Balance Planning Time Values

Life’s music lesson #1 – play the spaces

Written by Don Jones

I was raised in a family of musicians – my father was an opera singer and my mother a pianist and music teacher. Needless to say, music was a constant in our house. I began learning instruments around age 6 and have been playing ever since. With music, once you begin to master technique, you also begin to understand that music is more than just the notes you play. Mozart said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Without the silence between the notes, you have no rhythm, no beauty, no groove! I’ve learned a lot about living from the lessons I’ve learned in music, and Mozart’s insight may be the most powerful lesson I’ve been able to extend to life. I’ve come to experience for myself that life is not just in what I do or say, but in the silence between. How I live in the silence and spaces that I create, as well as those that just show up throughout my day, impacts whether I feel stressed, harried, disconnected, or disorganized.

The pace of life has gotten fast and hungry these days. Clients want your immediate attention. Email notifications come at you from your computer, your tablet, your phone, and even your watch. When you get home, it doesn’t stop. You may have family and friends who want and need your attention. Television news relentlessly jabbers at you with its messages of a perilous world encroaching on your life. You seem to have more people to see and things to do than you have time. If you’re waiting for it to slow down for a second so you can pull it all together, you’re in for a long wait. That kind of life is not music – it’s just noise. It has no rhythm, no beauty, no groove.

The important thing to remember is that you have a choice. You can let the world compose, arrange, and direct your life, and forgo the music for the noise; or you can intentionally step up and be your own composer, arranger, conductor, and player. You can compose a life that is worth playing. I’ll grant you, it’s not easy. You might have to brush up on your techniques. You’ll clearly have to practice. You definitely won’t play it perfectly every time. But whatever you do, be sure you create, live, and enjoy the spaces between the notes in your life.

How do you “play the spaces” in your life? A good way to start is to take a week and, without making any changes in your life, just notice whether there are any spaces or moments of silence, when they arise, and whether your first and strongest reaction is to fill them up with noisy actions, words, thoughts, and emotions. For some of us, we find spaces and silence uncomfortable – we believe we should be doing something – anything – to fill the space, so we play right through them. We worry and plan about what to do next, we replay past conversations and actions and wonder if we could have handled those better, or we pull out our phone and text or call someone. The rhythm and groove of our lives get jumbled and messy.

After that week, it’s time to take over the job of composing and playing. If you have found some natural spaces in your life, live those. If not, you’ll need to write them into the score of your life. If you’re uncomfortable with the spaces, then just be uncomfortable with them. It won’t kill you. The more you practice a new way of approaching the spaces, the more natural it will become. At that point, music (a.k.a. life) becomes much more fun, enjoyable, and beautiful.

When you come upon a space in your busy life, even if it’s only three minutes, here’s what you do. You stop, you breathe, you pay attention to how your body feels, you don’t try to beat down the thoughts or feelings that arise – you just step back and notice them. You can focus on or count your breath. You can walk down the hall and back, noticing how your feet feel when they touch the ground, how you hold your body when you walk. You can even step back and watch your thoughts pass by without holding on to them. When you fail at that, just fail. When you succeed, just succeed.

Whatever you do, play the space with intention and focus. Once the space is played and you move on to the notes in your daily life, play them with intention and focus as well. Over time, you will begin to notice that some calmness has entered your life. Your thoughts begin to quiet and your feelings begin to behave. Your energy level will even increase. When you play the spaces between the notes in your life, you’re no longer reacting. Now you are responding. When you respond, the power and beauty of your life can return. Your life’s rhythm and groove return and it feels good!

That’s it for now. Take what you like, leave the rest, and remember – you have a life, now make it sing!


About the author

Don Jones

Don Jones has been licensed to practice law in Texas for longer than seems possible – 35 years – though he hasn’t practiced law that entire stretch. He went on a hiatus from the practice to tour as a musician and later to serve as a licensed chemical dependency counselor in a number of treatment centers. He has been with the State Bar of Texas for the past 25 years, first serving as director of the Texas Lawyers Assistant Program and later serving in the Legal Counsel’s office and as a trainer in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator curriculum. He’s been married for 27 years and has four great kids – one 22 year old and 20 year old triplets.

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