Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making Spaces

"The Sun Rests"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I am an avid music fan, mostly classical and jazz or folk - I listen to music all the time. I guess that's why I was so struck by something I read yesterday in Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Silence the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise.

In music there are moments of 'rest,' of no sound.
If those spaces weren't there, it would be a mess.
Music without moments of silence would be chaotic and oppressive.
That space between notes is very, very powerful, very meaningful. 
It is more eloquent than any sound,
The soundless can be more pleasant, more eloquent than any sound.

I hadn't actually thought about this before - the musical sound of "no sounds," the importance of the rests and spaces. So I thought I'd listen to some music with new ears and new awareness by listening for the spaces. I was amazed at what I discovered.

I put on some of my favorite classical music and discovered that it was brimming with interpretive pauses and poignant rests. The entire piece had a whole new meaning because of the spaces. I then put on a local jazz station and noticed the same thing, and I immediately remembered something I once read a few years back that had slipped my mind up to now - an interview with the renowned  Jazz composer-trumpeter, Miles Davis, who said this of his music:

The space you leave is as important as the sound you make.

In his book, Thich Nhat Hanh wasn't talking about music because he is a music critic but because he is a spiritual guide. The lesson we can learn about the importance of spaces in music is a lesson we can learn about the importance of making spaces on a spiritual path.

In some sense our lives do indeed flow on like a musical composition, and it seems to me that in this busy and chaotic world of everyday living there are few spaces in that music. It's one endless task after another, always thinking, always running, and this nonstop music quickly becomes chaotic and oppressive without the rests and the spaces.

How easy it would be to punctuate the daily routine of everyday living with meaningful, mindful "no-sounds." Maybe a breathing space of a minute or so in the middle of sending out the endless emails and making the reports, -a time to close your eyes, clear the mind with a few deep breaths, simply awake in the present moment, nothing too complicated or intricate or time consuming, just a brief space, a little rest in the music from time to time. 

Any one of us can find a way to insert small "rests" throughout the flow of our everyday routine - rests that can indeed be more "eloquent" than all the other sounds our life might make.

The space you leave is as important as the sound you make. 

Listen to my weekly podcast: "Desert Wisdom"


  1. I so agree. And Thay is the most powerful presence I know, with his soft, gentle voice and eyes that seem to see you clearly, but convey only love. This is what I've been told. I saw him from a distance one, in a crowd of children in the Rockies. I knew who he was, but even if I hadn't his presence was as close to something transcendent as I've ever known. Thanks for that post.