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‘Letting the Work Create You’: A Conversation with Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer: An optimist, as sure-footed in his personal path as in his travel writing. A man who resides on two continents, spending half of each year in California near his aging mother and the other half living in Japan with his wife and their family. A prolific journalist and author who recently published two books interpreting Japanese culture, now in the midst of several writing projects that promise to take us further into the keen mind and wandering spirit of Pico Iyer.

Iyer is the author of more than a dozen books, translated into twenty-three languages. A British-born travel writer and essayist for TIME since 1986, Iyer is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper's, Granta and more than 200 other newspapers and magazines worldwide. His two most recent books are Autumn Light: A Season of Fire and Farewells, and A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations.

This interview with Pico Iyer was conducted in December, 2020, by Dianne Aprile, author of four books and editor of several others. With a special interest in the interplay of words and visual imagery, she has collaborated with artists for book projects, gallery shows and workshops. She has published essays, poems and interviews and, during her thirty-year journalism career, was a columnist, arts writer and part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize. She and her husband co-owned a Louisville jazz club before moving to Seattle in 2009. Dianne has taught creative nonfiction on the faculty of Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing since 2001.

Dianne Aprile: Where to start, Pico? How about with the topic that concerns us all—the Covid-19 crisis. As a writer whose work and private life depends on global travel, I wonder what effect the Pandemic has had on your process?

Pico Iyer: I’ve actually been traveling back and forth across the Pacific quite a lot this year, simply because my work and my family obligations (with a mother in California and kids and a granddaughter in Japan) demand it. And at some level, of course, travel has never been easier: when I flew back from Japan to California in mid-April—my 89 year-old mother had just emerged from the hospital—there was not a single customs official in sight in San Francisco Airport (they must have been practicing social distancing with a vengeance!) and the connecting flight down to Santa Barbara contained exactly three passengers in its eight seats.

I did sail around Antarctica in January 2020, so I certainly can’t complain about lack of external exploration. But I must say that in many ways this has been a year of greater adventure, in my fortunate little circle, than ever. I’ve had the chance to be at my desk every day for ten months, a luxury that has never come to me before, and that I don’t expect ever to see again. So I’ve been bombarding my poor longtime editor with so many fresh manuscripts that I’m sure he’s been growing almost tired of me.

DA: And how about changes in your daily life, your personal life?

PI: Every day I’ve been taking long walks with my wife, as we’ve never done in thirty-three years together. Here in Japan, we started just following every road around us to its end—and one day we came upon a glorious bamboo forest, with cherry-trees blossoming all around it and what sounded like nightingales teaching their young to sing. We’ve been in this two-room flat for twenty-eight years, and we’d never thought to take a walk three blocks down a main road.

When we returned to stay in my mother’s house, we began walking up her mountain road every morning. Sometimes, I’d turn around to see the Pacific Ocean stretched out in the distance, the wrinkled mountains of the Channel Islands far beyond, and realize that this was a sight as beautiful as one I might travel half-way across the planet to see. My parents have been living on that property for fifty-four years, and I’d never taken the trouble to follow our road all the way to its end.

Of course, we all grieve for the terrible suffering that all our global neighbors have suffered this year, and so far I—and those around me—have been lucky. But I feel our lives are defined not by what happens to us so much as by what we make of it, something that really came home to me when my house (in California) burned down in a wildfire and I lost every last thing I owned in the world.

As the Dalai Lama often says, we all face suffering, but we determine our destinies by what we do with that suffering, and how much we can turn it to constructive effect. So I’ve been grateful this year that I haven’t been living on planes and damaging the environment. I’ve felt very fortunate to be with my mother for two hundred straight days, as hasn’t happened since I was eight years old.

And, to answer your question, I did get to fly back to Japan (last year), just in time for the radiant festival of goodbyes that is the autumn. I flew back to California to spend the holidays with my mother.

For me, this has been the Year of Taking Nothing for Granted: our occasional good fortune, the beauty all around us, the ease and convenience we’ve enjoyed for so long.

DA: You don’t watch much television and prefer not to follow politics closely, so what activities are you finding yourself doing more of during the pandemic?

PI: I know it sounds like a terrible cliché—or an even less-inspired Monty Python episode—but I’ve really relished the chance this year to give myself to rich and sustaining books, for one hour every day, at least. So I finally, after twenty-two years, completed the last three volumes of Proust, and then began again and reread the first two. I reread Moby-Dick for the first time in years and Paradise Lost for the first time in decades. I made my first foray into Goethe (The Italian Journey) and have been rereading Walter Jackson Bate’s biography of Keats. Right now, I’m reading Middlemarch—unvisited by me since I was eighteen years old—and transcribing sentences on every page, there’s so much wisdom there, little of it visible to me when I was in my teens.

This season has really reminded me how books are the richest, deepest friends we have; they never grow old, they talk back to us piercingly and every time I spend an hour with one, I come out deeper, more nuanced and more attentive, a far better version of myself.

Plus, there seem to me to be more powerful books coming out now than ever before. Among contemporary works, I found Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light almost overpowering, so mighty in its transcription of every detail, sensual and tactical, that it seemed to lift the roof off literature and make everything else seem very small.

Elizabeth Strout is for me the most humane, wise and graceful explorer of the heart I’ve encountered since Alice Munro, and her Olive, Again humbled me with its truth and calm beauty. I was very happily diverted by Jay Parini’s Borges and Me, unexpected in every way, and I learned a huge amount from the fearsome reportage in Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, his powerful human account of forty years of strife in Northern Ireland, (and from Samanth Subramanian’s Divided Island, a stunning examination of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which now I’ve read three times). I spend so much time at my desk, and even in monasteries, that when I read, as when I travel, I often wish to take myself into the harshest realities around us, so as never to lose contact with life as it is for so many.

DA: Yes, time in monasteries—one of the things to which you and I share a common attraction. You’ve spent time with the Dalai Lama and written much about him, and you have interviewed and written about Leonard Cohen and his meditative retreats to monasteries. You, yourself, frequently retreat to a California monastery for time alone. And I recall years ago taking you to the Abbey of Gethsemani in central Kentucky to visit Thomas Merton’s hermitage after your guest lecture at Spalding University. Tell us what role places of solitude play in your life.

PI: I wrote a small book for TED called The Art of Stillness, and ever since, quite a few people have asked me about meditation and the like. And I always have to confess that, much as I admire those who have developed such practices, I’ve never meditated or done yoga or tai chi or qigong, or anything that might count as “mindful.”

But my job, to my eternal gratitude, involves sitting still for five hours every day, as soon as I’ve finished breakfast, and trying to see what lies on the far side of my thoughts and projections and what lies deeper than my chatter. So if you asked my wife, she’d say, “All this guy ever does is meditate.”

The one form of stillness I have practiced, though, is going on retreat, more than ninety times, often for weeks at a time, over the past thirty years at a Benedictine hermitage twelve hundred feet above the Californian coastline. And I’d say that the great beauty and liberation of that monastery is that it’s the only place where I don’t write.

Yes, it stirs me creatively as nowhere else I’ve ever been, and all I do there, it sometimes seems, is scribble (and take walks and read and look at the stars and rejoice in doing nothing). But I soon realized that the writing I do there exists too far from the clamor and distraction of the world; it has the feel, not so surprisingly, of someone whispering to himself in an empty room.

So I delight in not doing much formal writing there anymore. I read what I’ve written in the world, which I can do with unusually clear eyes in the ringing silence. Ideas come to me for what I should write, and how, over the following six months. I return every time with renewed energy and direction. But perhaps the main thing I’ve learned about writing over my thirty-eight years is that the best writing comes when I’m not thinking about writing at all.

DA: What about at home? If you don’t meditate, where do you find renewal?

PI: The subconscious needs space in which to roam, and that can come only when one’s absorbed, but not too absorbed, in something else. So I make sure every day I’m walking on a treadmill at the health-club, or playing ping-pong, or driving to the bank, because it’s in those unclaimed moments that something fresh can arise (not when one’s racing, breathless, from one appointment to the next). And going on retreat is a way of giving myself the rare luxury of three days (or even more) without chit-chat or Internet or telephone or TV. Within three moments, usually, I’m hearing someone much deeper than myself—and I then have seventy-one hours to follow that thread wherever it takes me.

DA: I think it’s time to talk about your two newest books, two very different takes on the place where you live half your life each year—Japan. You have described the two books as something like opposites, despite their common topic: A Beginner’s Guide to Japan, and Autumn Light, Season of Fires and Farewells.

PI: It seems a curious thing to write two wildly contradictory books about the same subject at the same time, for the same publisher, to come out in the same year. But when one cares a lot about anyone, or anywhere, one is sure to feel differently about that person or place at ten in the morning from at ten at night, when one’s next to them and when one’s far away, when one looks at them analytically and when one feels them from within.

Of course, many a wonderful book has been written about the overlap—or clash—of these perspectives: the head denying what the heart knows to be true, the insider in us contradicting the outsider in us. But I thought it would be a fun exercise to try to write two complementary books—a brother and a sister, perhaps—one arising from the fact that I’ve lived in a Japanese family and neighborhood for twenty-eight years, one from the perspective that (to my delight) I’ll always feel a newly arrived foreigner here.

One of the first lessons for any writer is that what isn’t true isn’t necessarily untrue; the world doesn’t live in binaries. I could tell you that my wife is selfish and selfless and that I’m easy and impossible and that Japan is deeply foreign and entirely familiar, and all of it would be true.

Writing, like living, has to arise from a deeper part of us that doesn’t think in terms of either/ors.

DA: I enjoyed The Beginner’s Guide to Japan, for its many engaging insights into Japanese culture, but also for its lively structure, a style I call “collage writing,” and one that I teach and lecture about. I find such power in the juxtaposition of varied paragraphs (incidents, bits of dialogue, reflections, lists, memories, quotations) and the way they take on new and often much deeper meaning in light of what comes before and after. It’s a kind of writing that is not linear at all, yet sets up a narrative that more closely reflects the dance of the human mind. And the human heart. And you’ve interspersed these with a series of flash essays. What was your process for this book?

PI: Thank you, Dianne, for such tremendously generous words and, even more, for such understanding: it takes a fellow writer—and teacher of writing—to see how a little collection of tweets and micro-essays, like this one, can actually take more work (and inspire more joy in the creator) than a 500-page treatise.

One challenge I had when publishing two books on Japan after thirty-two years here is that I had, quite literally, eight thousand pages of notes in the closet behind my desk; since I transcribe pretty much every encounter, observation, and discovery I make here—by hand, on unlined pages of A4 paper—I had almost ten thousand days of sentences to work with, more than half my lifetime’s worth of experience.

So I worked for years to try to take more and more out, in the hope that the spaces between the entries would detonate like bombs and the reader might feel the weight of all that wasn’t included; anyone who’s loved someone knows that she sometimes comes home to you most powerfully when she’s not in the room. And that a room that has just been vacated is very different from one that’s simply empty.

More than that, I wanted to be true to the Japanese way of doing things, whereby creativity comes less from accumulation than subtraction; the beauty of a haiku is that it’s a pen-and-ink drawing in words, which the reader completes in her own being. When you step into a traditional Japanese tatami room, there are often just two items to be seen—a scroll and a vase—and because there’s nothing else there, you bring all your attention to those two items and find everything you could want there, and much more.

You also come to realize that a room with just two items on display can fill you up and deepen you far more than a room with two hundred.

My main challenge, in putting together this experiment in what you so wonderfully call “collage writing,” was that I felt it might be hard for a poor reader to be subjected to just a torrent of one-liners. So, as you saw, I mixed the koans up with mini-essays, to allow the reader to breathe and to step into another corner of her being.

And as I gathered such interludes, as well as the tiny observations I arranged into patterns, the deeper challenge became making a seating-pattern for all the visitors so that, as at any wedding-dinner, everyone would be surrounded by someone who went well with them and offered surprise.

As you say, it’s a much more difficult procedure than a linear set of sentences, but for me a much more rewarding one, precisely because it can catch the space between our thoughts, the moments when we’re at a loss, the richness of all we don’t say. A writer’s job, in many ways, is to catch what lies between words, and that involves the deployment of all the blank spaces on any page, the hesitations between the syllables.

DA: You have said that writing is like sending intimate letters to a stranger. Can you expand on what it takes (patience, among other things, I suppose) to inhabit an idea for so long or, looking at it another way, to keep an idea fresh for so long you can write about it with immediacy decades later?

PI: Some of my friends wonder why it took me sixteen years to write a very small book, especially given that I dashed off my first long book, of three hundred and seventy pages, in the course of a three-month leave of absence from my job.

Part of it has to do with those eight thousand pages of notes I just mentioned, and part has to do with wishing to honor the Japanese aesthetic of the empty room, the principle that silence can say more than any words and that it’s what we don’t say that very often tells the real story.

But a lot has to do, as you say, with patience and letting the story tell me what it wants and has to be. When I began writing, I made an outline and then I followed it, as if I were completing a journalistic assignment; the longer I’ve been doing it, the more I see the virtue of letting the story speak to you, more than the other way round, if only because the patterns that arise from the subconscious tend to be much deeper and richer than the ones the conscious mind imposes.

In this case, surveying my thirty-three years of notes, I decided to make it easier on myself—and on the reader—by focusing on a single season and a single neighborhood, thus eliminating maybe ninety percent of my notes (which I could always import into my other book on Japan, which I was writing at more or less the same time).

I also wanted to keep the material fresh and alive enough for me that it would seem fresh and alive to the reader. I wrote a book after my first year in Japan, in 1987-88, and of course it’s relatively easy, when you’ve just turned thirty, to fall in love in and with an exotic Japanese city filled with sixteen hundred temples and seventeen World Heritage sites, where everything is new.

But the place where we have to make our lives is not in the honeymoon suite or the infatuated moment, but the room where we play out a lifelong marriage. So I wanted to try to catch the ways in which this country, the woman who’s my wife, our simple lives together, still excite me even after thirty-three years, and even in this rather generic suburban neighborhood where we share a tiny apartment as if we were still students, have no temples or exotic buildings around and inhabit a world ruled by Colonel Sanders and Mister Donut.

The challenge in life, every traveler knows, is not to find beauty and excitement in the Taj Mahal, but to locate and cherish it in your back-garden, and in the kitchen that you know too well.

I knew I had to bring out my books on Japan in 2019, in advance of the planned Tokyo Olympics, which was a help; every writer knows that the only thing harder than knowing how to start is knowing when to stop. And the wisest writing advice I received from a friend—the brilliant essayist Richard Rodriguez—is to sit on a project for a year after it’s completed before sending it out to agent or editor.

Few of our works are so topical that they need to be hurried into print, and all of us would be happier with a book we feel is more or less right, three years from now, than one we’ll always regret or apologize for, three months from now. And it’s while one’s going about one’s life, working on other projects, that often tiny changes arise that one could never see when single-mindedly staring at a tiny spot on the wall.

With a long book I wrote on the Dalai Lama, I decided, six months after I put it down, to turn eight chapters into nine, and without changing a word, I thus transformed the structure of the book and the way it presented itself to the world.

With my next, on Graham Greene, I decided, many months after completing it, on a new subtitle that showed it to be neither fiction nor non-fiction, but something hovering somewhere between what we know and what we can never be sure of, which is just what I wanted. I could never have seen that while lost in all the tiny details of any text.

When I began writing full-time, thirty-nine years ago, I thought it was all about putting words on the page. Now I see that it’s much more about stepping away from the page, having the patience not to grab at the wrong idea and ultimately letting the work create you more than the other way round.

DA: I wonder if your process—the way you approach an idea, the way you execute it in real time—has changed over the years. I imagine you, as a deadline journalist and a novelist/travel writer, have more than one way you’ve put words on the page. Can you talk about that evolution or path?

PI: So true. When I left graduate school—I spent eight formative years studying nothing but English Literature (not an hour of any other subject, between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five)—it was to join Time magazine, and I’m forever grateful to my remarkably kind and professional friends and colleagues there for teaching me some of the basics of journalism: clarity, concision and communication. Previously, I’d thought of writing only in the context of self-expression, and working for a magazine with a readership at the time of thirty million reminded me that no reader (other than my parents, perhaps) was interested in the prose-style of Pico Iyer; she just wanted to know what had happened in Beirut or El Salvador the previous week.

I wrote my first book, as mentioned above, during a six-month leave of absence from Time, so I had to travel, fast, across ten countries in Asia for four months, and then write, even faster, for three months back in my parents’ home.

This was a good way of learning to work with deadlines, to keep the reader always in mind and to cover a lot of ground very fast. I took voluminous notes, I made a clear outline, as mentioned above, and then I slipped every detail into its appropriate place.

Once I started writing books full-time, I had to unlearn all this: to give myself deadlines, but not expect a work to obey them; to take the reader and myself places where neither of us ever intended to go; and to write very slowly, which in my case means often writing five thousand words in a morning, but then writing the same five thousand words the next day, and the same five thousand a week later—and then throwing all the versions out!

It’s been a challenge to support my book-writing through journalism, because my books have sometimes seemed too much like pieces of journalism, and often my pieces of journalism have been afflicted with the intimacy and spaciousness of books, which is not always what editors want or need. And, as you say, each piece of writing demands its own pace, and most extended, book-length works show how they’re meant to be written only about two-thirds of the way through (asking the writer if she has the courage to go back to the beginning and start again, in the light of all she’s learned).

I’ve written a lot of essays, too, and 6000-word features, and the introductions to more than seventy books, and there’s no set formula. But for me the most important thing is perhaps exactly what I would never have expected when I started out: bio-rhythms.

Having done this for so long now, I have a very precise sense, to the minute, of which times of day are best for me, how my cycles of tiredness and freshness play out—and what kind of texture my prose will have three weeks, six weeks and twelve weeks after crossing an ocean and seven or more time-zones.

To me it’s like learning how to work with a partner, getting to know her moods, learning how not to take seriously her moments of crankiness, discounting those moments when she’s unusually elated. But in writing you’re working with those more mysterious partners known as the Self and the Muse.

DA: You have said, “travel writing is most interesting when it goes far beyond travel,” and your books reflect that belief.

PI: The writers on place most of us cherish, we cherish because something much more is at stake for them than just a holiday or a set of observations. In The Snow Leopard, for example, Peter Matthiessen embarks on a trip with a scientific expedition into a remote part of the Himalayas seen by very few foreigners at the time he went there, in the 1970s. But the reason the book holds me still and always will is that he’s really embarking on a much deeper inner journey, into his grief and sadness and confusion after the death from cancer of his young wife Deborah Love. So when he explains the Buddhism he’s encountering, it’s not something abstract or outside himself that he’s sharing with us; it’s a series of lessons critical to his survival, about how to deal with impermanence, how to live with loss and how to keep loving when the love you know has just disappeared.

In much the same way, when V.S. Naipaul traveled across the world, he was trying to sort out his divided soul, to make a peace between the colonizer in himself, the one schooled so rigorously in Britain and its literature, and the colonized, the native of Trinidad with forebears in India. It’s that anguished search that gives his descriptions of places their intensity and meaning.

Joan Didion’s early essays on California derive their power from the fact that the breakdowns she’s describing all around her are cracking her in two as well; none of the tremors she registers with such precision are only external; Ryszard Kapuscinski, in traveling to oppressed countries, was effectively sending coded messages back to his readers in Poland, suffering through an oppression of their own; and Annie Dillard, in bringing Thoreau into the contemporary moment, is trying to see how the science that so fascinates her, and that remains inarguable, can be squared with the God she loves.

The external descriptions in all their books hold us as a striking suit or beautiful dress might; but the only reason I wish to spend time with any of them is for their soul.

DA: You call yourself a writer of crossing cultures. You were born in the UK, but have lived in the US and Japan for long stretches. Is there a place that feels most like home?

PI: I’ve always been a foreigner, in some ways, as a little boy born in England to parents from India and moving to California when I was seven years old. Which means, for me, that everywhere is fascinating and I can never take very much for granted.

And of course a writer has to be an outsider, most of all when she’s writing about her mother, her hometown, herself. She has to write about all of them as if from within, with both intimacy and authority, but insofar as her reader probably knows none of them, she has to see how all of them look from the outside, too. One reason memoir is so hard to write is that you have to write of yourself as others see you, and not as you see yourself.

So I’m sure my nature and particular upbringing do play a part: as a little boy at boarding school in England, I was six thousand miles from the nearest relative, with my parents in California and my uncles and aunts and grandparents in India. And every three months I’d fly between a fifteenth-century school and California at the height of the Summer of Love. Being an outsider felt like being given fresh eyes to both sides of the commute, and being able to see England with the appreciative eyes of California, California with the longing eyes of England.

Some people would say it’s only natural, then, that I’ve chosen to make my home in the land that will always at some level feel like the most foreign place on earth, where I will always be known as a gaikokujin, or “outsider person.” I even choose to stay here on a tourist visa to keep myself honest, and to remind myself that, friendly and welcoming as my neighbors are, they’d probably never want me to be a part of their community full-time.

The kids around me call me a “parasite” because a writer is the rare being, especially in a society as regimented and formal as Japan, who isn’t dressing up in a suit every morning and going off to the office, but (in my case) is to be discovered slouching around at noon, unshaven in his pajamas. But I know, having worked in a very high-pressure job in Midtown Manhattan, that being a free-lance writer in charge of my own schedule is infinitely more taxing and time-consuming than the most stress-filled office job.

DA: So, as a consummate outsider, how would you characterize your relationship to Japan today?

PI: When I came and lived for nine years in the U.S. in my twenties, I was grateful beyond words. Whatever you feel about the reality of the country at any point, it does have a sense of possibility, a love of the future tense, a freedom from the past that anyone from the Old World will always feel liberating. I can never express sufficiently what an invigoration it was, when I came of age, to read Emerson and Thoreau, hymning the optative tense, and also encountering powerful challenges to them that issued from Melville and Emily Dickinson.

But the pursuit of happiness isn’t the only fact of life and most of us find that happiness is found only when we don’t pursue it.

So when I turned twenty-nine, I thought that the wide horizons that the New World had opened up to me needed to be put in place by an Old World sense that suffering is the first fact of life, unfortunately non-negotiable. Endless summer acquires more meaning—and value—once you’ve placed yourself in a world of autumn.

What I cherish about Japan is that reality isn’t seen as an insult or an aberration. It’s dangerous to generalize, but I found that many of my neighbors in Santa Barbara, when the pandemic broke out, seemed really shocked, as if life had suddenly dealt them a bad card; in Japan, after fourteen hundred years of earthquakes and fires and typhoons and warfare, there was much less a sense of surprise or indignation. One has to work with reality if only because—as I write in Autumn Light—an argument with reality is an argument one can never win.

So the Old World did seem to be the right place, for me at least, to learn about the second half of life and the meaning of things ending. At the heart of my recent book about Japan, as you saw, is the sense that impermanence isn’t a cause for grief, but rather for rejoicing in all the beauty and inspiration we enjoy right now.

It’s precisely the fact that nothing lasts that helps me cherish the fact that I get to spend this moment conversing with you. It’s the truth that we all die that makes our lives worthwhile.

DA: Before we end this lovely conversation, can you give us a glimpse of what you are working on now? And what new avenues do you feel the need, or desire, to explore in these days of global uncertainty and, on the other hand, global possibilities of coming together for good?

PI: As mumbled so shamefully above, I’ve never enjoyed such a rich and fruitful time for writing, not having to move around, freed from many distractions, having my body (and therefore often my mind) all in one place. And though tending to all my mother’s medical and practical needs, as her only living relative, takes up a lot of my day, I feel I have more than enough time, so long as I don’t distract myself, during this enforced global retreat, for writing.

Fiction is the great adventure for me, but precisely because I don’t know how to do it. So I’d love to continue playing around with it, as in the two novels I’ve published, but I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained from inflicting my fledgling attempts on an audience. I’m keenly aware, especially as an eager reader, that if I publish a novel, I’m competing, as it were, against Tolstoy and Eliot and Melville and Proust—not to mention Elizabeth Strout and Kazuo Ishiguro and George Saunders—and there’s no earthly reason why anyone should ever pick up one of my beginner’s efforts.

I have broken the back of maybe four big non-fiction works this year, however, and the first one speaks exactly to what you so beautifully describe in your question. It’s about a series of trips around war-zones—North Korea, Iran, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Jerusalem—each of which has claims to being paradise. So it’s an attempt to find the possibility hiding out within reality and the ways in which we can see the world as it is, yet never give up hope for it.

Its guiding spirits are, among others, Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama, both of whom, as monks, had a sense of the larger arc of history and the beauty of every place and moment, if only it can be seen in the right light.

As you say, we are living in a time of global uncertainty, but I feel that the virus has only dramatized and brought home forcefully to us what is always the case: two years ago, ten years ago, we never knew what was going to happen the following day, or even that very night. Uncertainty is the home we have to try to make as comfortable and steady as possible.

I always like it when the Dalai Lama points out that we have to fashion our hopes and determination in the light of an awareness of how little we know. As he says, with characteristic succinctness, “Uncertainty is possibility.”


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