08 July 2023

In this episode, William Green chats with famed author Pico Iyer about how to create a life that’s truly richer, wiser, & happier. Pico has written 15 books & delivered 4 TED Talks that have received nearly 12 million views. Here, he shares profound & practical insights drawn from his vast range of personal experience: he’s spent decades as a travel writer; befriended everyone from the Dalai Lama to Leonard Cohen; lost everything he owned in a wildfire; & built a remarkably peaceful & productive life in a tiny apartment in Japan.

Subscribe through iTunes
Subscribe through Castbox
Subscribe through Spotify
Subscribe through Youtube


Subscribe through iTunes
Subscribe through Castbox
Subscribe through Spotify
Subscribe through Youtube


  • Why Pico Iyer relishes the calm simplicity of his tiny, uncluttered home in Japan.
  • Why he doesn’t use a cell phone & does most of his work without a computer. 
  • Why going slow has become the ultimate luxury in a world of speed.
  • How he structures his day to be most productive.
  • Why leading business executives are so receptive to his teachings on stillness.
  • Why billionaires like Ray Dalio have embraced meditation.
  • What Pico discovered when a wildfire destroyed everything he owned.
  • How Howard Marks applies the Buddhist teaching that everything is impermanent.
  • What Pico has learned from decades of friendship with the Dalai Lama. 
  • How travel shows Pico the limits of what we can ever truly know.
  • What advice he gives to youngsters on making a life & not just making a living. 
  • What the singer & Zen monk Leonard Cohen taught him about inner riches.


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

[00:00:03] William Green: Hi there. The focus of today’s episode is a question that I think all of us can benefit from asking, what constitutes a truly rich and happy life? If you’re listening to this podcast, the chances are that you’re fascinated by the game of investing and want to play it well so you can make more money and ideally, achieve total financial freedom.

[00:00:23] William Green: That’s fabulous as far as it goes, and I love investing too, but I think we also know that the richness of our lives doesn’t really just depend on how much money we rack up or how many fancy possessions we manage to accumulate or what car we drive. In the epilogue of my book, Richer, Wiser, Happier, I caught a wonderful insight that the great investor, Arnold Van Den Berg, once shared with me when I was interviewing him at his office in Austin, Texas.

[00:00:50] William Green: Arnold, who’s in many ways my favorite role model in the world of investing, told me, “I’m the richest guy in the world because I’m content with what I have. I feel wealthier not because I have more money, but because I’ve got health, good friendships, I’ve got a great family.” He then carried on by saying, “Prosperity takes all of these things into consideration: health, wealth, happiness, peace of mind – that’s what a prosperous person is. Not just a lot of money, that doesn’t mean a thing.” I totally agree with Arnold that a truly rich and happy life has to include things like peace of mind, but the truth is it’s not that easy for me anyway to achieve or maintain my peace of mind.

[00:01:35] William Green: I almost always feel like I have too many competing demands and responsibilities to juggle, too many distractions and too much technology; too many screens for one thing, and just generally too much complexity in my life, too many things spinning in my head. I don’t know about you, but what I tend to yearn for most is not more money or more possessions, but more time and space to think, and breathe, and more simplicity, more clarity, more balance, and more calm.

[00:02:06] William Green: Nobody I know has thought so deeply about this question of what it takes to construct a truly rich and happy life than our guest on today’s episode of the podcast. His name is Pico Iyer. Pico is a brilliant author and thinker. Over the last four decades or so, he’s written 15 books and literally thousands of articles for publications like The New York Times, Time Magazine, and the Financial Times.

[00:02:32] William Green: He’s made his living primarily as a superb travel writer reporting everywhere from North Korea to Iran, to Bhutan, to Tibet. Most famously, he’s also delivered four TED Talks that have been viewed nearly 12 million times. One of his hugely popular TED Talks is titled The Art of Stillness, which is also the title of one of his books.

[00:02:55] William Green: After decades of restless travel and adventure, Pico had the wisdom to point out that the ultimate luxury may actually be to go nowhere, to sit still for a while in a world that’s moving faster and more frenetically than ever before. As he explains this willingness to take a pause, to step back from the frenzied action allows you to see the bigger picture, to pay more attention to what matters most, and to recall where your truest happiness lies.

[00:03:28] William Green: I hope you enjoy this conversation with the wonderful Pico Iyer and that it helps you to think with greater clarity about what a richer, wiser, happier life means for you. Thanks so much for joining us.

Read More
[00:03:45] Intro: You’re listening to the Richer, Wiser, Happier podcast where your host, William Green, interviews the world’s greatest investors and explores how to win in markets and life.

[00:04:05] William Green: Hi, folks. I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome today’s guest, Pico Iyer. Pico is a friend, but also a role model, and although he would deny it, an inspiration to me in many ways, so I’m sure by the end of our conversation, you’ll understand why. In any case, it’s lovely to see you, Pico. Thanks so much for being here, joining us.

[00:04:23] Pico Iyer: I’m so really happy to get the chance to talk to you, William. I’ve been looking forward to this since we set this up two months ago, and actually – well, I won’t get us off on a sidetrack, but I sort of think my whole life is about thinking about what it is to be rich, wise, and happy, so I’ve never been in a podcast where the title so appeals to me.

[00:04:41] William Green: I love that. Yeah, I feel very much like we’re fellow travelers on this journey, so yeah. It’s going to be a delight to hear from you on this subject, and actually, when we were first arranging this interview a couple of months ago, you wrote to me in an email, “My blessing is that I’ll be in the calm, undistracted, sunlit quiet of our tiny flat in Japan,” and I wanted to start with that because most of our lives are really full of noise, and distraction, and anxiety, and I’m fascinated by the fact that you’ve created this physical environment in Japan that’s so counter-cultural in so many ways. I wonder if you could start by describing this apartment where you live and where you work, and where I think you’ve lived and worked for the last 30 or so years.

[00:05:27] Pico Iyer: Yes. You would be shocked if you saw the part of Japan in which we’re living because it looks like a suburb of Los Angeles. Everything is Western. No shrines, no temples, no beautiful picturesque lanes, and the flat itself is just two rooms. We pay $550.00 a month for it. As you say, we’ve been living here for just over 30 years.

[00:05:48] Pico Iyer: It’s so small. I can’t even really open the door to the toilet. I have to work at the little desk that my stepdaughter used to use when she was eight years old, so it’s plastered with pictures of Brad Pitt and Hello Kitty, so it’s an improbable looking place to anybody. Then as I say, in a neighborhood where I know very few people and where there are no attractions, but as you know, I was living in Midtown – well, living in Manhattan when I was 29, working for the employer that we shared, Time Magazine. I was really enjoying the life I’d probably always dreamed of as a boy. I had those really stimulating colleagues and a rich and rewarding life that allowed me to fly around the world, and nice apartment on Park Avenue and 20th, so in some ways, I had attained a lot of what I might have imagined I longed for, and yet there was this restlessness and this feeling, partly because I was enjoying it so much that I could easily wake up and I would be 70 years old and I’d never explored any options.

[00:06:44] Pico Iyer: And because I was in my twenties, I didn’t have any dependents and I was prepared to live fairly simply, I left all that for what I thought would be the perfect compliment to it, which was the single room in the back streets of Kyoto. Again, you probably know, I recklessly decided to leave Time Magazine to spend a year in a monastery in Kyoto, and my high-minded year lasted exactly a week. The monastery was much too hard work for me and too much like boarding school, but I then ended up in an even smaller room than a monastic room. No telephone, no toilet, no private toilet, no anything really, and then I finally made my way up to this two-room apartment, but the two-room apartment, I was sharing with my, and still am, with my Japanese wife and formerly, our two small kids.

[00:07:29] Pico Iyer: It’s not something that I recommend to anybody, but I’m glad in retrospect that I thought in my late twenties, “What do I really long for in life?” And maybe more important than security was freedom, and more important than money was time if I was prepared to live relatively simply, and so I’m glad I was having such a good life and such a rich life that I began to think, “Well, what really is going to make me feel rich?”

[00:07:57] William Green: In one of your books, Autumn Light, which I particularly enjoyed, I’ve read about half a dozen of your books in the last few weeks in some sort of mad flurry of overpreparation and have enjoyed them greatly, and one of my favorites was Autumn Light, and you mentioned in Autumn Light this Japanese idea that I guess runs through many other cultures as well, but is particularly Japanese, of subtraction, which I guess we see in haiku and in the aesthetics of Japan.

[00:08:23] William Green: This idea of taking away things to add to their intensity. Can you talk about this idea as it relates to the environment in which you are? Because most of us are accumulating more stuff. We’re constantly trying to buy more possessions, fill the gaping hole in our lives with more things, and you in a way have gone the other approach. Can you talk about what you get out of a lack of clutter out of subtraction?

[00:08:51] Pico Iyer: I think the main thing I get is attention, and as you probably – in the classic Japanese tatami room, there’s nothing there except a scroll and a vase, and because there’s nothing there but two things, you bring all your attention to those two things and you find the whole universe in it. I have Indian DNA, which tends to be the opposite, maximalist. My head is very cluttered. My desk could potentially be very cluttered, and I think part of the challenge there is that in a crisis or in a moment of need, you can’t put your hands on what’s really important because there’s too much there. Whereas in a room with very few things, you instantly know and cherish and bring all of yourself to what is important and realize that you don’t need anything else. I think it might have been from you in a podcast you did or in your book that I had somebody say that knowledge is about gaining more and more, and wisdom is about taking more and more away. Whether it not came from you, it does make a lot of sense. Of course, it’s part of the process of growing older, but I  learned about the luxury of absence, I suppose, coming to Japan, which is as you said that the culture of the haiku and the brushing ink painting, where really, almost everything is left to imagination.

[00:09:59] Pico Iyer: As you probably know, I don’t have a car here, which means a thousand things not to have to think about and worry about. I’m lucky enough, I’ve never used a cell phone, which again is not something that I would recommend to people, and most people have to use a cell phone to stay in touch with their family or their jobs, but not having a cell phone means that the day seems to last for about a hundred hours, and we don’t really have much in the way of media here, though of course we could, and that allows me to give myself as much as possible to what I feel really sustains me. I noticed during the pandemic, and I think probably most of the people listening to this podcast can relate to this in some ways. Every morning when I woke up, I realized either I could turn on the news, which in three minutes would make me feel absolutely dispirited and hopeless, all these problems around the world that sadly I couldn’t do much to help or I could look up and out the beautiful spring sunshine all around and feel absolutely flooded with hope. I suppose it’s partly a matter of just thinking about – I’ve tried to think what really sustains me in the end and what cuts me up and weakens me, so I’ve found having a lot of space in my life and a lot of time in the day is, for me, the greatest abundance.

[00:11:10] William Green: In a way, it has to come from knowing yourself, what actually constitutes a rich and happy life for yourself and so there had to be a kind of rejection of the life that you had back in the US, that for many other people, would’ve seemed like an incredibly exotic and successful and exciting life.

[00:11:29] Pico Iyer: Yeah, exactly so, and of course I couldn’t have really come to Japan if I hadn’t worked through the romance and excitement of that life. Otherwise, I’d be sitting here thinking, “What would it be like to live in New York? What would it be like to have all those other things?” I’m really grateful that I fell into this wonderful job and got to experience that life to the full and enjoy every moment of it, and yet, as you say, something inside me felt that that was providing me with some of the things I didn’t need and it was keeping me away from the things I really did need. I remember when I lived in New York City, I felt it was very hard to think outside the bounds of New York City. I and my friends were talking about what had just appeared on the front page of the New York Times or what had happened a moment ago, which is always exhilarating, but I couldn’t step back far enough to see longer term or what really mattered to me, but you’re right. I was probably lucky to have that restless inside that told me, “There’s something else you could find,” and actually, it was in the course of taking trips sometimes for business from New York City that I set foot in Japan.

[00:12:30] Pico Iyer: A sense of recognition was so instant. I thought if I don’t come here, I’ll be an exile for life. Something in me will always be unresolved, and so I’ve got to see what this place has to offer me and why I have the sense of recognition. Then I thought, “Well, if at the end of my first year in Japan, I got disenchanted or disappointment, I could always come back to New York City,” but in one’s twenties is the time to take that kind of leap and see where it leads one.

[00:12:57] William Green: It seems like you have always had really a great ambivalence about external measures of success. I remember in, I think it was in the Man Within my Head, the book that you wrote about your father and Graham Greene, which I love, which I’ve read a couple of times, you talked about wanting to get away from everything associated with a 25th floor office and an embossed business card, living according to someone else’s idea of happiness. Elsewhere, you described your move to Japan as a defection from the world of financial security and achievement, and I wonder if you could talk a bit about where that attitude came from, this sense that financial security, external measures of achievement, measures of external markers of public success didn’t really do it for you.

[00:13:45] Pico Iyer: It’s hard to say where exactly it might have come from. I remember as a little boy, or at least as a student, I would read Thoreau for example, and I would feel myself pierced. There is a whole way of life and a way of looking at the world, and creating values very different from the norm. That really called to me, and I remember he says in Walden something like a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can leave alone. That richness ultimately has to do with your internal resources, your inner savings account, as it were. And I think I love the fact that this podcast has richer, before wiser and happier because I think you have to take care of making a living before you start thinking about making a life, and as I say, if I hadn’t been through the assembly line that led me through this exciting life in New York City, I might not have been ready to leave it behind.

[00:14:35] Pico Iyer: You can’t renounce something until you worked through it entirely, so I think that was a large part of the process. Where it came from exactly, I couldn’t tell you, but you and I went through the same school, and the same college, and it is a kind of assembly line that’s training you extremely well for doing well in the world, but not always for addressing what’s going on inside you. I think maybe at some point – we may talk about this later, but at some point, I noticed that let’s say one of my parents fell sick and I had to come quickly back and be by my mother’s bedside. All the money I’d made, all the books I have written, my resume, CV, none of that’s really going to help my mother in that situation. None of it is going to help me. The only thing that can come to one’s rescue in those circumstances is what you’ve developed in your  inner savings account, your inner resources, which you probably developed by being quiet or taking a walk or moving away from the noise of the world a bit.

[00:15:34] Pico Iyer: But in my case, I don’t think it ever works to disregard the important facts of life. I was rereading Thoreau actually just yesterday, and I was reminded the very first chapter in Walden is on economy, and it’s eight times longer than the chapter on solitude, and I think that’s an important message that we have to take care of the particulars of the world first, and once we’ve done that, then we have the luxury of being able to attend to what really sustains us. I’m sure many of the people in business and investors that you know, and that listen to this conversation have figured out exactly that, that being able to find that place in the world gives them the comfort and confidence really to think about what they need deep down.

[00:16:17] William Green: Yeah. I think it’s hard when you’re really anxious about sending your kids to college or retiring or paying for your rent or your next meal. It’s very hard actually to focus on these deeper questions of, “Well, how am I going to have peace of mind? How am I going to have fulfillment?” There is a certain level, I think, of practicality that you have to take care of first.

[00:16:39] Pico Iyer: Yeah, definitely, and that’s the most important thing. Without that, yeah, nothing follows.

[00:16:45] William Green: You were mentioning before our shared background. There are actually a crazy number of overlaps in our lives, but the most obvious one I guess is that both of us started off we were born in England. We both went to Eaton, which is I guess the most famously posh of the English schools, but in a sense, we were both outsiders. You as an Indian who was commuting from California where your parents were living at the time, and me as a Jewish guy from a family that had fled from Ukraine and Russia and Poland at some point in the 20th century, and so we were sort of inside and outside this very privileged world. Then we both went to Oxford, and then I think both moved to the US in our twenties, and I was looking actually, both of us spent nine years of our twenties in the US. You went to Harvard initially, and I went to Columbia, then we both moved to Asia in our thirties, partly because you were writing for Time and I was editing the Asian edition of Time for a while. So we had this strange overlaps, but there’s one big difference, which is you were obviously way more intelligent than me, judging by how well you did at places like Eaton and Oxford and you got this congratulatory double first at Oxford, which is a very rare thing.

[00:18:01] William Green: It’s a thing where for people who don’t know, I even had to look this up, where the examiners traditionally would stand up and applaud because you did so, so well. And so you were on this very fast track as this obviously really talented young guy, and when you quit Time and moved to Japan, my sense is that your father was appalled by it, and you wrote in one of your books that he would berate you for being a pseudo retiree. I’m curious about that pressure that comes when you’re trying to break away from a conventional path when everyone has this expectation that you are going to be this young superstar and you decide, “Well, actually, no. I’m going a different path. I’m following the footsteps of my heroes who wanted to live in solitude somewhere.”

[00:18:46] Pico Iyer: Yeah, well, maybe part of the lure of throwing it all over was defying my father and showing him, and therefore showing myself, that I was going to live by different principles from his own. It’s wonderful that you traced all the correspondences we have, which even further beyond the ones that I knew about, but I think I refer in one of my books to the places where we were educated as institutes of higher skepticism, and I thought Eaton and Oxford were great training in that, but they left certain areas unexplored, which are exactly the ones that I thought I needed to address. I thought Eaton, for example, trained me wonderfully for getting on in the world, but it didn’t train me so much in the realm of the emotions or getting on with other people necessarily, so something in me, and maybe you felt the same, sensed that I needed to compliment or add to my official education, but I think – I mean, I was lucky that when I was in my twenties, I had a lot of energy and I knew what I wanted to do and I was able to complete it, and then I think that gave me the freedom to try and take the next hurdle. Because I did want to become a writer and try to live by myself writing books and I knew that my books were ones that wouldn’t sell a huge amount, so I knew I would have to live fairly modestly, and I realized that living away from New York would give me both a chance, a way to live simply, but also a way to write or think a little less conventionally than I might if I were in Midtown.

[00:20:12] Pico Iyer: In some ways, it is probably ambition that took me even away from New York to Japan, and when I wanted to spend a year in a temple in Japan when I was 29, it was mostly because I didn’t know what a temple in Japan involved. So as I said before, it was completely wrongheaded kind of romance, but here I am 35 years later, living a slightly monastic life not far from where that temple was, though with a wife. And so the impulse that took me to Japan was the right one. It was just that I had to grow into it and mature into it. I didn’t know enough about the world when I was 29, but when you were talking a minute ago about needing to take care of the practicalities, I was thinking this one is why every business around probably takes a collective retreat.

[00:20:57] Pico Iyer: This is why so many businesses I think more and more, whether it’s allowing their employees to work just four days a week or to get 20% of their paid time off just to explore or working from home, one way or another, I think corporations are understanding that the more freedom you give to the workers, the better the work that they will produce. If they’re in an office working 20 hours a day, at some point, they’re going to pass the point of diminishing returns and not produce very much, and so I think that was also a little bit a part of my thinking. You were working even harder than I at Time Magazine, but we were putting in those 18-hour days and I wasn’t sure how much I was getting out of them, and I thought if I just do an eight-hour day by myself and then I have 10 hours free, I’ll probably be leading a more productive as well as a richer life, and I’m so glad that the rest of the world has come to that same realization. I was working from home from 1986, but now, more and more people are seeing what a useful thing it is to do.

[00:21:59] William Green: You’ve always had this fascination with monks and the monastic life, and I remember reading at one point that you’ve gone on retreats, I think over 90 times since 1992. Can you talk about this aspect of your life, this urge to go slower to get peace, to get quiet in a world that’s increasingly frenetic and turbulent and tumultuous?

[00:22:24] Pico Iyer: Yes. The analogy I often use, as you probably know, is that when you walk into a museum and you’re faced with a very complicated canvas and you’re two inches away from it, you just can’t begin to see what’s going on and you have to step back and further back, and finally, maybe when you’re about 20 feet away, it clicks into focus and you can see the larger picture in every sense, and you can see what that painting is trying to say to you. And so for me, that painting is an emblem of my life and of the world. If I’m right up in the midst of it, if I’m in Times Square, I really can’t see the proportions. I can’t remember what I care about and what’s essential, and I can’t see what to do with it, and it’s only by stepping away from things that I have a better sense of how to go back to them.

[00:23:04] Pico Iyer: And I think so many of us, like you, to some extent, I’m still a journalist who’s moving around much and much too quickly, and so it’s easy to get caught up in this vicious cycle whereby we’re in such a hurry, we can’t see what a hurry we’re in, and we need to do something to find the courage to cut through that. The minute we step away from the world, even for a weekend, I would say, we come back to it refreshed and reoriented and a much better sense of what we need to do, and it’s interesting. My sense is that so many people during the pandemic that enforced retreat suddenly came to their senses, and suddenly remembered, “This is what I love and this is what I should be doing with my life, and this is how I can cut through both the cacophony and the clutter, and find out exactly what I want to be doing with my life.” Some of us found that during the pandemic, but because I was enjoying this fast-paced life, traveling around a lot in my twenties, realized that I needed to step back now and then. And I think the other principle, which again anybody in business knows is I remember the Tibetans say it’s much better to dig one well that’s 60-foot deep than 10 wells at a six-foot deep each.

[00:24:16] Pico Iyer: My tendency is to race from thing to thing, and that’s all at the level of surface, and I think just stepping back for a minute reminds me give my – goes back to what we were talking about regarding attention, give myself entirely to one thing, and the results are going to be so much richer. In the same way that I’d much rather have a two-hour conversation with you than a series of two-minute conversations with 60 other people, and I’m sure that the results would be incalculably greater, and so it’s got to do, as you said before, really about subtraction, taking things out of your life. I learned that by going on retreat now more than a hundred times, but probably I sensed it even before and that’s why I wanted to go to that place. What always strikes me about those retreats is that I go to a Benedictine Hermitage in Big Sur, California, which is really one of the most radiant and transporting places around, but I’m not a Christian. And the monks there, broad-minded and generous enough to open their doors to everybody in the great Benedictine tradition of hospitality, and to be confident that whoever you are, whether you are Sufi or a Buddhist or Jewish or nothing at all, you’ll find what’s most essential to you. You’ll find the light or the core of your life by just having three days in silence, so there are no rules there, and I don’t really attend any of the services. I just read and write and take walks, but at the end of three days, it feels as if I’ve had three months away from my regular life, and when I drive down to the highway, as I say, I know exactly where I want to go and what I want to spend my time with.

[00:25:50] William Green: You wrote a lovely short book, the Art of Stillness, which I always get a sense you’re slightly embarrassed by the success of the Art of Stillness which came out after you gave a great TED talk about this, I think. And you write in it, “In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still,” and I love that idea that in our distracted age, paying attention and going slow is actually a luxury. It kind of gets at the inner riches that you were talking about, this sense that the time and peace and unplugging actually becomes the ultimate luxury.

[00:26:33] Pico Iyer: Yes, and it’s interesting that we talk so much about the attention economy, which is a way of saying that attention is the most prized quality we have. That’s what Google and Facebook and Netflix are all – they’re all trying to get because they know that is the treasure that we have to give to them, and they know that attention leads to money and time and other things, but the heart of it is how am I going to get the attention of your listeners as we say this? How, as a writer, am I going to win the attention of busy people who rarely have time for books? Attention is the core of almost everything. It must be said that the idea for that book, the book in that case preceded the TED Talk, but the idea did come from TED, and I’m embarrassed not necessarily by the success, but by the shortness of the book.

[00:27:16] Pico Iyer: They asked me to write a book that was the length of a regular feature article because they’re wise about attention spans now, and they realize that to have a hundred people reading a short book is much better than having one person read a deepen and dense one, but I think more than that, they sensed this universal longing. And I think in the course of my writing life, the world has moved from having – when I began writing, I felt there was a longing for information. People wanted to know about Cuba and Tibetan and the other places I was visiting, and I sent reports back from them. And now, I think we’re longing for freedom from information. We have too much information in our lives and not enough time and space to make sense of it, and so what we’re really craving is the chance to step away from this bombardment, the better to see the larger proportions. There were so many statistics, and you probably know more of them than I do, but I’ve heard that anybody listening to this conversation will take in more information today alone than Shakespeare did in his entire lifetime.

[00:28:16] Pico Iyer: Now, does that mean we know more than Shakespeare? I’m not sure. I think it actually might mean the less, and everybody knows that to some extent, the more knowledge you accumulate, the less space there is for wisdom. The more you’re looking at a small screen, the less easier it is to see the larger picture.

[00:28:32] Pico Iyer: I really go on retreat for the most selfish reasons, which is to catch my breath, to clear my mind, and to remember what I care about. And I think without that, I would just get lost in the swell, racing, and I think all of us know the fruits of it from the people that we work with. If somebody comes into your room right now and he’s just been multitasking while driving down the freeway, I don’t think he’s really good for anything. Then maybe three hours later, somebody else comes into your room and she spent the previous 20 minutes just sitting quietly in her office collecting her thoughts. She’ll probably bring such a calm and clarity to your interaction that you feel better and much more gets done, so even in the most craven terms, if you want to get something done in life, take a pause, take a breath, and take a walk. As a writer, it took me a long time to realize, the key part of my writing is taking a walk twice a day. It’s only when I’m away from my notes, in some ways, I can make macro changes. I can see the larger picture. As long as I’m sitting at my desk, cuddled over my notes, I’m hostage to those notes and hostage to my own outline or assumptions or whatever it might be, and I need to get away from all that to break through the envelope and actually see how better to make the whole project. And I think that applies to whatever you’re doing in life, step away from it and you’ll be able to see it better.

[00:29:55] William Green: You’ve been incredibly productive over the years. I think, if I’m remembering correctly, you’ve written about 15 books and up to a hundred or so articles a year, which puts me to shame since I’m incredibly unproductive and slow, takes me a week to sharpen my pencil. And then you’ve given these TED talks that have been listened to by something like 12 million people or 12 million times. Anyway, I’m wondering how you actually structure your day. How do you use your time to figure out, to get the most out of the energy that you have? Because I know that you’re quite sensitive to making the most of your energy at different times of day.

[00:30:31] Pico Iyer: Yeah, I think one advantage – and this maybe goes back to when you were asking what first planted the seed of monasticism in me. One advantage I have is I’m an only child, so I’ve always loved being by myself. I don’t get bored, and I think that’s one reason I left New York City, because I knew I’d be happier by myself in the middle of nowhere than even surrounded by the most stimulating people. It’s also a reason why I left my job because I realized, many of our friends would leave a busy office job to become writers and then find it was very hard to get writing done without an external boss or an external deadline. And I knew that because I’m sort of off on my own planet, as my wife would say, I’d be happy to be my own boss, even if that means I’m never away from my boss. I’m with the boss 24 hours a day and I’m in the office 24 hours a day as a self-employed writer, so I think being an only child helped me make that transition.

[00:31:23] Pico Iyer: Yeah, in terms of my schedule, I’m fanatically obsessive and unchanging in my ways, and my poor wife would roll her eyes if she were asked about my schedule. I wake up very early every morning and I essentially spend my first eight hours at my desk. The first five hours, I’m literally writing, so I don’t even – I still write by hand, so I didn’t even have a computer in the room to distract me and I’m just there. And of course, many days I’m flat, I’m tired, I’m distracted. I can’t get anything done, but I make sure I don’t do anything else. I sit there bored or I lie down, or maybe I will take a walk, but I make sure not to get caught up in any side topic. And then after my first five hours, I’d probably take another walk, and then I sit out on our terrace and I read a book, usually fiction or serious reportage for about an hour. When I come in from the terrace after that hour, I can feel I’m more intimate, more attentive, more nuanced. I’m a better version of myself as a result of spending an hour in conversation with a book.

[00:32:22] Pico Iyer: And only then, for the first time in the day, do I go online and then I take care of all my emails for the day. Thanks in part to the time bit difference between the US and Japan in one go, which will take me maybe an hour and a half. Then it’s two in the afternoon and I’m completely free, so I go to the health club, I play ping pong, I hang out with my wife, we go to the movies, we walk around Japan and have a great time. So again, by no means made for everybody, but I realized even when I was working at Time Magazine that I would be happier making – and more productive, making my own schedule than tether to that of the magazine.

[00:32:56] William Green: If we were to clone certain aspects of what you are doing – well, obviously you have a very idiosyncratic life and professional life. Is there something that you think the more you see other people working, the more you think this is the one thing you should really replicate because it just really works and most people are getting away from it?

[00:33:17] Pico Iyer: I would say it goes back to something you asked a few minutes ago, William, which is just to ask yourself what really stimulates you. What is going to make you happy, productive, and replete and what is not? Each person will have their own answer to that, but as you said some time ago, that’s the key thing. Not taking any formula from anybody else, but taking the time to work out what is the formula for you. And as you mentioned, I worked out at some point or I’m always most alert at 10 in the morning, 11 in the morning. I’m most groggy at three in the afternoon, and shaped my life around it as I’m able to do working from home and self-employed, and other people are most productive at midnight, but I think it’s important to work out as precisely as you can the way an athlete or a musician might. What routine works for you? When is the best time to have your cup of tea? When’s the best time to put some sugar in your system, or take a break, or take a run or whatever it might be?

[00:34:09] William Green: I’m curious, when you go to Silicon Valley, for example, to give talks, when you go visit companies like Google or when you go speak to companies like Amex or IBM or Coca-Cola, because you give a lot of these talks to high flying executives and the like at these very effective, dominant companies, what do they make of what you are talking about in terms of leading this quieter, more still life with technology not running your life, basically?

[00:34:40] Pico Iyer: I think two things. I think their first impulse, “It’s easy for him to say. He’s not in a busy corporation. He doesn’t have colleagues, and he’s prepared to live simply, which is not what most people necessarily want,” but I think the second impulse is that it does touch some intimation or longing in many people where they’ve gone on a hike for three days, or they’ve been sick and laid up at some point, and they’ve come back realizing what they’ve been missing the rest of the time, and realizing they’ve been moving so quickly along the grooves that they’ve already established that they haven’t noticed how another part of them is starving.

[00:35:16] Pico Iyer: Now I sometimes will run into kids, for example, who –  I’m lucky to have grown up in a generation before cell phones were common, and they’ll say to me, “My parents took us on a cruise and we couldn’t get online, and that first day was just the worst day of my life. I just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t access my friends. I couldn’t – I was powerless. It was as if I couldn’t breathe. And the second day was the second worst day of my life. I didn’t know how any human could live without this machine. And that week was the best week of my life.” In other words, once you’ve done cold turkey or through circumstances adjusted to suddenly living in a different way, of course the adjustment takes a while, but then suddenly you realize, “Wait a minute. Actually, there is something here that I was missing out on before,” and I think people are busy people in corporations probably have their equivalent, none – all of them have to use a cell phone all the time for their jobs and rightly so, but it’s interesting that Google, for example, is filled with – I think there are more than a thousand people who actually teach yoga there, quite apart from all the meditation spaces and whatever that they have.

[00:36:20] Pico Iyer: That’s one of the biggest things in Silicon Valley these last few years, and it speaks to the sense that maybe our lives are getting out of balance, and as you said at the outset, I think the external is so much with us and so overwhelming that we forget the internal, even though the internal is the only place where peace and clarity can really come from. It’s the engine, without which nothing really works. Five, 700 years ago, I think the wise, German mystic, Meister Eckhart said, “As long as the inner work is good, the outer will never be puny,” referring to our jobs, our relationships, our lives. Take care of what’s inside you and the rest will take care of itself, but if you’re only taking care of what’s external, you are like somebody whose cars is broken and you keep repainting it. It’s great to keep painting it, but you’re not actually addressing the problem or the place where the real power lies. And once you address that, then really, you don’t have to worry so much about the other things. So my sense – I have found that people in corporations, being practical people, are much more open to suggestions than elsewhere. I wouldn’t talk about this stuff in the academy, and I think people’s ears there are very closed and people, whether it’s Coca-Cola or Fox TV or whoever it is that I’m talking to, I’m really moved and humbled by how eager they are to respond to anything.

[00:37:38] Pico Iyer: I know that part of your podcast, the beauty of it and the beauty of your book is you are really addressing not the issue of how to invest, but how to live and how to live well. And I think most of the investors that you talk to move and impress you because of their life-work balance, and because of their generosity, and because of the way that they move through the world as much as they move through the stock market.

[00:38:01] William Green: Yeah.

[00:38:02] Pico Iyer: And I think corporations are very open to that in a way that poets might not be. Poets are hustling so much to try to make a living, which is very difficult. They can’t afford to look away from the bottom line, but it’s like me in Time Magazine. Because I had a quite a comfortable form of living, I was able to think about what life do I really want to construct? And I think that’s my sense of the corporate world. I like being in touch with it, partly because I think if I visit a corporation to speak about these things, my sense is that almost everybody there has come up with her own solution. She cooks every day or she sails or she plays golf or he goes for a long run, but one way or another, they found intuitively that they need a break from the overpowering demands of their work, and they’ve actually already come to their own equivalents of what I do, which is just as valuable. The only thing I would add to them and to that is that the world keeps accelerating, so perhaps we need even more of those breaks.  You read in my book, there’s a famous story of how Gandhi once woke up and he said, “Today’s really, really busy. I’m not going to be able to meditate for a day.” And his friends and followers were really shocked, “Wait, what’s going on?” He said, “No, it’s a really busy day. I’ve got to meditate for two hours instead of one hour.”

And I remember when I cited that once on a radio program, and a woman called in and I could hear the anger and frustration in her voice. She said, “All very well for you, travel writer sitting off in Japan,” saying that, “I’m a young mother and I got two kids. I’m trying to start a business. How can I do that?” And when I heard her voice, I could hear so much aggression in it that I thought that being with her kids, she wasn’t necessarily giving them the best of her, and if only she could take 30 minutes off and ask a friend or her mother or her husband to look after the kids, she would come back to her family and to her small business with much more to offer, but somehow, she’d got into the cycle of thinking that by being with her obligations 24 hours a day, she was doing greatest justice to them, which perhaps she wasn’t.

[00:39:57] William Green: Yeah, I think in the business world, in the investing world, I just get this sense that so many of us feel overwhelmed that there are just so many things coming at us. And then it’s striking to me that when I look at someone like Ray Dalio, who I guess you see a lot in Vancouver at the TED events, Ray manages to find time to meditate every day. When I saw you in Vancouver recently at the TED Talk, I ran into Ray and I was chatting to him there, and he just looked so present and so calm, and I think that’s really a result of 40 or so years of meditation there. Because he’s taken the time to step back and watch his emotions and be aware of what state he is, I think it’s helped him tremendously as an investor.

[00:40:41] Pico Iyer: Yes, and I would say that also, it’s a result of having that very high-pressure, high-profile job that has moved him to see the necessity of meditation. They go hand in hand, and I think I heard Rupert Murdoch meditates, but certainly in a younger generation, I think almost all the leaders of –  Steve Jobs would take walks in and of course, yeah, he was deeply formed by his time practicing meditation in Japan and India. I once did a little lunch conversation at TED with Evan Williams, who co-founded Twitter. I was really moved because I’ve seldom met anybody who seemed so thoughtful, so deliberate, so centered as he. I think he actually had his whole company meditate for 30 minutes every morning at the beginning of the day as an investment, essentially the most useful investment they could make in order to make their lives both happy and productive, so I wouldn’t be surprised if at the TED Conference where I last saw you, among 1,800 people, mindfulness would certainly be a big item, which is why TED asked me to write a book on stillness but probably the majority of those people were doing something or other to open space in their heads and in their days.

[00:41:50] William Green: I think one thing that’s been very helpful about the way you’ve talked about stillness and mindfulness is that it’s not necessarily just about meditation, which you’ve never really done, but there are other ways of getting into some kind of meditative or contemplative state. It seems like in many ways your whole life is contemplative and meditative, the way that you travel, the way that you write.

[00:42:14] Pico Iyer: Well, that’s being very generous, William. I would say one big advantage I have is that as a writer, my job is to sit at my desk without moving hour after hour and trying to see what lies on the far side of my projections and my chatter. And so my wife would say, “Oh yeah, Pico never meditates, but what he does is sit still at his desk for hours each day.” But yeah, and I think the other part of it is that there’s no religious component, and I think maybe one reason that TED asked me to write that book on stillness was precisely the fact that I don’t have a religious background or orientation. I’ve never meditated in my life and I know that meditation, as a form of discipline, can seem scary or imposing or uncomfortable to people, but just the equivalent, whatever it might be, which is often taking a round or taking a walk or spending 20 minutes at the beginning of every day just without your devices, thinking about the day to come makes a world of difference.

[00:43:06] Pico Iyer: I remember once I was traveling with the Dalai Lama and his younger brother, who is quite an exalted Rinpoche lama also was – I was having dinner with him and Dalai Lama’s brother said, “Look, every day you take a shower for 10 minutes. You can use that shower just for [Inaudible] thinking about what happened to the Knicks last night or whether Taylor Swift’s about to bring out a new record or not, or you can think about what you’re going to do in that day or what you really care about or whatever, but they are 10 blank minutes in a day and you can use them for good or you can just frit them away, but it’s up to you. So it’s the opposite of formal meditation, but it’s a tiny example of a way in which we can really set the tone for everything that follows.

[00:43:48] William Green: I feel like when I read your travel writing and obviously in many ways, you’re best known as a travel writer, I guess there’s a sense in which you’re talking about how to be awake, how to – which it’s very much at the heart of Buddhist meditation, right? It’s to look more carefully to be awake in this moment, and I remember when you talked about Peter Matthiessen’s great book, The Snow Leopard, which you wrote a wonderful introduction to, that I read recently, you talk about how he’s in a way teaching us to be observant. Can you talk about that sense of travel as a way to be awake, to open your eyes? You said once, “As soon as I’m on the road, my eyes are open and with them my heart.”

[00:44:31] Pico Iyer: Yes. Well, I feel in the normal course of life, I’m sleepwalking through life, and as you can tell, when I describe my routine, I wake up and I pretty much know or hope and think I know how the day is going to be, which I need to be productive, which is keeping me blinded and screened from the world in all kinds of ways. And the sad truth is that if I’m visiting my mother in California and I walk down the street when I’m in my regular life, and a homeless person extends his hand towards me, I’ll hurry past because I have somewhere I have to be at three o’clock and I can’t dilly-dally As soon as I’m on the streets of Haiti or India, so to speak, on holiday, traveling, I have no commitments. It’s a feeling. I have no schedule and I walk along that road and somebody comes up to me with a hand extended, now, I’ll try to attend to that person. I’ll try to engage with him in conversation. I’ll actually stop to think,  “What can I do? What’s going on in his life? This is an interaction that maybe I shouldn’t just sleep past.” So I do love the fact that, as you perfectly put it, travel instantly puts the setting on all my senses to on, and really to function in the regular world the rest of the time, they often have to be off or on mute, but suddenly, I’m wide open to the world and therefore, getting much more out of the world and I hope a more attentive person than I would be otherwise. I was just thinking,  just to go back to something I forgot to say a minute ago before we get onto travel, in terms of how one spends one’s day and how one invests one’s time, which is the perfect verb, I remember some years ago, I went for my yearly check-up with my doctor and he looked at my blood test results and he said, “You seem fine in most ways, but you’re not getting any younger, so you have to do 30 minutes of intense cardiovascular activity every day.”

[00:46:17] Pico Iyer: The minute he said that, of course, I signed up at the local health club and really, pretty much every day I can remember since, I’ve put in my 30 minutes of exercise. And later I was back here in Japan, I was talking to a very wise, calm friend and he said, “Look, you spend all your time answering emails and traveling around and doing your job. Have you never thought of just sitting quietly for 20 minutes every day in your room without your devices?” And I said, “No way. I can’t. I don’t have time.” And later I realized what a silly and shortsighted answer that was because it was really like my saying, “I don’t have time to take my medicine. I don’t have time to see the doctor and I don’t have time to be happy.” And if I can make the time, 30 minutes or really, it’s an hour in all to go to the health club every day, surely, I can make enough time for the emotional health club or the mental health club, which is much more essential. Because if my body is strong but my mind is weak, I’m really in trouble.

[00:47:14] Pico Iyer: If my body is weak and my mind is strong, that’s still not ideal, but at least the most important part there is it’s functioning. So I suddenly realized, like many of us perhaps, I got myself into this silly double standard, where I was paying attention to what I put in my stomach and not in what I put into my soul and I was making sure that my body parts were working well and not really thinking about my emotional and inner parts, and it speaks to the externalism that we were speaking about. It’s so easy to turn to the externals, which we need to do, but in the process to forget what really is essential. So I’m basically just saying the same thing about repainting the car instead of fixing the engine, but I think in a practical everyday sense, most of us can and probably do remake our habits accordingly to make sure we’re not missing out on the most important stuff.

[00:48:03] William Green: Some of what you were just saying gets to this whole question of how to design a life that suits ourselves. And I thought about this a lot after I guess it was 2008, 2009, and I’d been [Inaudible] by Time and then I went to work at another company for a while and I hated it. And I was working with my friend Guy Spier on his autobiography, his memoir. He’s a hedge fund manager and I was helping him write that, and part of what he had done was he had moved to Zurich, having been caught up in this kind of vortex of selling and greed and all of that, in competition in the hedge fund world in New York, and he really rebooted his entire life by moving to a slightly bland but very pleasant suburb of Zurich. And this really got me thinking a lot about how to design a life, and then when I moved from London back to New York, I really thought very carefully about, “Well, so I’m going to live in a more modest home than I lived in in London, but I’m not going to be surrounded by people with their Maseratis and their Ferraris and stuff. Because I was living in Belgravia in London on Time Magazine’s, dime, and once that was no longer available to me, I really had to think about how to structure a life. And it feels to me like part of the thing that got you to think about how to structure your own life was this seminal event that happened back I guess in about 1990, right? Where there was a fire, your family home in Santa Barbara that burned your house to the ground, and I wanted to talk about that in some depth because I think it gets in a lot of these issues that we want to discuss about how to construct a life that’s truly valuable, it’s truly abundant. But if you could start by just telling us what actually happened and how this became a really defining, formative event in the way you view your life.

[00:49:47] Pico Iyer: Well, again and again, William, you’ve asked exactly the question that’s been coming up in my mind. It’s as if we’re absolutely working in sync or telepathically. And just before I address that, two things: designing a life is such a beautiful phrase and it reminds me, we put so much attention into how we’ll furnish a house and how we’ll make a house, which is we need to do, but even more essential is how will we furnish and make our lives. And when Guy Spier hosted you on his first podcast, it was one of the most lovely, humane conversations I’ve ever had. I learned so much about investing from it.

[00:50:19] William Green: Thank you.

[00:50:20] Pico Iyer: I learned even more about friendship and generosity, so to anyone who’s listening who hasn’t heard you be a guest on his podcast –

[00:50:28] William Green: Ah, well, it’s kind of you to listen because I know how little interest you must have in the world of investing, so I take that as a great honor that you listened. Thank you.

[00:50:37] Pico Iyer: I don’t have a huge interest in the world of investment, but I have a huge interest in the world of investors because they’re wise people.

[00:50:42] William Green: Yeah.

[00:50:43] Pico Iyer: They figured out how to live not just in a monetary sense, but they’ve got to where they are not by chance and not by foolishness, and I think they have a lot to offer, and that’s what your book is about, so yeah. In terms of the fire, I was sitting in my family house in the hills of California, and I saw this distant knife of orange cutting through a hillside, so I went downstairs to call the fire department. And then when I came upstairs again, five minutes later, literally our house was encircled by 70-foot flames, five stories high on all sides. So I grabbed my mother’s cat, jumped into a car to try to escape, and then I was stuck on the mountain road for three hours underneath our house, saved only by a good Samaritan who had driven up with a water truck to be of assistance, and then found himself stuck and saved us all by pointing with a little hose of water at every roar of fire that approached us. It was the worst fire in California history at the time, and it’s broken out just up the road from us. So of course, it was a shock. We lost every last thing in the world. In my case, all my handwritten notes for my next eight years of writing, probably my next three books. In my parents’ case, all the photos and mementos, our keepsakes from 60 years.

[00:51:54] Pico Iyer: But the interesting thing, looking back on it, was that months later, after adjusting to circumstances, when the insurance company came along and said, “Well, we have some money and you can replace your goods,” of course, that really did make me understand I didn’t need 90% of the books and clothes and furniture I’d accumulated. I could live much more lightly, which is really the way I’d always wanted to live. I called up my editor in New York – or in London actually at the time, and I said, “All those books I was promising you, I can’t offer them to you because all my notes have gone,” and because he’s a kind man, he commiserated for a while, but because he’s a wise man, he said, “Actually, not having notes may liberate you to writing much more deeply from your heart and from your memory, from imagination.” And then lacking a physical home in California, I suddenly began to think, “Well, maybe I should spend more time in the place that really feels like my true home,” which is Japan, and now I’m pretty much here all the time. And so in so many ways, that seeming catastrophe opened doors and windows that might otherwise have been closed for a long time, perhaps forever.

[00:52:59] Pico Iyer: And I was thinking about it a lot during the pandemic because the pandemic was closing so many doors and so many lives, but at the same time, it was opening little windows of possibility, at least for me, that otherwise I might never have glimpsed, and moving me to live in better ways than I had been beforehand. I suppose the one other interesting thing about the fire, especially given our connection, is that as soon as – I stuck there for three hours and smoke was so intense that no fire firetruck could come up and make contact with me, and I could hear helicopters above, but they couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see them. Finally, after three hours, a fire truck came up and told me it was safe to drive down. So I drove down through what looked like what I associated with scenes from the Vietnam War: houses exploding all over the place, cars smoldering, fires on every side of me. I went downtown and I bought a toothbrush, which was the only thing I had in the world at that point.

[00:53:53] Pico Iyer: And then I went to sleep on a friend’s floor, but before I went to sleep, because my job then was partly working for Time Magazine, I asked my friend if I could use his computer, and I filed a report. So three hours after escaping the fire, I filed a report on this major news event for which I had a front seat view. And I ended my little piece with a poem that I picked up in Japan, because I had begun spending time there, from the 17th century haiku, which just said, “My house burnt down. I can now see better the rising moon.” So the very night when I lost everything in the world, something in me, probably wiser than I am, realized not everything was lost. Certain things would be gained, and actually, the main thing I would gain was a sense of priorities. So, literally that night, I thought about that poem, “I lost everything. I can now really see what’s important.”

[00:54:46] William Green: Yeah, I read that article yesterday. It was beautiful and still incredibly vivid, and it was striking to me that I think in probably all six of the books of yours that I’ve read in recent weeks, you mentioned the fire. You come back to it again and again. It’s such a profound formative episode for you. One thing you wrote in Autumn Light, you said, “As I climbed all the way up to our house the day after everything in our lives was reduced to rubble, I saw that everything that could be replaced – furniture, clothes, books – was by definition worthless. The only things that mattered were the things that were gone forever, and I think that’s such an interesting question, this whole issue of what you discover has value after it’s gone. And this is something we talked about in Vancouver where you led a fascinating session where you asked people various questions. One of which was ””If you had, I think, 10 minutes to save anything from your home, what would you save?” And I wonder if you could talk a bit more about that sense of what has value and what doesn’t. What does have value? When you had a very near escape a few years later after you rebuilt the house, what did you take out, for example?

[00:56:03] Pico Iyer: The only way I live differently since the fire than before, this is a bit embarrassing, I keep all my notes in a safety deposit box in the bank because they’re still handwritten and they seem to me the one indispensable thing, not because I make my living by being a writer, but more because I feel that’s my life. My life is contained in this otherwise illegible scrolls. Other people, I think my mother might have kept her photographs as well as her jewelry in the bank, which makes absolute sense to me. So again, I don’t think there’s a right answer, but I think it’s a really useful question to ask, which is why I shared it with that little circle at TED, and just again, that sense that we know things intuitively, but unless we actually stop to ask ourselves that, we get caught up in the rush and then life catches us by surprise.

[00:56:49] Pico Iyer: Because it always will. You’ve read my books more closely than anyone I can imagine, and I’m so touched because that’s the ultimate compliment and act of generosity. And you’re the first person who’s noticed that they all keep on coming back to that fire, which is partly a metaphor for a world on fire, where a lot of our certainties are being burnt up, but also a way of saying that whoever you are, you’re going to face some of these challenges in life. It could be a typhoon or a flood or an earthquake, or it could just be a car coming at high speed towards you, the wrong side of the road or a bad diagnosis, but one way or another, and maybe this is my age speaking a little, I think it’s a useful exercise to think if suddenly I only had a little time, what would I want to do with it? Or if suddenly my life were upended, what is it that I would cherish? I can’t really answer your question so much as applaud it and say maybe I feel that’s the question we should all be asking ourselves.

[00:57:45] William Green: I thought it was fascinating, this question of this just being a part of life. You quoted in one of your books the Buddhist saying that life is a burning house. Then elsewhere, I think you quoted another hero of yours, Thomas Merton, another hermit saying everything must burn. Then you mentioned I think in Autumn Light that the imperial compound in the gorgeous City of Kyoto near you has had to be rebuilt 14 times, so it’s not this sense that the world is vulnerable and permanent. This is not a glitch that just you happen to get hit by this. This is a feature of our world.

[00:58:21] Pico Iyer: Beautiful. Exactly, and all the way through the pandemic, I was going back and forth every few weeks between Japan and California, and I think what I was noticing as much as anything was the difference between a very old and seasoned culture that’s been around 1,400 years, and a rather young one that’s in some ways rooted in the future tense and possibility and what’s going to happen, but doesn’t have a deep past. Because just as you said, reality is not an aberration or an insult or an exception, and so everything in Japan throughout the pandemic was continuing exactly as normal. Kids were going to school, people going to the office, trains and elevators were as crowded as they always have been. The government announced a state of emergency and yet, everything was at normal, as if to say life as it always is is a state of emergency.

[00:59:10] Pico Iyer: To this day, probably 70% of the people around me in Japan are masked, so they’re certainly taking all the precautions, but they weren’t shocked by real life and they weren’t thinking, “Whoa, what’s happened? The beautiful lives we planned are suddenly being upended .” Because they’re used to wars and earthquakes and as you said, fire and plague through many centuries now. When I went back to California, there was a real sense of shock. “What’s happened? This isn’t what we expected,” and a lot of panic and a lot of rage. Flying from Osaka airport to Los Angeles, and only nine hours in air, but it was leaving a place of almost absolute calm to a place of absolute terror and despair and panic. And it really hit me that how we work with reality, that’s going to determine how we live our lives, and that reality can’t be taken as a shock or as an aberration. I will also say parenthetically, it’s embarrassing how well my work – because my book, I’m just sending to the publishers now more or less completed, is entirely about my hundred retreats with the monks and fire, which is always encircling their monastery too.

[01:00:16] Pico Iyer: The haunting thing about fire and Thomas Merton, whom you mentioned, he has this wonderful passage called Fire Watch at the end of his book, The Sign of Jonas, in which his duty one evening in the monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky is to walk around in the dark while the monks are sleeping to make sure there’s no fire because it’s a wooden building and it’s very susceptible to fire. So he’s going from room to room to room with his flashlight in the absolute dark on the eve of Independence Day, July the fourth, through the room where all the band books are kept, some of which he’s probably written, certainly he’s read through the furnace room, through all the places, and his one obligation is to protect his brothers by ensuring there are no embers and sparks. But at the same time, at an inner level, he knows his one obligation is to keep the fires alive inside himself. His job as a monk is only to be a flame, as it were, to be burning with devotion and obedience and surrender, so it’s this fascinating thing whereby you’re trying to deal with the impermanence in the world, but perhaps the only thing you have to bring into it is the fire within you, which is something that the Buddha too surely understood, but that’s a long digression, but your questions are so rich that giving me lots of entry points.

[01:01:28] William Green: Well, it’s funny. This whole issue of impermanence, it seems like this kind of esoteric and in some way kind of dark issue, but actually it’s absolutely central even in the world of investing. I wrote a chapter called Everything Changes in my book that begins with a quote from the author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki, who talks about exactly this, the sense of you better get used to the fact that everything changes because it’s the – he said that everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. Then he said, “If we cannot accept this teaching that everything changes, we cannot be in composure,” and so this is something that this famous multi-billionaire investor, Howard Marks took really seriously. Because he starts studying Zen Buddhism and he says, “Well, wait a second, if everything is impermanent, I have to accept the fact that things are going to change and I have to accommodate myself to a changing reality. I can’t just fool myself into thinking that I can predict the future and control it,” and so one of the things Howard said to me is, “If I can’t predict the future, I’m going to just try to prepare for an uncertain future,” and so it’s curious to me that this very profound philosophical idea at the heart of Buddhism actually, it radiates into every area of our life. Because as an investor, for example, one of the things you do is you say, “Well, okay, so the conditions are icy at the moment. I better drive carefully. I have to accommodate myself to reality as it is. If everyone is taking too much risk and they’re all being reckless, I better look at reality as it is and adjust to that reality.” And so I think this idea of impermanence actually just affects everything we do, the way we live in every area of our lives.

[01:03:12] Pico Iyer: Absolutely. I think in your book or somewhere, Sir John Templeton talks about long-term thinking too. Not being swayed by the winds of fashion and change if you’re an investor because the only way to come out ahead is to realize that everything’s going to pass, and as you say, I think that’s so true to every great tradition. I’m not a Zen student unlike Howard Marks, but the image of the Buddha often is sitting absolutely calm in the midst of flames, and I’ve heard that Pope Francis is exactly the same thing really. When he prays, he doesn’t pray for an answer to life’s many questions and problems. He prays for the strength and confidence to live in a world without answers. He prays for the ability to be strong even though there are no answers coming from the heavens, and I think what you wonderfully – whenever I have a friend who’s suffering, who’s sick, or who’s depressed or worried or scared, the one medicine I will share with that friend is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind because it’s just full of that bottomless wisdom delivered with absolute clarity. It runs like a sort of mountain stream, and I think it’s because that we hear sometimes in Japan this phrase that life is about joyful participation in a world of sorrows. So it’s a very Buddhist idea, the notion that suffering is always going to be there. Sickness, old age, and death are part of every life but none of that precludes wonder, hope, and joy. I must say, I’ll embarrass you here, William, because we’ve only met twice briefly, but we worked together for a little while when you were my editor at Time. And 20 years on, I still remember, I wrote a little book review. I sent it off from here in Japan, or I think London, where you were.

[01:04:50] Pico Iyer: And you made a suggestion, “Would you like to add to this piece a sentence from Milton? The mind is a place in itself can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell,” and it’s such a deep and beautiful sentence, and not only did I put it in that piece, it’s really remained with me ever since as kind of a guide for life. And it’s the same thing you get – I remember as a kid, I had to read Hamlet and you read “There’s nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” and just the sense that happiness is not dependent on the circumstance. In other words, I’ve heard monks say that the definition of joy is a feeling of repletion and confidence that has nothing to do with your circumstances. You may be dying of cancer, your house may have been burnt down, Putin may be attacking Ukraine, but you still have the sense that ultimately, there’s meaning and beauty in the world, and that’s not the  happiness that comes from a sudden high or a moment of beauty. It’s something that can endure through the flames, and you probably know. I remember a few years ago, I read this wonderful book by Matthieu Ricard, another Buddhist. At the outset, he cites how researchers have found that if somebody suddenly wins the lottery, when you go back to him a year later, his life is actually no better than before because he is moved into a neighborhood where he is not comfortable. He doesn’t know who his friends are. He’s spending all his times with lawyers. He’s really beset by all these obligations, and suddenly, if somebody is suddenly rendered paraplegic in a car accident and you go and see her a year later, she’s actually no more depressed than she ever was.

[01:06:24] Pico Iyer: And in some cases,  realizing her potential and surrounded by friends and doing things she might never have done otherwise, and it goes to what we’ve been saying about this external ledger by which the world sometimes measures these things, and the inner account book by which we feel that there’s a different set of values, and we come to see how basically our peace of mind or our happiness or joy may not be related to the circumstances of our lives. Again, I think East Asia is particularly wise about this, and I think it might have been Confucius or one of those wise Chinese people who said something like, “If you’re really happy right now, don’t get overexcited because it’s not going to last, and if you’re really stressed, don’t get too down because that’s not going to last either.” Again, soon after the pandemic broke out, my Buddhist friends would send me a message just saying, “This too shall pass,” which is a Christian message and universal message, but the right thing to hear – and my Catholic friend from the monastery also, when the pandemic broke out, sent a message saying, “Remember, the best cure for anxiety is taking care of others,” which is such a simple thing, but so easy to forget when we’re scared and lost and don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next many tomorrows, and just remembering that if you have somebody to look after, suddenly you’re not caught up in that beehive of worries in your head. When I was fleeing the house that was on fire and stuck inside the flames for three hours, in retrospect, I think the thing that really helped me was I was trying to save my mother’s cat.

[01:07:51] Pico Iyer: So all my concentration was making sure this cat doesn’t stop breathing because if she did, my life would not be worth living. Even if I escaped the fire, my mother would be so distraught, but by concentrating on this little cat who was gasping for breath in my lab, I wasn’t sitting there thinking as otherwise I would’ve been done, “Wow, am I ever going to get out of this?” Or “That flame came within two feet,” and so just as a very practical thing, as well as perhaps a moral thing, I was so glad to hear that from – and I say all this because I know when I listen to you and Guy talk, you were talking really about this kind of stuff more than the stock market, and I think that’s at the heart of your work, but I think the investors you chose to spotlight are people who are thinking about these essential things like Howard Marks.

[01:08:36] William Green: Yeah. They’re very soulful and they’re trying to figure out what actually constitutes a happy and successful and abundant life. I think at a certain point, once they’ve made enough money and bought the house or the plane or whatever it is, they’re like, Well, that didn’t do it.” And so part of what the epilogue of my book is about is really just this sense that if you are not optimizing in some way for peace of mind, then you’re in deep trouble. And so part of any rich life has to include equanimity, and so I think that idea that you mentioned from Milton, from Paradise Lost, of the mind can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven, or whichever way around it is, I always get it the wrong way around.

[01:09:13] Pico Iyer: I always get wrong too.

[01:09:15] William Green: I always do, but I’m fascinated that it runs through Shakespeare, it runs through Epictetus and the Stoics. It runs through Blake who talked about mind-forg’d manacles; William James, who I know you’re a great fan of too, who is one of the great philosophers and pioneering figure of psychology who talked about choosing one sort over another. It just seems to me when you see a great truth like this running through multiple paths, you just know it’s wildly important to start thinking about, “Well, how am I going to make this a priority, this sense of inner peace?”

[01:09:49] Pico Iyer: Yes, and I think it’s the core of Buddhism too. It’s exactly what the Dalai Lama is saying. What I like about that again, is as you said, because it’s universal, it’s not tethered to any single religion or ideology, and all those religions often add us up into us versus them, but this is something that, as you say, to 3000 years, almost anybody who’s got to think about it has come up with the same conclusion. I spent a lot of time still reading Marcus Aurelius,  the Roman Emperor who was there on the battlefield for however many years, and this is exactly what he was saying too. I think he might have learned it from Epictetus, but exactly the same thing from every direction that we’re getting.

[01:10:26] William Green: You’ve spent a lot of time with the Dalai Lama over the years, and I think you’ve known him since you were 17 because of your late father, and also spent five years writing a terrific book about him, the Open Road, which I’ve been rereading over the last few days, and he obviously is an extraordinary guide to how to deal with the fact that things are always changing, that we get older, that we suffer, that there’s death, that we can’t predict the future, and. Obviously, he’s had enormous suffering in his own life. You point out I think in that book that he was exiled from his homeland in 1959 when he was about 23 I think, and had no time to say goodbye to his friends, many of whom ended up being killed, and I didn’t realize that until you had mentioned it in one of your books, I think more than a million Tibetans died of starvation or in direct encounters with the Chinese and something like one in 10 were jailed, and I think you said that all but 13 out of 6,000 monasteries were destroyed. So he’s been through unimaginable adversity, and I wondered if you could talk a bit about what you’ve learned from him about how to deal with adversity, how to deal with the fact that there are just these catastrophic things that sometimes happen in people’s lives.

[01:11:36] Pico Iyer: Yeah, I think I would describe the Dalai Lama – if somebody asked me who is he, I would say he’s a doctor of the mind, so like any doctor, he’s not infallible and he’s certainly not immortal, but like any doctor, he’s trying to offer prescriptions that have nothing to do with your religion or race or any of the rest but just this may make you feel better. And as a doctor of the mind, I think he is aware of just what you were saying a minute ago from Epictetus and all the rest, of the powers of the mind, and I was most moved, I think, when I was writing that book to find that when he came into exile in ‘59, at the age of 23, the first thing he said is he turned to his little brother when he set foot in India was, “Now we are free.” Meaning not just now we are free of the Chinese who are trying to intercept us, but now we are free kind of to make a new Tibet, and he reformed the whole of Tibet in exile in a way he probably never could have done if he was stuck in the palace in Lasa, surrounded by centuries of tradition. He brought democracy to his people for the first time ever, he’s brought new opportunities to women in the Tibetan community who can practice debating and become abbots as they couldn’t before. He’s brought Western science to his monks’ curriculum. Every Tibetan monk in India has to learn the facts of life as they’ve been proved by Western science, which Tibet hadn’t learned so much about before.

[01:12:55] Pico Iyer: And so just that notion that at that moment of seeming loss as we see it, when he’s lost his homeland, he’s lost contact with the people he was meant to rule, he’s lost his destiny as we think of it, he sees it as opportunity. Instantly he sees, “Actually, I’ve gained that,” and he often will say, “By losing my homeland, I gained the whole world as a home,” which can sound like an easy thing to say except he’s so visibly living it because I think what he’s most famous for rightly is his constant smile and his infectious laugh and his robust sense of confidence. And again, because it’s a universal mind, I remember during the pandemic, he was saying, “All the world is suffering so much. Let’s try not to compound the suffering with our minds, with anxiety or stress or rage.” And of course, not all of that is in our control, but I think he was reminding us it might be a little bit more in our control than we imagine, and that we’re all stuck with this terrible predicament of a world in the dark and we don’t know how long we’re going to be released from it during the COVID epidemic, but let’s look for the things that are going to make us stronger rather than the ones that are going to make us feel hopeless as I was saying before.  Again, if somebody asked me, what do you think is the most valuable contribution of the Dalai Lama, there are three things that quickly come to my mind. The first is I would say he’s a master realist. Again, people forget, he’s been leader of his people for 84 years now, since the age of four. He has no interest in wishy-washy solutions, romantic notions of what the world could be.  His whole world has been prosecuted in the [Inaudible] power, the European Parliament in complicated chess game with China in his visits to the White House.

[01:14:42] Pico Iyer: And I think what’s most valuable to us about his experience is not that he’s a monk on top of a mountain sharing wisdom or cultivating wisdom, but he’s a monk in the middle of Times Square with the streets of Jerusalem and Calcutta offering what he can. The second thing that I think is very impressive about him is that as a great religious leader, he says, “There’s no need to have religion.” Religion’s a lovely luxury that adds savor and flavor to life like wine or milk, but the real water we can’t live without is just everyday kindness and responsibility, and that has nothing to do with what you believe or don’t believe, and I’m very touched. He’s committed to science because it’s outside the boundaries of religion, because it’s empirical and therefore universal. The laws of gravity apply to everybody, but also, I’m so touched that he will respond to an invitation from a group of Christians in England and go and deliver a series of lectures on the gospels, and the tears will come to his eyes as he speaks about Jesus, so here’s a religious leader telling us we don’t have to be religious. Here is the most prominent Buddhist in the world, who, when he comes to the US or Britain or Europe, tells people not to become Buddhists, to stay within their own traditions where there’s less danger of misunderstanding, and here’s a Tibetan who really tries hard never to say anything against the Chinese and who realizes that you can support Tibet entirely without thinking of the Chinese as your enemy. Because we’re in an interconnected world, and the health of any individual depends on the health of every other, but it’s a web that we’re inhabiting rather than a world of boundaries, and I always remember if I – and this is a long answer, but I remember the day I saw him the day after he won the Nobel Prize, and he was in Newport Beach typically at a meeting with scientists.

[01:16:25] Pico Iyer: And I thought, well, I will use the fact that I work for Time Magazine to barge in on him on the busiest day of his life. So I went down the day after the prize was announced to talk to him, and the things that shocked me as soon as I arrived that he was just staying at a nice family house in Orange County, California.

[01:16:41] Pico Iyer: Soon as I arrived, he grabbed me by the hand and he led me to a little room, and he started saying, “Would you like to sit here or would this chair be more comfortable for you? Would this be better for you, putting down your tape recorder?” Really as if I was the [Inaudible] and he was the intrusive analyst.

[01:16:56] Pico Iyer: And then we sat down and he said oh, I won all this money. What should I do with it? And I really sensed he was going to genuinely ask everybody he met, even a clueless 30-year-old journalist, what he could do with it. The third thing that struck me was that all, everyone who cared about Tibet and all the Tibetan people were rejoicing.

[01:17:14] Pico Iyer: Our problems are behind us now that our leader has been awarded Nobel Prize, NA, Dalai Lama being a realist, and this goes back to what you were saying about Howard Marks and permanence. He said, I really wonder if I’ve done enough, but all I can do is try hard day after day to do my best, and slowly, maybe after many years, there will be a change and nothing is permanent.

[01:17:35] Pico Iyer: Sometime in history, Tibet almost controlled China. Sometime in history, China has almost wiped out. Tibet. Everything is constantly going to change. This isn’t a great victory, but I just have to keep doing my best, and then at the end of our conversation, he grabbed me by the hand, because he always holds people as when he is with them, whoever they are, whether it’s Richard Gere or Goldie Hawn.

[01:17:58] Pico Iyer: And led me to the front door just as we were getting this, oh, I’ve forgotten something, and he went back and he turned off the light and he said, it’s such a simple thing. It’s got nothing to do with religion or morality or whatever, but if more and more people remember this, more and more often, that’s how we save our planet.

[01:18:12] Pico Iyer: And this was 33 years ago before people were thinking as much about the environment as they are now, but it’s striking because like you,  I hear so many wise sentiments about morality and the like from so many people and I scribbled them down and I quickly forget them, but that one practical gesture of turning off the light is here.

[01:18:31] Pico Iyer: It’s with me 33 years on and I pretty much, many times a day I turn off the light. Because I remember that, and I think that’s great.

[01:18:37] William Green: And I did it this morning because I had read your book where you wrote about that, and I was just thinking, ah, don’t be lazy, and that sense of pragmatism, I think runs through a lot of the teachings of his that, that you described in your books.

[01:18:49] William Green: I loved this story. I think it was in Autumn Light, where you talked about all of these very rich donors rolling up in their fancy suits and their expensive sock dresses, and they show him this wonderful, elaborate architecture model of this beautiful Buddhist center with treasure rooms and meditation halls that they’re going to build.

[01:19:08] William Green: And he, I, the way you described it, I think he, he slaps the thigh of this monk who’s sitting both beside him and he says, no, no need. This is your treasure, and I thought that was really beautiful. There’s a sense of humanity to him and a sense of pragmatism where it’s like, don’t spend all the money.

[01:19:24] William Green: He’s like, just be kinder to people. Do, help people, and you said also, I think there was another lovely story in, in one of the books where he said these very rich people would come to him and ask for a blessing and he’d say, you are the only one who can give yourself a blessing.

[01:19:38] William Green: You have money, freedom, opportunity to do some good for someone else. Why? Ask me for what’s in your hands?

[01:19:46] Pico Iyer: Yes, and then I think he said, start a school. We’ll give money to a hospital. Do something very concrete that’s going to help you and everybody else much more, so I really feel unlike monks in every tradition, he’s pretty much given his whole life to the subject of your podcast.

[01:20:00] Pico Iyer: What is richness? What is wisdom, and what is happiness? And again, the other thing that I’ve sometimes witnessed is when he’ll show up in Los Angeles, traditionally, he’d be surrounded by, billionaires and movie stars and movers and shakers, and people would often say, it must be so hard to live amidst the poverty of India.

[01:20:17] Pico Iyer: He’d look across this room where many people are on their fifth marriages and going to see a therapist every day in their pain, and he’d say, well, there’s poverty, and there’s poverty, and of course the material poverty of India is really serious and one wants to do everything one can to help it.

[01:20:31] Pico Iyer: That’s what he did. In fact, partly with his Nobel Prize money, but there’s an inner poverty that is just as debilitating, and you guys have, in the terms of the world, done everything that could be expected and much more, and you’re still suffering terribly, so that’s the poverty that you really need to address.

[01:20:48] William Green: I think there was another message that came through very powerfully from your books about the fact that if we live in this extremely uncertain world where anything can happen, basically, one of the things you point out is there’s an urgency that comes from that. If nothing lasts forever, you’ve got to relish the moment in the knowledge that it may not come again.

[01:21:10] William Green: Can you talk about that? Because that seems to me a, just a hugely important if obvious insight. Like, like most great insights there, they are obvious but you’ve got to internalize them somehow.

[01:21:23] Pico Iyer: Yeah, and I think, that’s the main thing I’ve got from the pandemic. I realized I’m living with much more decisiveness and clarity, because I know time isn’t infinite and I always knew it.

[01:21:33] Pico Iyer: As you say we’ve been held, told it a thousand times and we grew up studying it at school and being reminded of it by the tolling bells in Kyoto, but I think it really came home to us during the pandemic and I was living with my 88-year-old mother and it was a great blessing. I could spend a lot of time with her.

[01:21:47] Pico Iyer: She died in the course of the pandemic unrelated to Covid, which was just another reminder that as you say, I think the central line in my most recent book is the fact nothing lasts as the reason that everything matters because we can’t take anything for granted. Let’s make the most of this moment as just as you said so perfectly, William.

[01:22:06] Pico Iyer: I don’t know what’s going. This afternoon, all I know is I’ve got this chance to talk to you and I never have that chance otherwise, let me make the most of it and bring all of myself to it, and I think,  to go back to the Dalai Lama and so much that we’ve been talking about and really where we began the conversation, none of this means ignoring the material stuff of the world.

[01:22:26] Pico Iyer: I think unless you’ve got that in place, it’s very hard to have the luxury of thinking about other things. Nobody is counseling poverty where if you are in a desperate state, you can’t think of anything other than relieving your immediate circumstances. I have a friend who’s a very serious Zen practitioner for many years, and a very actually accomplished and successful guy these days because of his writing.

[01:22:48] Pico Iyer: And he told me that at one point in his life when he was young, he decided to live on $8,000 a year. Very as simply as you could and beyond all that, and I think he probably managed that until somebody, maybe a wise Buddhist teacher told him living, trying to live on $8,000 a year is as crazy as trying to live off, trying to make 8 billion a year.

[01:23:09] Pico Iyer: The Buddha himself and Thomas Merton, everybody has seen. The silliness of extremes and twisting your life into a bonsai in order to live with almost nothing is as crazy as turning yourself into a madman to try to get everything. It’s a matter of balance, and I think that’s why, as you said, I mean really when I, we began by talking about my leaving Time magazine, but as I said earlier on, I couldn’t have left it if I hadn’t got there.

[01:23:34] Pico Iyer: And I couldn’t have seen through what, as you said about investors, they have to earn millions for them to realize, oh, actually maybe that’s not enough. I had to exhaust my boyhood ambitions to realize their insufficient ambitions as a young ambitions, and actually it’s something more that I need to fulfill me entirely, which is why if this podcast were called just wisdom and happiness, I’d be a bit skeptical about it because I would think, well, that’s wonderful stuff up in the air and abstract.

[01:24:02] Pico Iyer: But most of us are living in the world and so the fact that we begin with the richness part is what gives legitimacy, I think, to the other two parts because all of us in our lives have to take care of those fundamentals. Yeah. As you said, probably an hour ago before, as a way of addressing the other things.

[01:24:20] William Green: Another thing you pointed out as one of the great lessons of all of this uncertainty is about the futility of worry, and there was an astonishing passage in one of your books where you were talking about fretting and then you said the weather changes and the next morning the house is burned down and all those worries are wiped out along with it.

[01:24:39] William Green: And I literally, I mark up my books very heavily. I write all over them, which makes it easy for me when I go back to reread them. I can see the bits that mattered most to me, and in that I literally just wrote a swear word next to it, beginning with f that icon mentioned, because our senses would delete it.

[01:24:56] William Green: Because it’s such a I mean it’s such a slap around the head, but it’s a really important reminder of either, either you are going to spend your whole time worrying or  because anything can happen or you are going to let go in some way and just say, I, I need, in a sense, radical non-resistance.  I can’t, I got to look at the reality which is that everything is changing all of the time and nothing is permanent.

[01:25:20] William Green: And so I might as well try at least not to clinging to everything that’s going to be impermanent and not to worry about what’s going to happen. Can you talk a little bit about how to control worry? Because I’m an anxious person.  for me it’s, I’m trying to rewire myself to let go and be like, look, it’s going to change.

[01:25:39] William Green: There’s no point me fighting reality.

[01:25:43] Pico Iyer: Well, as usual and in, in every regard, I have no wisdom to impart.  I’m probably worse off than you, and especially as I get older, I worry more and more, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of night, one o’clock, and every possible anxiety comes down on me.

[01:25:57] Pico Iyer: The one beauty is when I wake up at six in the morning, the next day, all of that is gone, and I can see it was just the  delusion of the mind or disproportion of the mind that had me only thinking about the anxieties and not the rest of the things. I know that the Dalai Lama often quotes his eighth century Buddhist Shanti Deva who says, if you’ve got a problem, if you can, if your ca ha if it has an answer there’s no need to worry about it.

[01:26:22] Pico Iyer: And if it doesn’t have an answer, there’s no point worrying about it either, and so it’s, again, it’s an easy thing for him to say but very hard to put into practice except that one can see that,  he is living that to some degree because as you said earlier, he’s probably got the most stressful, difficult life of anyone I know.

[01:26:40] Pico Iyer: And he’s lost nine of his 15 siblings, and he’s lost his tutor. He is lost his mother, he is lost his brother, so many other things that the world forgets about that he’s lost, and yet he’s so practical. Look, he def defined I when growing up, I always thought the karma meant the bank balance of all the sins or the good deeds that you’ve done over the years, and that affects your karma.

[01:27:01] Pico Iyer: But when he talks about karma, it’s all in the future. It’s, in other words, the karma you create right now, like. The person who comes to the blessing and he says, open, open us. Give your money to open a school, and then you’re generating good car. That is the blessing you can confer upon yourself, so I suppose worry has, it has less, the more practical you are and the more you’re thinking about action, the less you’re caught up in your head, which is where, this is a hamlet predicament.

[01:27:26] Pico Iyer: I realize at some point I’m most worrying when I’m lying in bed at night or when I’m stuck somewhere and I’m not doing anything, and as soon as I’m actually doing something, the worry becomes immaterial, and so I think action is the best medicine for Yeah, to worry. Because one’s never going to be able to solve that anxiety in one’s head.

[01:27:44] Pico Iyer: What do my daughter fall sick? There’s nothing we can do, and even if you’re prepared for your daughter falling sick, that doesn’t really help so much, so the only answer is actually going in a different direction.

[01:27:55] William Green: I think also it’s I guess it’s I think about these issues a lot and part of it, I guess when you study this, the science of self-compassion is saying, well, this is just part of the human predicament and everyone else is going through this stuff as well.

[01:28:09] William Green: They have fear, they have pain, they have, sorry, they have loss, and it seems to me one of the great lessons of your travel writing as well, to go back to something that we’ve mentioned briefly before, this sense that you get from all of your travels everywhere in the world are common humanity, but at the same time, there’s a sense from your travel writing, I think that comes through.

[01:28:32] William Green: That there’s also, there’s a lot that’s inexplicable.  it’s not like you’re just coming at these things with easy answers and saying, oh, we’re all the same. We’re all humans. You’re, we’re all loving and we’re all kind. You’ll go to a place like Beirut and you’ll say, yeah, this is one of the most cultured, civilized places in the world.

[01:28:48] William Green: And it’s turned out to be utterly brutal, and I wonder if you could talk about that sense of just the complexity that you’ve observed while going around the world, because it doesn’t seem like you’ve come back with very comforting messages that we’d love to hear about how we’re all the same and it’s all going to be great because we’re all going to learn to love each other.

[01:29:10] Pico Iyer: Yeah, again, so much to say it’s true. I think that even though we share much more than we did 80 years ago, that doesn’t diminish the amount we don’t share, and so, you’re right, I don’t believe it’s a small world and even if everybody in the world is wearing jeans or t-shirt and trainers, that doesn’t make Iran any closer to the US or North Korea, any less hostile to us.

[01:29:30] Pico Iyer: I think, one of the beauties of travel we all know is that it makes you see and appreciate home differently, especially appreciate in every sense, and so I think one of the great things about it is it humbles us, and so even, and because I take for granted the many blessings I have, and then I go to Cambodia or Yemen or Haiti, and I’m reminded 99% of our neighbors in the global neighborhood don’t have that.

[01:29:55] Pico Iyer: And even the day after the fire and I’d lost everything in the world, a small part of me thought, well, wait a minute, I’m still here in this Californian resort town with an insurance company that’s going to rebuild my home with a job that allows me not to be too financially insecure, and next to nearly everybody in the world, I’m leading a life that they would envy, they would give anything to be in, in Santa Barbara with a nice journalistic job and a, a nice house to, to come up with.

[01:30:22] Pico Iyer: And so I think one of the best things I’ve got from travel is humility and as you say, a reminder of how little I know about the world, and when I’m sitting at home and I will think about Syria or Cuba in Iran and I’ll figure I know a lot about them because I’m a journalist and like you, I’ve been reading the New York Times and watching CNNand I know about all the ways that they’re different from us.

[01:30:45] Pico Iyer: As soon as I arrive in Damascus or Havana or Tehran, first I am reminded of a similarity that I forget if I’m only leaving reading the New York Times, and secondly, I see, I don’t know, a thing in the case of Iran, I’ve been studying it for 30 years before I went, and within four hours, I realized nothing I thought I knew was any good at all.

[01:31:07] Pico Iyer: And I’m very glad of that humbling, and again, you’ve read my book so carefully and thoroughly. I will never get the gift of somebody caring so much about my books as you have given me today.

[01:31:16] William Green: Thanks. I have a terrible memory, so at least I’ll forget and then I’ll have to reread them.

[01:31:21] William Green: But I was very struck, [crosstalk]. Well, I was looking for this morning back at my notes from your book, Half Known Life, which I haven’t finished yet, but which I’ve been working through with great pleasure. This I think probably your most recent book or one of the last two very recent.

[01:31:35] Pico Iyer: Just earlier this year.

[01:31:37] William Green: Yes. Yeah, and there’s this lovely sense in that book where you talk about how we are living on quicksand and that when you travel to these places like Iran or North Korea, you see so many sides to every question that you can’t be sure of anything, and I think this is actually, it’s something that I don’t really want to just  gloss over because I think it’s hugely important both in life but also in investing the sense of humility of how little we actually know.

[01:32:02] William Green: And you quote one of my all-time favorite, if not my favorite writer, Isaac Bashevis  saying Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of non-knowledge, and again, it goes back to what you were to, to that book we were discussing before, Zen Mind, beginner’s mind. This idea of coming at everything with an open mind, knowing how little, trying to set aside your prejudice is, and being aware of just how partial our view is of everything.

[01:32:27] William Green: Can you talk about this because there’s obviously, it’s obviously such a central part of what you do as a travel writer to see how little actually we can make sense of the world, even when you travel millions of miles.

[01:32:40] Pico Iyer: Yes, so I think, I mean in this book, the Half Known Life, it has two components and the first hinges upon my sense that in this age of information, we know less about the rest of the world than ever before.

[01:32:51] Pico Iyer: And actually, least of all about the countries we hear most about, such as Cuba or Iran or North Korea. Because we hear quite a bit about their leaders or the economies, maybe their nuclear policies, but we hear so little about day-to-day life, I think they’re just dark abstractions to us and we are dark abstractions to them.

[01:33:08] Pico Iyer: So that’s a disability, which is why I do feel there’s more urgency than ever in getting to see the world in the round and in the flesh, not through a screen, and all the images in the world can never add up to real life, so yes, I do try to take myself to these places to witness them, even though I come away, as you were suggesting with more questions and answers.

[01:33:27] Pico Iyer: But at a deeper level, I do feel that all the things that really determine our lives are by definition things we can’t explain.  suddenly overnight the world is paralyzed by a pandemic. I’m sitting in my family home and the next day the home was burned to the ground. I walk into a temple in Kyoto and I sit down.

[01:33:45] Pico Iyer: Talk to a woman and she becomes my wife.  all of us, whoever you are, I’m sure the central moments in your life have come out of nowhere in that way. Good moments and bad moments, and when we are making our plans, that’s a very good thing to bear in mind.  I know that when you talk with investors, one of the central themes is nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, that all we can do is try to act clearly and decisively.

[01:34:08] Pico Iyer: In a world of absolute uncertainty, there are no guarantees, and even if you are working with an investment that seems very strong, the pandemic closes the world again next week, that investment may be wiped out, and so I think, I’m guessing the business people you talk to are largely talking about,  how to maintain one’s composure in the face of that uncertainty.

[01:34:29] Pico Iyer: And so, yes, I think you know that in terms of the travel and the humbling, again, I think it’s a matter of go to getting older maybe, and I say at the beginning of that book when I was a kid, I knew it all and I was convinced I was the master of the universe when I was working in on 50th and sixth Avenue in midtown.

[01:34:46] Pico Iyer: And I’m so glad now I think of myself as a servant of the universe who doesn’t know a thing, and that’s what makes the world interesting, and that’s where the potential for growth is. Because, I’ve been with my wife 35 years, and I think what I hope makes that relationship interesting is I don’t know who she’s going to be exactly.

[01:35:02] Pico Iyer: Tomorrow I have about 80% sense, but she’s likely to surprise me, and that’s the joy of it, and I hope I’ll be able to surprise her in certain ways, and the same with one’s job or one’s kids or one’s lives. It’s everything that we don’t know that actually gives it the potential and the excitement.

[01:35:17] William Green: Yeah, and it, it forces you to be humble. I think. whether,  I remember in the man within my head, you were talking about how there’s a mystery, like a fundamental, an unanswerable mystery about everything around us, and I get the sense when you are writing about your father in your various books, who’s obviously was an extraordinary character, very brilliant, but also, someone very different from you and in some ways your nemesis.

[01:35:45] William Green: In one of the books, I think you say to Hiroko your wife, something about how you’ll just never understand him. Like there’s something, and so even the people closest to us, we don’t really understand, and I think that’s really humbling and it gives you some.

[01:36:01] William Green: I don’t know. I feel the same way that, that you do that I was much more arrogant when I was younger about thinking that I could crack things with my big brain, and gradually the older I get, the more I,  I remember saying to my mother recently what I really know for sure rounds to zero.

[01:36:18] William Green: And I wasn’t being facetious.  there was a moment in Vancouver where, there were two there, there were two people I really wanted to see while I was in Vancouver at the TED conference, so one was you and one was my friend Monish, who’s a well-known investor. A lot of people on listening to the podcast will know.

[01:36:35] William Green: And so on the first day I’m get, I’m only there for two days because Guy Spearer had given me his ticket because he couldn’t go, and I had to go to London to give a talk after a couple of days, so I was only there for two days, so I’m like, well I really hope to see Pico, so I signed up for your event and I hope to spend some time chatting with you.

[01:36:50] William Green: And I was going to have lunch with Monish, I think on the first day and would sit with him, and so I go wander around the old town and I’m getting lost. Because I’m always lost, right? I never know where I’m going and I’m walking back to the hotel and because I’m getting lost, I run into Monish as he’s walking out of the subway on his way from the airport.

[01:37:07] William Green: So we go and have lunch together solely because I’m in the wrong place that I meet my one friend who I planned to have lunch with, and then the next day I go into the elevator on the 14th floor of my hotel and you are in there wearing your mask. The one other person I want to see, so I end up spending the whole morning with you.

[01:37:25] William Green: And so I look at things like that and I’m like, is that random? Is it, I’m a mystic, so I tend to think no, everything happens in for some reason. It’s not all random, but I don’t know, even something like that, I profoundly don’t know whether these were just random events or there’s some way in which we are being guided.

[01:37:46] William Green: And there’s something about that mystery, the enigma, the fact that we just don’t know that I find both beautiful and humbling and frustrating. Can you talk a bit to that point about just this sense of uncertainty because there’s a, you’ve always been resistant in your writing to certainty and dogma.

[01:38:05] William Green: And I don’t know, I remember you saying about your father at one point. Do you think he really believes all that he is saying?  like, you, you are a nonbeliever, a doubter of everything.

[01:38:16] Pico Iyer: Yes, and that, I wrote this most recent book, the Half Known Life, absolutely. In response to that, the fact is more the world is more divided than ever before, precisely because of people feeling they’re in the know or they know more or better than other people.

[01:38:30] Pico Iyer: And ideas and ideologies are cutting us up than while human experience like the pandemic could be bringing us together, so I love the fact that these things happen out of the blue, as you were saying. I don’t have an answer for them and I’m thrilled I don’t have an answer and that I didn’t think about an answer.

[01:38:45] Pico Iyer: So I’m like you I love them. I’m humbled by them and I’m not frustrated by them, you are suddenly walking into me in the elevator. I think the one thing I’ve found is that life has much more interesting and imaginative and better plans for me than the ones I might make for myself, and that’s a liberation, because again.

[01:39:02] Pico Iyer: When you said I love your grounding to zero because I’m older than you and I’m probably in the minus section now. I’m beyond zero, but also, I loved what you said about how, you and I coming up through the same system, we’re armed to be arrogant and to feel we know everything and to use our mi I love what you said, using the mind to crack the world.

[01:39:22] Pico Iyer: We are really well trained for that, and the mind can crack the world, but the one thing the mind can’t handle is everything that’s,  beyond the mind, which is, I’d say most of the important stuff in life, and so you, when we think of mystery, it often has a big M and it has to do with what’s the meaning of life and is there a garden, all that stuff.

[01:39:40] Pico Iyer: But as you say, I think just in the most commonplace ways, mysteries everywhere, and thank heavens for that. I remember when my mother turned 80, we threw a party for her and one of her friends said, oh, Pico, why don’t you interview your mother? And I thought, roll my head eyes and oh, what a terrible idea.

[01:39:56] Pico Iyer: But my, her friend was eager to do this, so I said, okay, I will, so I asked my mother a few questions and I think the last question was, well, now you’re 80 years old. What’s the main thing that you’ve learned? And she said that you can never know another person, and I love that A, because it was the last thing, I expected my mother ever to say.

[01:40:13] Pico Iyer: I never knew if she believed that, and so by saying it, she actually bore it out. I didn’t know my own mother. I was really taken aback by that answer, and also, I was haunted by our answer because she was saying maybe her husband, my father, was as much a mystery to her as to me, and maybe she was saying that I.

[01:40:31] Pico Iyer: I’m a mistreat to her, but whatever she meant by it, it was a wonderful answer. I’m so glad asked it, and that maybe when you and I are both 80 if we’re lucky enough to attain that, we’ll even more have this sense of how little we know about the people who are closest to us, and as you said about circumstances, which is which is wonderful.

[01:40:50] Pico Iyer: I’m so glad to be freed of that sense. I had as a kid that I knew exactly how my life was going and that I would plan it.  I think when that fire burnt down my house the day before, as you can tell, I had my next eight years mapped out. I knew exactly which books I was going to write, I’d accumulated all my notes, and suddenly life has a different plan for me.

[01:41:10] Pico Iyer: And I can’t say it’s a worse plan than the one I would’ve come up with.

[01:41:15] William Green: My daughter, Madeleine, who’s 22, asked me to ask you something that I wanted to remember before, before I let you go. I have a couple more questions, but she, she’s 22 and she’s wrestling with what to do in her life next, and there’s this question of, well, do you become a singer?

[01:41:31] William Green: Do you become a writer? Do you become an artist? Or do you do something more conventional, safer, perhaps? And this gets back to the question that we were discussing before, of how to construct a life that’s really deeply aligned to you so that you’re not living other people’s dreams. You’re not trying to please other people.

[01:41:49] William Green: And, and I was wondering how you think about this because you’d written me a, an email a few years ago, back in 2016, I think after Madeleine had inter interviewed you, and you said I’m always telling kids not to worry about externals. They always take care of themselves, and that every good decision I’ve made came from the heart rather than from silly concerns about money or career.

[01:42:10] William Green: Take the plunge. Trust reality, make a leap of faith and things seldom go wrong if only because you’re following the universe and its larger wisdom rather than your own tiny story. I’m wrestling with that and she’s wrestling with that, and my son Henry, who’s 25, is wrestling with that this question of,  do you just let rip and say, no, let me try to build a life that’s just  where I buy the lottery ticket and I try to make a living in a way that’s totally true to me.

[01:42:34] William Green: Or what if I’m not talented enough? What if I’m what if it’s just too difficult? How do you think through this issue when you are looking back now on your life and thinking about how to advise other people on building a life that’s true to themselves.

[01:42:47] Pico Iyer: Yeah, and I think you probably saw me rubbing my eyes with despair as Madeleine passed on her question, because of course I have no answer to it.

[01:42:54] Pico Iyer: I have such fond memories of Madeleine after getting to talk with her for an hour all those years ago, and also getting to listen to her music, and if you can believe it, two nights ago a friend of mine was visiting from Massachusetts and we were talking about his son who’s 25 years old, a fantastically gifted writer.

[01:43:11] Pico Iyer: But who knows, it’s almost impossible to make a living as a writer these days. What he was, my friend and I were asking each other what we advised and we couldn’t come up with any useful answer, and I feel bad about that email I wrote to you, so two weeks ago I was visiting a class in Massachusetts again by Zoom from here in Japan as an undergraduate class.

[01:43:31] Pico Iyer: And I think I did say the same thing I’d written to you about,  don’t worry about your plans, life will take care of itself, and a young woman got up and she said, just as he should have, it’s all very well for you to say that, but I’ve got my parents who are making all these pressures on me, and they’re telling me,  they put in all this huge amount of money in my education and I’ve got a huge amount of debt, and they’re telling me I have to do something practical.

[01:43:53] Pico Iyer: So how can I just, commit myself to the hands of fate? And I, she was absolutely right, and it’s a really hard thing to answer. One thing, occasionally I’ve been asked to give a commencement speech and the thing I sometimes say there, which I might still hold to. Is to try to give yourself, maybe Madeleine’s doing this I don’t know about Henry.

[01:44:12] Pico Iyer: Try to give yourself two years off in your early twenties just to explore the other options, and then,  before you join a company or before you go to graduate school, take a little time off, and then if you do join a company or when you do go to graduate school, you’ll be much more motivated and you can give yourself entirely to it, rather than backing into it.

[01:44:32] Pico Iyer: And I say that because I did make the mistake myself. When I graduated from college, I didn’t have anything to do and I panicked and I thought, I can’t commit myself to a black hole, so I went to graduate school, even though I knew I didn’t want to be there, and I knew I not never wanted to become a professor.

[01:44:47] Pico Iyer: I had no good reason to be there, and it took me four years in graduate school before I summoned the courage to commit myself to that black hole, and by then at 25 I was ready, but at 21 I was too scared to do that, so there’s no good answer, and again, you and well, I and I think you in a different way.

[01:45:06] Pico Iyer: We had the advantage of getting that nice job at Time Magazine that then gave us the luxury to be able to write books and interview people and think about other possibilities. Whenever somebody comes to me in an early twenties now and wants to be a writer, I do say the first important thing is to get a day job.

[01:45:22] Pico Iyer: And the second is not to forget what really fires you, which is the writing probably more than the day job. Sometimes I will say, I was teaching, I’ve only taught once in 40 years and it was four years ago and I was teaching some very talented kids and there are some really good writers there.

[01:45:38] Pico Iyer: And one of them at the age of 21 decided to give himself to writing, and I think he’s going to manage it, but partly he came up with the idea and I supported it. He’s gone to live in Argentina, so he can have a very rich and interesting life there at the age of 25. He can live very cheaply as I’m living here in Japan and by living cheaply.

[01:45:55] Pico Iyer: That gives him both the material and the practical circumstances to be able to try to be a writer for the next few years as he probably couldn’t be if he stayed in New York City, so there’s certainly practical ways of trying to do it because there are many places in the world where you can live actually much more comfortably that in the US for a 10th, the price.

[01:46:14] Pico Iyer: But beyond that, the larger question of how to make a life and how to make a living at the same time and how to follow your passion while also taking care of your obligations to the real world. It’s a really hard one, so I’m sorry to be disappointing Madeleine, but I’m probably as perplexed as you are or as she is.

[01:46:32] William Green: Yeah I tend to encourage my kids just to buy the lottery ticket, which is what I did, and just say, well look, if you are really good and you are really driven and you can put up with a lot of failure and a lot of fear, go for it, and I believe that, and I think they’re really talented, and I hope they’ll do it.

[01:46:51] William Green: And I also  feel that you are competing with so many people who give up because it’s too difficult that actually increases your odds of making it, if you are thoughtful about what it actually takes to get good about your craft, and you’re thoughtful about the business of what you do and you’re really good.

[01:47:08] William Green: But you’ve made it partly because you work really hard.  you’ve been incredibly prolific and you’ve kept your costs down and you’re really smart.  you’re, this is one of the things that Madeleine and I were talking about, and she’s like, well, yeah, Pico’s smarter than you are.

[01:47:25] William Green: So what, that’s been one of your advantages.

[01:47:28] Pico Iyer: Yeah. No, I honestly think it’s a matter of discipline, and it’s you are right that, I’ve been working hard these last few years, but I’m not so young now, and I could fall ill at any moment, and if I did, our income would come to zero.

[01:47:41] Pico Iyer: No pension, no health insurance before I qualified for Medicare, so all these years I’ve been aware that if I fell down or if I fell ill for seriously no money coming in for my wife and formerly for my stepdaughter and stepson, so I, yeah, but I think the best reason to go for it is also to realize that by going for it, you may find and legitimately that it’s not for you.

[01:48:05] Pico Iyer: And so the closest equivalent I had to going for it, which we’ve spoken about, which is when I left Nice com, comfortable position at Time Magazine to live for a year in Japan, that the knowledge I had, as I said earlier, was that I had to test that romance and if it didn’t work out, I’d gain something.

[01:48:21] Pico Iyer: I’d realized it’s just a romance, actually. It’s not what I had imagined from afar. It’s not the life of me, and then I can go back to the life I had previously, so I was always feeling I wasn’t burning bridges so much as,  trying to swim across the river, and if I couldn’t swim across the river, I could always come back to shore and walk across that bridge,  time Magazine or some equivalent was still there.

[01:48:43] Pico Iyer: And that gave me the security to, to leap into the unknown, and I must say when I left Time Magazine for Japan, the thing that really kept me going was Time Magazine was kind enough to send me a small amount of money every month to send back essays from my life in Japan, and they were shrewd enough to know that what I wrote from a temple in Japan would be sufficiently different from what they were getting from Washington and New York that the magazine might gain as well as I myself.

[01:49:07] Pico Iyer: But I like your advice of going for it, and I would also give myself a deadline, two years seems to me a reasonable Yeah. Amount. Yeah, and if you can’t stain yourself after two years, still keep singing or writing or whatever it might be, but be aware that you need something under you, and as you say, the only way I’ve made it work is that I knew that left to my own devices, I wouldn’t get distracted so much.

[01:49:32] Pico Iyer: And I like being at my desk, so it wouldn’t be a hardship for me. Yeah, so it’s, it would always be a risk, but it wouldn’t be a hardship always to be at my desk.

[01:49:40] William Green: I wanted to end just by going back to ask you about your mother, who obviously was an enormous figure in your life and a remarkable person.

[01:49:48] William Green: And I read an obituary that you wrote in celebration of her for the Santa Barbara independent newspaper after she passed away in 2021 at the age of 90, and you dedicated your last book, the Half Known Life to her with the words [inaudible], fellow traveler. And I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about her and what you’ve learned from her that’s really made an indelible impact on how you try to live your own life.

[01:50:13] Pico Iyer: Thank you again. I’m really moved and humbled by how much research you’ve done, so I, my mother actually, like my father was a professor of comparative religions, and so when I was growing up, the two things I knew for sure where I would have no interest in religions and I would have to study something radically different from what they did, which I did by going the literary route.

[01:50:35] Pico Iyer: But of course, all these years later, I can’t erase my blood or my DNA. I probably have the same interests as my parents, and what a blessing it was to grow up in a family in a household where our shelves were lined with the sacred scriptures of Judaism and with the Quran and with Tibetan monks visiting the house.

[01:50:54] Pico Iyer: And my parents growing up in British India, absolutely definitive on the Bible. It’s interesting, they knew much more about western civilization growing up in India than I did growing up in England and in the schools that we shared, and I think my mother had a great interest in the world, so she was always traveling.

[01:51:10] Pico Iyer: And after my father died 1995, as her only child, I started traveling with my mother as you read about, and that was a great thing too, because as long as we were in the home, we were always stuck in the same sitcom routine we’d been observing for 50 years, and I think as far as she was concerned, I was always a six year old kid as far as I was concerned.

[01:51:29] Pico Iyer: She was always the mother I had to rebel against, but as soon as we were,  cruising towards Jerusalem or walking down the streets of St. Petersburg or walking through the jungles of Cambodia together, we were fellow travelers sharing an adventure and going off in the day and coming back at dinner and then sharing with one another, things that we had learned.

[01:51:47] Pico Iyer: So it was a wonderful way of remaking the relationship as well as giving my mother a wonderful holiday and me a really interesting experience, so there’s a lot I could say about my mother, but I think one of the things I admired about her was she was equally interested in everybody and then to that extent, a lot great humility.

[01:52:04] Pico Iyer: And she wasn’t tremendously ambitious, and I think that was a good thing. You mentioned earlier how my father, who was a man of the world was, I think disappointed when I left Time Magazine, but my mother as a good mother should, her main criterion was, is her unhappy or not, so she wasn’t assessing me by my cv, and she was assessing me by the fact that she saw every time I came into her door.

[01:52:26] Pico Iyer: And I do, I was grateful for that criterion and for her reminding me the theme of this podcast really that it’s the happiness part that’s at least as important as the richness part, and in my experience, mothers of course have a head start when it comes to that, and the women I’ve known are very good at being unimpressed by certain credentials on the resume and being much more impressed by certain qualities such as you are you kind, are you full of yourself whatever.

[01:52:55] Pico Iyer: And that’s one of the things I like about traveling, that all the, those external ways you define yourself fall away. When I’m walking down the street on Myanmar and a tri short driver comes up to me, he doesn’t care what I’m doing for a living, or most cases where I’ve been to school, any of that. He’s just seeing a stranger.

[01:53:12] Pico Iyer: Is this person trustworthy? Is this person generous? Is this. Yeah, a nice person or not, and I’m probably thinking the same of him, and I love the way that travel cleanses the way that we look at the world and we’re brought back to essentials in a good way. Because I think if I’m in New York City and I meet somebody, I probably am thinking, which side of town do you live on?

[01:53:33] Pico Iyer: And where did you go to college? And what’s your job? And the least interesting things about anybody, probably.

[01:53:40] William Green: I think it’s interesting how that theme of kindness and generosity spirit comes through again and again in your books. I saw it when you were writing about Graham Green and his kindness.

[01:53:49] William Green: I saw it when you were writing about, and obviously he was an ornery and difficult guy, but still very generous and kind in certain ways, and Yes, and also,  when you wrote a lot about Leonard Cohen and another of your heroes, there’s a beautiful story you told I in one of your books where you talked about hearing a story about him in Canada once where some homeless guy goes to a hospital and they say to him.

[01:54:13] William Green: How are you going to pay for your bills, and he says, my friend Leonard is going to take care of them, and they thought this was proof of his derangement. Until then, these checks start coming in, signed by Leonard Cohen, and I saw it again with your mother, like your discussion of your mother’s kindness. It was a beautiful story in your obituary where you said how she would drive around town for hours to find your favorite chocolate and well into her eighties would get up without complaint at 3:00 AM to take me to the airport.

[01:54:40] William Green: And then my favorite bit in the article you wrote about her was you said, when as a boy, I lost a cherished security blanket along the road near that Lake Casitas. She drove for eight hours through the dark to find it, and I was walking along the street with Madeleine yesterday and I was telling her that story and I was saying it was interesting that here’s a guy a writer writing about his mother’s life of 90 years.

[01:55:01] William Green: And the main story that you remember is her driving for eight hours through the dark to find your security blanket.

[01:55:08] Pico Iyer: Well, if I can say so, William, I think this reflects on you because essentially each of us writes the pieces that we read. We make the place that, that the world that we see, if a hundred of us walking down the same street to tomorrow, each of us see something different.

[01:55:23] Pico Iyer: It’s a reflection of who we are, and you glommed onto that very touching story of kindness, which is I, to me, the most touching part in that book, and I think many other people wouldn’t, and it shows how important that is in your life, and I know from what little I know about you, that’s the part that you never overlooked.

[01:55:38] Pico Iyer: Which, which. Has to do with humanity and generosity and the inner account, but you’re right, it’s important to me too, the older I get, and if people ask me, why do you live in Japan? The quickest answer I give is, it’s the kindest place I know and the people are most thoughtful, selfless, and most compared with anywhere else.

[01:55:55] Pico Iyer: I’ve been so, so it is an important thing for me, I think. The most important thing probably, and I’m so glad you mentioned Leonard Cohen, because he speaks to so many of the themes that we’ve been mentioning, and as you know from having read me so closely, when first I met him there, he was age 61, putting himself through this backbreaking routine as a full-time Zen monk in the high cold, dark mountains behind Los Angeles, literally.

[01:56:19] Pico Iyer: Shoveling snow and scrubbing floors and cooking for the elderly Japanese teacher, and there was a man who could, or written, he’d been famous for 40 years at that point, could be doing anything in the world, and he said, so memorably to me, this is a really delicious adventure in life. In other words he’d, as we’ve been saying, experienced enough of external acclaim and success and fame that he realized it was only the inner that was ultimately going to make him fulfilled.

[01:56:45] Pico Iyer: And of course, while he was up at the mountain, somebody took away all his money and his literal bank account was brought down almost to zero, but he could remake his life and his career thanks to the riches that he had gathered inside, and what was so touching about him too was he lifts that in every minute of his life. And I think he was like that anyway, because he was the grandson of rabbis on both sides, and I think from a very early age, he was a wise man. Even Joni Mitchell, who can be quite cynical, very early on in their twenties, referred to him as a holy man. He had that quality from the outset, but he deepened and refined it through this really difficult practice, especially his 40 years with Zen. So every time I would drive to his house, and he lived in this little modest house in a beat up part of Los Angeles with his daughter, where even the pizza guys wouldn’t deliver because it was on the wrong side of the tracks, and whoever was visiting him, he was standing outside at the door when that person arrived like an anonymous grant, just waiting to serve essentially. As soon as you would arrive at his apartment, he’d take you into the kitchen, “What can I make you? Would you like some bagels from Montreal? Can I make you some scrambled eggs? Can I give you this or that or that?” Just like the Dalai Lama, in fact, I was mentioning after the Nobel Prize and in both cases to see a person of such achievement ready to empty themselves out, to give themselves to the world as a servant in some ways is so remarkable. IT leaves its imprint and its model with [Inaudible] one’s life.

[01:58:14] William Green: Yeah. It’s amazing when you see the lack of ego. It’s extraordinary, so yeah. There’s some great guide there, and I loved what you were saying about that sense that it’s delicious entertainment to sit still and be in the moment for him, and he used the word voluptuous. Like you said, it’s voluptuous and delicious entertainment, and I was thinking of this yesterday. I took a few minutes just to sit on my deck in the sun and breathe, and I was thinking, “Well, let me enjoy this. This isn’t like another thing that I need to tick off my to-do list,” which usually I guiltily do and I’m like, “Can I hurry up this meditation?” And it’s like, “No, no. This is voluptuous entertainment. Let me sit still and try actually to be present in this moment because it’s going to end,” and so I feel like I’ve got some really valuable lessons from immersing myself in your mind and your works in the last few weeks. This idea of the importance of kindness, the idea of accommodating ourself to the reality that things are going to change, that everything is impermanent, trying to be more in the moment,  trying to design a life that’s very true to ourselves, trying to reduce clutter and get to essentials, a clutter of all sorts, sort of mental clutter, physical clutter. And so it’s just been a real pleasure and privilege to  enter your mind through your work over the last few weeks and to do this in our conversation, so thank you really for all of your work and for your thoughtfulness in sharing your ideas today, and most importantly, in your books, which are just very rich.

[01:59:39] Pico Iyer: Well, thank you, and again, I don’t want to embarrass you, but I actually interview people partly for a living.  I host an onstage conversation series, so I know how incredibly difficult it can be to prepare for these, and I think of myself as working quite hard whenever I have to host a writer, but the extent that you’ve put into this, and I feel that you’ve read my books, not just sentence by sentence so closely that you’ve registered every detail, unfortunately, absolutely correctly, so I can’t forward nothing you said, but also with real understanding, which is something much more internal and must have to do with some,  you own the  questions that you are entertaining and the  openness that, that you have.

[02:00:17] Pico Iyer: Anyway, I know how difficult the job is and I’m so touched by all that you’ve put into this and, having worked together for these years and yet barely got the chance to talk together. This is such a delight for me to get to talk to you and I hope we’ll get to continue many of these conversations.

[02:00:31] Pico Iyer: Because I really think that. We’ve been addressing the same questions. Yeah. Just as you brilliantly pointed out at the outset, our circumstances are similar, but more interesting is that we’ve been turning independently to the same texts, whether it’s Zen Mine, beginner’s Mind, or Milton or Thomas Merton, or all these remarkable convergences.

[02:00:48] Pico Iyer: You were just talking to Daniel Goldman and Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who’s book I just read about, shaking Hands with the Beautiful Monsters and all that. Yeah, so we’ve literally been going on a parallel course and, but almost never accept thanks to an elevator in Vancouver getting to talk face to face. So, and you’re 11 or 12 years ahead of me on the journey.

[02:01:05] William Green: So I, so you are the advance for reconnaissance party, so I’m learning from you the so, so keep sharing the lessons as you as you proceed up the mountain.

[02:01:14] Pico Iyer:  I know we have to end now, but one of the delights of this conversation for me is now I see how much all that went into your book and how those people open up themselves to you and what, why,  you’ve been doing a distinguished journalism for 25 years and I’ve learned a lot about.

[02:01:32] Pico Iyer: To completely empty oneself out and ask the most penetrating question. Cause that’s very difficult.  when you are in interviewed yourself, sometimes the interviewer wants to talk a lot, or sometimes he or she has her own agenda, but I feel there’s a real curiosity in you and then and a refinement that I can see how the investors would’ve been so happy talking to you because they don’t get that self-questioning so often.

[02:01:54] William Green: No, I really appreciate it. I really appreciate it. Pico, thanks. This has just been an utter delight. Thank you so much.

[02:02:01] Pico Iyer: And good luck to Madeline and Henry, and I’m sure they will come up with much better answers than we could..

[02:02:07] William Green: We live in hope. Thank you so much.

[02:02:09] William Green: All right, folks. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with the great Pico Iyer, and found it as thought-provoking as I did. It really made me think hard about how I want to structure my own life in a way that reflects what I enjoy most, which is primarily books, and coffee, and chocolate, and family as well. How to get back on track when I’m becoming misaligned or overwhelmed. The fact that he leads such an uncluttered and undistracted life really also helps me to see how cluttered and distracted my own life sometimes gets, and it’s amazing to me that he can survive without a cell phone and can write so much without a computer, so it’s a great inspiration to study him. If you want to learn more from Pico, I’ve included an array of resources in the show notes for this episode. Personally, I particularly enjoyed a recent book of his called Autumn Light. I really like all of his books that I’ve read and I’ve read a lot of them. Another of my favorites is the one about Graham Greene and his father, which I just really enjoyed. And I loved his TED Talk on the Art of Stillness. Pico’s website, which is terrific, is also really worth visiting. You can find it, and it actually features a tremendous array of resources, including a lot of his excellent essays. One section of the website is actually titled The Joy of Less, which is all about looking for calm in an increasingly speedy world. There are also sections of the website devoted to some of his writings about things like the Dalai Lama and Leonard Cohen. A few years ago, when I had lunch with Pico in New York and met him in person for the first time, I remember asking him who was the most impressive spiritual figure he’d ever met, and I knew that he’d spent years hanging out with the Dalai Lama and writing a terrific book called The Open Road about the Dai Lama. And so I was surprised and delighted when he replied that the most impressive spiritual figure he’d ever met was actually Leonard Cohen, the singer and heartthrob and poet and Zen monk, so it’s worth reading his thoughts about Leonard Cohen definitely. In any case, I’ll be back very soon with some more fascinating guests, including a new in-depth conversation with Arnold Van Den Berg, who’s always just a really inspiring role model and mentor. Until then, please feel free to follow me on Twitter @WilliamGreen72, and if the spirit moves you, do let me know how you are liking the podcast. I’m always really happy to hear from you. For now, stay well and take good care of yourself.

[02:04:41] Outro: Thank you for listening to TIP. Make sure to subscribe to We Study Billionaires by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Every Wednesday, we teach you about Bitcoin and every Saturday, we study billionaires and the financial markets. To access our show notes, transcripts, or courses, go to This show is for entertainment purposes only. Before making any decisions, consult a professional. This show is copyrighted by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Written permission must be granted before syndication or rebroadcasting.


Help us reach new listeners by leaving us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts! It takes less than 30 seconds, and really helps our show grow, which allows us to bring on even better guests for you all! Thank you – we really appreciate it!



P.S The Investor’s Podcast Network is excited to launch a subreddit devoted to our fans in discussing financial markets, stock picks, questions for our hosts, and much more! Join our subreddit r/TheInvestorsPodcast today!


  • Invest in Bitcoin with confidence on River. It’s the most secure way to buy Bitcoin with 100% full reserve custody and zero fees on recurring orders.
  • If you’re aware you need to improve your bitcoin security but have been putting it off, Unchained Capital‘s Concierge Onboarding is a simple way to get started—sooner rather than later. Book your onboarding today and at checkout, get $50 off with the promo code FUNDAMENTALS.
  • Get your super sorted. Save money by consolidating multiple accounts, check out your investment options to see which is right for you, and see how extra contributions can make a big difference over time.
  • Have the visibility and control you need to make better decisions faster with NetSuite’s cloud financial system. Plus, take advantage of their unprecedented financing offer today – defer payments of a full NetSuite implementation. That’s no payment and no interest for six months!
  • Send, spend, and receive money around the world easily with Wise.
  • Experience real language learning for real conversations with Babbel. Get 55% off your Babbel subscription today.
  • Choose Toyota for your next vehicle – SUVs that are known for their reliability and longevity, making them a great investment. Plus, Toyotas now have more advanced technology than ever before, maximizing that investment with a comfortable and connected drive.
  • Support our free podcast by supporting our sponsors.

Disclosure: The Investor’s Podcast Network is an Amazon Associate. We may earn commission from qualifying purchases made through our affiliate links.



WSB Promotions

We Study Markets