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Pico Iyer

“A book admits you to that deeply private space where you are not quite yourself, but someone else. In every sense. And being lost in Earthsea, next to Walden Pond, on the heath with Lear, you’re also something much larger than yourself, as large as the sky around you and the quiet of that armchair in the light.” (Pico Iyer, Of Books and the Light)

Born in Oxford, England, in 1957, Pico Iyer considers himself lucky to have been educated in Anglican schools, to have been raised by Hindu Theosophist parents—both teachers of comparative religions—and to have lived for more than a quarter of a century now in deeply Buddhist Japan. For many of the past 24 years, when not in Japan, he’s been staying in a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, California.

In an interview with Inquiring Mind in 2013, he pointed out how he has taken his long study of literature to be something of an unofficial course in how the light gets in, and shadow. For decades, based in a two-room apartment in rural Japan—without car or bicycle or any TV he can understand—he has been returning to Proust and Thoreau, to Emily Dickinson and Melville, as guides to the mind’s tricks and possibilities and the many things around us larger than ourselves.

Iyer’s books include a novel, Abandon (2003), about Sufism; The Open Road (2008), about his forty years of talks and annual travels with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama; and The Man Within My Head (2012) about the “Catholic agnostic” Graham Greene and his search for faith. He has written liner notes for several Leonard Cohen albums and enough on Cohen to fill a book, and his essays appear regularly in the Catholic magazine Portland and the Buddhist magazines Shambhala Sun and Tricycle. His pieces appeared in eight editions of the Best American Spiritual Writing series, which he guest-edited in 2009, and his most recent book, Going Nowhere (2014), brings together many of his thoughts about stillness and being moved.

As he wrote in a 1993 essay for Time magazine—published the week of Bill Clinton’s first inaugural—“In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows…If everyone has a spiritual story to tell of his life, everyone has a spiritual silence to preserve.”

Selected Bibliography

The Man Within My Head (2012)
The Open Road (2008)
The Global Soul (2000)
The Lady and the Monk (1991)

Online Resources

Reading My Way to the Threshold of the Great Unanswerable – interview w/ Inquiring Mind
Return of ‘The Snow Leopard’ – on Peter Matthiessen for NYRB (subscription only)