This week I returned to yoga after a long six-month drought. Aside from feeling like a winded sprinter in the first 15 minutes, I was most surprised at how my mind, which normally falls to quiet stillness during meditation, could not find peace. I know it has a lot to with my less-than-desirable level of fitness, but it got me thinking about space and how I could cultivate it in the present moment.
In the last year, jazz improvisation has taught me a lot about listening for the space in music and finding opportunities to punctuate the silence with small musical phrases. More importantly, though, I’ve learned how to linger. What is that you ask?
It’s the exact opposite of trying to fill all the silence with sound and just letting one note ring and fade back to silence before moving to the next note. When I first started improvising, I often felt like the music was threatening to run me over if I didn’t keep up; I was left dizzy and floundering in the dust of partial and poorly executed phrases. After witnessing a few of my flustered attempts, my teacher tried a different approach, “Hold a note and let it ring, give it space than move,” he said. “You have all kinds of time to make the next note, there’s no rush.”
The wonderful simplicity of this lesson was so freeing, that I seldom find myself struggling to link phrases together anymore. When I feel like I am getting ahead or behind of the song I am playing along with, I just pause, reset and resettle into a groove. Normally, if I feel this way it’s because I haven’t allowed myself to listen for the spaces the other musicians leave for me to discover, like little gold nuggets.
Sound and silence is just as important in vocal improvisation and chant as it is in jazz. I recently came across an excerpt of the book “The Yoga of Sound” in which author Russill Paul makes a beautiful observation about sound and the human ear:
“The ear is feminine and soul-like because of its receptive, deep, interior, mysterious qualities. This is why the quality of our hearing and kinds of sounds we hear are important; we derive healing and nourishment for our soul from the process. In other words, to neglect our ears is to neglect our soul.”
So how do you find space and silence in your daily lives? If this concept of listening for silence is new to you, I encourage you to try it. It really is music to your ears.