The Power of Rest: How to Create a Balanced Life
Embrace the balance: Silence is as important as sound, and resting is as vital as doing.
“Today we are going to learn about another important element of music. When we think of music, we often think about the sounds we produce.
However, did you know that music is really a combination of sound and the absence of sound?
That absence of sound in music is called a rest. In music, rests are just as important as the notes themselves.”
As I explained this musical concept to a student, I thought, “Wow. What a powerful thought that expands beyond the piano bench.”
The Power of Rest in Music
Rests are so important in music that musicians have multiple methods of notating them. For every note value possible, composers can write a parallel rest, indicating that the performer pause, or create silence, for a measured length of time. Breaks in the sound can also be indicated with slur markings and breath marks, where only enough space is given for a performer to breathe or give the illusion of taking a breath. Interestingly, (and even more relevant to this discussion) musical notation also contains a type of rest, such as a general pause or a caesura, in which the performer chooses how long to linger in the silence.
Rests provide a palette cleanser to the music being performed by creating a contrast to the surrounding music. Their presence often creates drama within a piece of music. (What would Beethoven’s 5th Symphony be without its iconic 8th note rest on beat one?!) Performers use grand pauses to make a statement, clear the air, create an auditory break, and build tension through silence, leaving the audience to wonder, “When will they play again?” Succinctly said, without rests, we could not have full musical expression.
The Power of Rest in Life
Rests in life seem, at times, to be hard-won. In a culture committed to doing, we often forget to make time for being. We often forget that what we do in between the elements of life is just as important as each individual element. Music teaches us that the pauses in life are JUST as important, if not more important, than the remainder of life.
I see parallels between musical rests and the rests we create in life. Sleep is one example of mandated and defined rests (in theory). In an ideal sleep world (which I can appreciate is rare), our bodies literally pause to rest for a measured length of time. Depending on the studies you read, six to eight hours of sleep each night gives an individual the most benefits.
Then we have the "breath marks" of rest. These are the little moments during the day when we must choose to pause, regroup, take a literal big breath, and then return to our work. Breath marks are present in music to indicate, to a wind player or vocalist, when in the musical phrasing to take a breath. If the performer refuses to take a breath, they would pass out! They are necessary! So these planned intentional places to breathe preserve both the musician and the musical phrase. We can create similar moments in our lives by pre-planning moments in our days to slow down. For example, I have a daily alarm set on my phone to remind myself to pause from my work and take a breath to regroup. The micro-pauses in our day sustain us through the waking hours.
I am particularly drawn to the lessons general pauses and caesuras can teach us. These dramatic silence-embracing pauses are left to the discretion of the performer, not the composer! The power of the rest lies in the hands of the performer. Carrying that principle into life, what if, instead of allowing the pace of life to dictate when and how long we rest, we choose to rest as long as it takes to cleanse our "doing" palette, find solace in silence, and feel fully rested? What a revolutionary concept!!
The Benefits of Rest
Taking intentional breaks allows us to recharge, reflect, and return to our work with renewed energy and creativity. Embracing rest allows us to prevent burnout and maintain balance in our lives. Numerous articles attest to the role sleep plays in our physical and emotional well-being, yet how many of us truly prioritize receiving enough of it? (Myself included!)
The art of resting extends well beyond that of physical sleep or the act of doing nothing. The endeavor is such a personal activity, taking different forms for each individual. Sitting in silence, putting away the phone, taking deep breaths, reading a leisurely book, laughing with a friend, being present for conversation with a loved one, rediscovering the joy of play, taking up a hobby- all of these ways, and so many more, can be forms of rest.
The theme of the past few months in my life has been about finding rest, finding space, and finding margin in my day-to-day life. For years I have been running on empty. My children’s multiple medical crises, a global pandemic, my divorce, and the process of creating a new life and career out of seemingly nothing have taken a lot from me. It has given me a lot as well! Now I have more dreams and confidence than ever and am impatient to accomplish them!
But, I am slowly learning that if I don't pause to rest, I won’t have the ability to create and execute my dreams and long-term plans. Prioritizing “doing” over resting will prevent me from becoming all I want to be.
Perhaps that's why this particular piano lesson about a simple quarter note rest sent me pondering and writing this essay.
I'm daily seeking to incorporate more ways to slip rest into my days. Will you join me?
Food for Thought:
What is one way you can incorporate more rest into your life?
Envision what it would feel like to be full of energy and creativity, and to work from a place of abundant energy instead of from a place of exhaustion. It sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
Consider a few different ways you can rest- from those activities that only take a few seconds or minutes, to those that might provide you with extended rest and refreshment before re-entering the fray.
I encourage you to give it a try! Experiment with adding more rest to your days. You might find that in doing so you’ll find a new personal ritual that improves your overall health and leads to greater productivity!
It is my true delight to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through remote piano instruction that helps you press pause on life while developing a hobby that will last a lifetime.
If you are looking for this kind of restful activity, made possible through the study of the piano, contact me today.
The process is simple:
1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.
2. Select a lesson time.
3. Take your first lesson!
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