argue that prioritizing success based on a preconceived end goal not only misses out on the impact of the process, but potentially sells short of what could be. If the success of a book is measured by the number of copies sold, is the impact of the book less if it doesn’t reach the goal number?
“What if you sell zero copies, but you change the world?” he countered to Jay Shetty. “What if you sell 10 million copies and then it's disproved? It's not about that. It's not about the end state. It's about the process. It's about the impact.”
Holiday notes that there is both freedom and fear in this abandonment of concrete goals for a life that embraces the process. But after studying people from across centuries and learning to understand what makes people tick, Holiday is convinced that Stoicism is a lifelong journey full of intention, silence, healing, and, ultimately, joy.
Each morning, the author, husband, and father embraces the new with a renewed passion to help others know this simple joy in life. He starts with his children and writes words of promise for the rest of us. One foot in front of the other, he’s convinced that Stoicism will change the world.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode with Ryan Holiday on “How to Remain Calm When Others Panic And Practice Stillness Under High Stress Situations” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.