In search of paradise—and why travel writer Pico Iyer says it may be within

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Paradise is “right here right now, in the midst of real life,” says travel writer Pico Iyer. Photo by Derek Shapton.

Jonathan Bastian talks with travel writer and author Pico Iyer about his 48 years of travel and his latest book, “The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise.”  Iyer shares his most memorable stories from Iran, Japan, India, and California, and why it’s good to be humbled by experience and by the world. 

“The more we can acknowledge how much lies beyond our grasp, the richer we are,” says Iyer. “That's why we turn to religious figures, whether it's Pope Francis, or the Dalai Lama, or Thoreau, in his way. They all have a due deference before the vastness of the world that they can't hope to control.”

An avid traveler, Iyer maintains that we can only truly experience the colors, sounds, and smells of another place first hand — but that travel does not necessarily have to be exotic to leave an impression.  

“You don't have to go far to be transformed. Travel is a shortcut to suddenly being overturned and opened up. But you can experience that in your hometown or even within your home,” he says. “So it's not an essential part of your life, but if somebody were to tell me, I could go to Saudi Arabia next week, I'd be on the next plane because I am fascinated by it and I don't feel I can know very much about it at a distance.”

In “The Half Known Life,” author Pico Iyer travels the world and spiritual sites to seek out the nature of paradise.  

The search and meaning of paradise has been a life-long curiosity for Iyer — whether in the mosque in Isfahan, a temple in Kyoto, or in the Indian city of Varanasi, he sees paradise in devotion and tranquility, and also in chaos and death.

“Don't look out beyond the future for paradise, it's right here,” he says. “Embracing the world means recognizing that we have to find our paradise — if we're ever going to find it — right here right now, in the midst of real life and also, I was thinking during the pandemic, in the face of death. Paradise can't exclude death, shadows, imperfection.”

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  • Pico Iyer - author of "The Art of Stillness : Adventures in Going Nowhere, and, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells"


Andrea Brody