“Music is the space between the notes," is a quote attributed to French composer Claude Debussy, with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis famously expressing similar ideas several decades later. In a similar vein, graphic designers, whether for it’s for the printed page or a website, speak of the value of white space, areas without text or images. The concept that what is not there is more important than what is there can also be applied to meditation, whether it is seated meditation or an active yoga class.
A Quiet Mind
A quiet mind in a meditative state is fully absorbed and present. Whether the mind is completely filled by the breath, a yoga pose or true silence, in this state, it is not distracted by thoughts or outside occurrences. If comparing a mind in that moment to music or design, it might be thought of as the space between the notes or the white space on a page. Thoughts and disturbances are the notes, images or text.
How do we achieve a quiet mind? Practices such as yoga and mindfulness are good preparation, but there are additional helpful concepts and exercises that can enhance the experience.
Thoughts and Impressions
Our active minds are besieged by series of thoughts and impressions. To move toward a quiet mind, the next time you are sitting for meditation or lying in savasana, imagine the usual string of mental chatter as a series of individual thoughts like notes in a melody. Each of them arrives in your mind and departs from your mind. Just beginning to observe this activity, becoming conscious of it, will cause the thoughts to move at a slower pace; the mind becomes calmer.
Adding More Space
Between each of these individual thoughts there is, however small it may be, some amount of space. As you become quiet, calmer and more observant, see if you can be aware of these spaces. They may be hard to find, but patiently watching and waiting for them, they sometimes begin to appear. As your thought process - your string of notes - gets slower, the spaces between the notes will get longer, like the space in a Miles Davis trumpet solo.
This will not happen right away. It is a process that takes months and years. Almost all of us have trouble being truly quiet for even the briefest of moments. Achieving a true meditative state is a very difficult challenge. Fortunately, almost every meditation session or yoga practice benefits the body and mind, even if there is a lot of mental activity. Every step along the way, each brief space between the notes, is nourishing and restorative. Even if you are not a master musician, you can still enjoy the song.