It is a simple yet profound metaphor that a childhood mentor of my mom’s shared with her decades ago: “When one foot walks, the other rests.” It’s the way all of nature works, a beautiful reminder that everything is in ebb and flow, engaged in cycles and rhythms.
Our own bodies follow natural patterns, recuperating every night and preparing for the next day’s activity. With music as well, the structure imposed by notes inherently depends on the unstructured space supporting it. The notes and the space between them come together to create music.
As a culture, though, we give more importance to creating notes and relatively little to the space between them. Between creation and being, the emphasis is on creation. Interestingly, the musician John Cage felt that his most important piece was “4’33″,” in which a musician plays no notes at all, bringing to focus natural, environmental sounds. His point was that, “There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear.”
Of course, our societal bias is understandable. Creation usually manifests in an externally measurable way, making it a convenient basis for interpersonal organizing — for communication, comparison and differentiation. The downside, though, is that we start losing subtle value. Even a creative paragon of our times, Albert Einstein, reminds us of the limitation of this approach. “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
Our rational minds want to ensure progress, but our intuitive minds need space for the emergent, unknown and unplanned to arise. Within the existing paradigm, the external comes first, the internal takes a backseat, and in deference to measurability, we become more tuned in to doing than to being.
The problem isn’t in the doing per se, but rather in the nature of the doing. When we aren’t aware internally, we get so vested in our plans and actions, that we don’t notice the buildup of mental residue. So the momentum of “forward-thinking doing” continues in the mind. In that kind of state, even nature’s imposed breaks aren’t restful: we have trouble falling asleep, or even resting soundly. The mind just doesn’t relax.
The secret to more balance lies in how we frame our efforts.
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