The Space Between

“It is the silence between the notes that makes the music”. This might be a Zen proverb. Or Claude Debussy may have said it. Or both.

In any event, the point is, the bits of silence are what allow us to hear the rhythm and the melody. It is the space between the notes that enables us to hear the notes’ relationship with one another. Without that space, without the slivers of silence, there would be no song. Without the stillness there would just be a droning jumbled mess of noise.

Similarly, without moments of stillness and silence, one’s entire life can become a droning jumbled mess. It is the silence that enables us to create a healthy rhythm in our lives.

There are times when we just have to get away from all of the movement and noise and stimulation that we are bombarded with day in and day out. We all need moments of quiet contemplation.

I’m not talking about the moments when we turn off the world and turn on our headphones to listen to great music. I’m not talking about the moments when we ignore life and dive into a good book. I’m not talking about zoning out with the TV or the internet. I’m talking about complete and total stillness and silence; the absence of all stimulation.

It is in these moments of absence that we can truly appreciate our presence.

Just as the absence of a loved one makes us appreciate them more, faults and all, the moments of silence allow us to discover the rhythm our lives. They allow us time to understand our relationship with the people and things in our lives, and between the people and things in our lives.

We have to take away the stimulation to fully realize our relationship with it.

If you’ve ever been on vacation with no WiFi, or internet, or cell service, you have had the chance to understand your relationship with technology. During a power outage, or after a storm like Hurricane Sandy, perhaps you had the chance to better understand your relationship with electricity and gasoline.

Similarly, taking any time away from your usual routine of people, places and things, will allow you to realize your relationship with each of them.  Once you understand the relationship you can better decide if you want to continue in that way or release some attachments.

Completely disconnecting, unplugging from all stimuli is not easy for us to do. So many of us are addicted to activity. I know I am.

I began this year with the intention of cultivating space and silence in my life. Since January, I have been faithfully finding more moments of complete stillness in my life.

Like last year, some friends and I are using February as a month of extra mindfulness. I chose to give up bread and booze again. The booze part is easy, because that’s mostly a social thing. But the lack of bread is so hard for me.

Last year I realized that in order to stay off the bread, I compensated with chocolate and coffee. This year some of the other people gave up chocolate so I decided to make a conscious effort not to do that again. I am still overdoing it with coffee, and I did have a couple of unhealthy run-ins with Kettle Chips.

So a few days ago I decided I would limit the coffee and not snack at all.  I can do this, I thought. I’m good. I’m good as gold. Mmmm. Beer is gold. And toast is golden brown.
Nope. I don’t need that stuff. All good.

And just when I thought I had it all figured out, I felt an old familiar pang. I wanted a cigarette. What the hell?! Where did that one come from? I never have cigarette cravings any more. I thought we had that one beat.

But I realized after a moment or two, that it wasn’t real. I didn’t want an actual cigarette. I just wanted something. Something to feed the craving. It was just the monkey looking for an old friend. Any port in a storm.

My body thinks it is in crisis mode and it starts to go through the old Rolodex.  Who have we called in the past when we felt like this. Bread? Beer? Chocolate? They’re not home. Let’s see, let’s see…. Who can we call? Cigarette! Yeah, we used to love spending time with Cigarette. Call him! See if he’s home?

Bread. Beer. Chocolate. Cigarette. They’re all the same. All the objects of one behavior. So it’s not the bread or the beer or the cigarettes that have to be better understood, it’s the underlying behavior.

If a month of giving up two things allows me space to examine my relationship with so many other things, then perhaps moments of giving up everything can allow me the time to examine my relationship with everything.

And so I will continue to cultivate stillness and silence.  In these moments of absence I can learn to be more fully present. It’s the silence that lets me hear the sounds.

The music of our lives is being written in the quiet spaces.



So the song for this one was either the Sounds of Silence or The Space Between, or this one by Depeche Mode.


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