In Defense of Rests


Back in 2005 I attended a conference in which I listened to an address by a music producer and composer.  Among other things, he taught about rests.  In music, rests instruct you to stop playing or holding a note for a short amount of time.  Intuitively, it would seem like a rest would be the opposite of music since it restricts sound.  But musicians have learned otherwise.

Composer Claude Debussy has been credited as saying, “Music is the space between notes”.

According to Mozart, “Music is not in the notes, but the silence between”.

And according to the presenter I listened to, rests are an important and powerful part of music because it is often in those moments of stillness that the power of the music can enter into the hearts and minds of the listener.

In other words, rests, the space between the sounds, are an important part of music.  Not a lack of it.

There is a principle here that also applies to people.  Just as music is enhanced by the presence of rests, life is improved by taking time to rest.

It is common to have never-ending to-do lists.  Sometimes, some people (myself included), tend to equate how good their day was with how busy they were during it.  We either end up thinking that we don’t have time to rest, or we feel guilty when we do.  We mistakenly think that taking time to rest means we are avoiding life and neglecting responsibilities. But just as rests are part of music, not an absence of it, taking time to rest equates to enhancing life, not escaping it.

Breaks can be beneficial.  Consider these research findings: Taking a break from work to check your smart phone periodically can increase productivity.  Having recess at school helps kids focus so that they can learn better in the classroom.  Taking two minutes every 20 minutes to stand up and walk around contributes to improved health.  Twenty-five minutes of mindfulness exercises a day helps to reduce stress levels.

This concept of rests applies to taking care of yourself and it also applies to taking care of your relationship.  Take time to do activities that rejuvenate you.  Take a time-out during an argument to cool down.  Find a babysitter and make going on dates with your partner a priority.

Making and taking time to rest is an investment that pays off.

If your life is like a song that is constantly at a fast-paced tempo with no rests, you may find that it isn’t a song that you can easily ponder during or find peace in.  If you feel like you always have to be busy and that you can’t or shouldn’t take any time for yourself or your relationship, please believe that you can and should and give yourself permission to.  Well-placed rests won’t interrupt life.  They add power to life and help make it beautiful.