The Space Between

Sometimes you just have to let a moment speak for itself, right? Sometimes it’s about what you don’t say, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s the space you leave around the notes you play, amen? Sometimes it’s about just listening, at least that’s what I’m discovering.

I think back to my early years of being a musician and the way I thought about and approached music vs how I think now are so drastically different. I was raised in the days of metal/hair bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Skid Row and the like. In those days, almost every song had a guitar solo sometimes more than one. Not all, but most of the solos were a flurry of notes, tapping, harmonics and all the fancy stuff that was trendy back in the day. I still play a mean air guitar when “Talk Dirty to Me” comes on.

Fast forward many years later I picked up the guitar and started to learn scales and chords and when it came time for me to solo I tried to squeeze as many notes into as few a bars as possible because I was just emulating what I heard growing up, plus it looked cool. Then I had an epiphany. I began to listen to guitar players like Eric Clapton, who I swore must have been drunk because he played slowly, very slowly and with lots of space between the notes, I thought “he’s just lazy” where are all the notes? I asked myself. Then, I dug and listened to people like Freddy King, BB King, Buddy Guy, Miles Davis and I started to notice they all played slower and with more space in between notes, on purpose. It was a revelation, and I thought I might give it a try.

What I noticed at first was because of my pattern of playing of flurry of notes that this new technique that involved space was very strange and uncomfortable, it felt very unnatural, it still does sometimes. It’s taken years and years of playing slow and melodically to undo my stubborn technique that I like to think of as guitar vomiting. What I noticed is that my playing became more soulful, more spacious and more engaging than when I play a flurry of meaningless notes. I mean, think about it if we applied this to our regular conversations, what if it’s really about what we DON’T say sometimes.  This got me thinking, where else in life am I not leaving enough space? How else could I apply this concept to my life?

I get the privilege of facilitating some group therapy from time to time. My experiences in life have left me the ability to reach and connect with other people like myself, broken, hurting people. At first when I led these groups I had some insanely grandiose thoughts. I said to myself “I’ll just listen to these folks and then I’ll help them with their problems by giving them a response or a solution to each problem.” I’m not gonna lie at first it felt good to have all the answers for these folks. It seemed like there was nothing they could bring up that I didn’t have some response for. Then it happened, I realized that I was vomiting answers and that wasn’t what the situation needed or called for.

So, with a nudge from The Spirit I began to try to minimize my responses and just listen and leave space. I would use my words sparingly and my response often became “Me too.” It was awkward as hell at first for all of us! I had laid down a foundation that had to be undone. Sometimes there would be long periods of silence and I would have to fight the urge to break it up with some sort of interjection. What I discovered was so beautiful. The space and silence began to bring forth new levels of intimacy, if you can believe it, the silence and space produced more productive meaningful, fruitful conversation.

I was thinking about an incident in the Bible (John 7)where there was a woman caught in the actual act of adultery. The woman was drug in front of Jesus and the religious leaders of the day tried to provoke Jesus. They tried to get him to agree with them by quoting the mosaic laws of the day and get him to agree to stone her to death. How does Jesus reply? He doesn’t, at first just silence. In fact, he leans down and begins to write in the sand. The Bible doesn’t say what he wrote but evidently it spoke volumes. The silence was deafening. The religious leaders continued the provoke Jesus He at last, replied simply, “whoever is without sin, throw the first stone.” One by one the woman’s accusers drop their stones and go home. Mic drop/stone drop….see what I did there??

If we believe that Jesus was who he says he was then we know that he had all power and authority to do whatever he wanted in that situation. He could’ve entered into an argument with these religious leaders and surely he would have won the argument, but that’s not what he chose to do. Even though he had all the knowledge at his disposal to argue them into submission, He chose to let the moment speak for itself. He chose silence and space and and the result was far more powerful and made much more of an impact that a flurry of words would have done.

So, what happened to the woman. She’s left alone there with Jesus because all the accusers have dropped their stones and walk away. So, then I would think this is the part where Jesus gives her a long lecture about adultery and sin and a 7 point illustration of why it’s not a good idea etc, etc. but again Jesus responds with a question to her, not an answer, a simple question. “Where are your accusers?” Jesus said. She said “they’re gone” and Jesus then said “I don’t accuse you either” then I imagine with compassion he said “go home, and sin no more.” Again, Jesus with very few words let the moment speak for itself.

So, what happens in the space and silence? I’m not exactly sure but I know it often makes the words spoken or notes played more powerful and meaningful, the space seems spiritual. Why is it that I’m noticing that the people with the most knowledge, say the least? I don’t know, maybe I’m imagining things but I think there’s lots going on in these moments that we will never comprehend, at least not here. But I’m in the process of practicing this principal in all areas of my life. I’ll keep you posted…