(Intentionally Left Blank)

The great pianist Debussy, when asked how he could play those notes so beautifully, responded “It is not in the notes that the beauty of the music lies; it is in the silences between them.”

The value of space is not limited to music: In art, visual design, web and graphics design and paintings – the blank space is what defines the picture. In writing, the most artistic and successful editing is that which does not go back and add or rearrange but rather subtracts.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away,” reminded French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Music, writing and speech are processes that improve by subtraction of content, not addition. When I first write a piece I see a lump of clay in front of me, that I have to chisel away at – mercilessly – before it gets too old and dry. And, well, lumpy.

So we have the tune, or words – now what gives it meaning, and life? Tone, inflection, facial expressions, body language and the rhythm of the silence. Any latin music lover knows about “clave” – which in English means “code” – the syncopated rhythm pattern, usually silent, that forms the backbone of the music and gives it clarity, form, substance and meaning.

A good example of where we don’t have clarity is email. All we have are bare naked words. No tone, inflection, expression – no “clave.” We can’t extrapolate true meaning from it, so the best we can do is project ourselves onto it – which tells us nothing about the intent of the sender. The use of email should be restricted solely to the transmission of necessary factual information. How many of us wished we could have unclicked it as soon as we sent it? Or woke up in the middle of the night running to our “send” box, hoping that we just dreamt it? How many times have we misunderstood (or have been misunderstood) and misinterpreted an email and then responded accordingly, leading to an argument, hurt feelings – even a damaged relationship? The format of email is insufficient. Frighteningly so. Our projections are almost always wrong – Because they are sourced in the receiver, not the sender.

We have all heard countless times people saying “But I don’t know what to say to him/her/them.” This encompassess three false beliefs: One, that not knowing how to make noise in advance is bad, two, that silence is bad, and three, that it is your sole responsibility to fill the silence. Rather than ruminating on what you want to say to others, let go of that false sense of responsibility and allow the space – between each other and between your ears – for what they might like to say to you. Listen to their words and their spaces. If they can simultaneously do the same with you then you find yourselves dancing to a beautiful piece of music.

Self-reflecting, or meditation, if you will, is so difficult because it’s just too damn noisy. Simplify it. Stop adding, perseverating, interpreting and embellishing. Start subtracting – All those things that really don’t and never mattered: The breakup you thought would end your life,  the awful first time you had sex, and all the times you didn’t, the “one” you should have married, and the one you did; the job or partner that doesn’t “make you happy” (as if they are supposed to). And then the all-too-familiar narrative: “I’m too old, too poor, ugly, a failure, a loser – and all those “I coulda-woulda-shoulda’s .” It is ALL nothing more than CLUTTER. NOISE. GET RID OF IT –  Toss it in the celestial dumpster – the cosmic repository for “All Things That Do Not Matter.”

If you can clear out the clutter, even a little bit at a time, and embrace the silence,  you will end up with a poem. Or a song. When there is nothing left to subtract you will see in what remains all that is here and all that really matters. You will hear the silence. You will see the spaces.

What I am left with is Love, in its many different forms – the synergistic power of kindred souls, the bond of a friendship not describable in words, or the love between two people who live and die for it but can never explain it.

So I say: “Love, let us just be quiet –

Let’s look at each other’s faces – I’m excited to find out if we smile, or laugh, or cry.”

We touch, we look, we embrace.

We hear the silence between the notes and know the music for the first time.

Copyright December 2017, Dr. Bill

Good Morning, Heartache

You wake up in the morning and take another pill so you can sleep until noon. You think that maybe if you can manage to miss half the day the other half won’t hurt so much. Getting out of bed is like trying to walk right out of surgery. On good days come the dreaded rituals: Brushing teeth, showering, on a great day perhaps a shave.

Coffee just stimulates the pain, not the mood, but you drink it anyway. You sit and stare at the walls, too tired to move, go out, stay in, or even look around. You don’t care, and you don’t care that you don’t care. You’re falling, and you’re just too exhausted to try holding on any longer. Imagine spiraling down a hole, ever so slowly – A hole with no end, no destination, just a general direction downward.

Do you know what I mean? Because if you don’t, I am just not going be able to tell it to you so that you understand. And those people at the edge, up top, they look down and shake their heads and tell you to just get up and just go for a walk and just do this and just do that and it hurts so much more because they all remind you how alone you are because they just don’t know what you’re feeling because if they did they wouldn’t say those things and so it must be me and I’m the only crazy one in this sea of stuff and….and….

After a few moments there’s the daily Council meeting in your head. Each day it forms a consensus, comes back in the room and declares the results, one more time: “Mr. Secretary, please read the minutes of today’s meeting: ‘You are worthless, you are nothing; you are nobody. You never have and never will make a damn bit of difference in this world. In fact your very presence makes it worse. You don’t deserve to be here. You are a pathetic loser – Just look at yourself.’ Meeting adjourned.” And you read the email from the guy who tells you to “Have a nice day.”

If anyone else said those things to you you would promptly show them the door – wouldn’t you? Or you’d hit him or yell or find some way to defend yourself. But here, when it comes from your own head – your own brain – you just sit down, pour another cup of coffee, and listen. You listen and nod and you have nothing to say in your own defense. You believe they are right. And then when they are done reading you today’s minutes, you’re supposed to go out and be in the world. “Don’t worry – be happy;” “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be;” “Think positive;” “Be grateful for what you have.” And so on. I know exactly what you would like to say to them all.

Welcome to the club. Open to members of all creeds, races, nationalities, cultures and religions. And contrary to popular Western belief, membership is not only involuntary but not at all correlated with wealth, with your stuff. It doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, sick, well, married, single, homeless or in a palace. You may not believe me, I know – But I have examples. I have the list. I can prove it to you. It’s so hard to believe because we have been trained to think with the template “If only I …;”  Fill in the blank – “Had a love,” “had a better job,” “was single,” “was married,” “had a family,” “had more money,” “didn’t have this disease,” “wasn’t so fat,” “wasn’t so thin,” “looked better in these pants,” “had abs like him,” “hair like her,” “had hair,” and so on ad nauseam.

Then, THEN, THEN you become attached to the depression itself!  It becomes part of you; it defines you. After awhile it feels like an old friend, or the spouse that you can’t divorce just because you can’t fathom life without them. It blinds us to our choices and makes us attach ourselves to it. Resistance only feeds it and makes it worse. It forces us to feed it and the more we feed it the more powerful it gets. And then of all things we invite it to sit down and join us for our morning coffee and to accompany us throughout the day.

Maybe you come from a Ward and June family (If you’re under 50 look it up). There was more than enough love to go around. No alcoholism. No violence. Family vacations, help with homework, kindness, compassion and understanding; yet you still can’t remember how many times you wished you were dead, or at least thought about it; or that you wished you were someone else. A five year-old hides under his bed, thinking about death. He seeks comfort in his parents, and they gave it. But the effects are so short-lived and the monster never leaves. At least not for long. So you’re either in it or you’re waiting for it. And they told you that “Life is just a bowl of cherries.”

As you get older you try therapy, exercise, hobbies, travel, self-help books, medication, you name it. But always the effects were short-lived. The only thing that came close to helping, that actually made the blues go away for just a little while was that bottle of Jack Daniels in front of you. But then that eventually make things worse. A LOT worse. It will feed the depression and it will get you a first class ticket into a mental hospital, prison, a spot under the bridge with a can of Sterno, or just a quicker death. But thinking about that – I mean imagining all that – It doesn’t matter, does it? You don’t really care right now, do you?

What we think of as “love” is the biggest scapegoat of all. We attribute our depression to not having someone, or someone leaving us by going away. Or by finding out that s/he was never really there in the first place. Most people I meet seem to get that “money won’t buy happiness.” What they don’t get is that neither will love. Sorry folks, I hate to break it to you, but finding that Mr./Ms. Right is not going to make you happy if you ain’t happy now.

True happiness – I mean serenity, not ha-ha-happiness – is inversely proportional to expectations. The word for “expectation” and “hope” is the same in some languages. If you know depression, not just sadness but the bleak darkness of true depression, then you know what I mean. If you know depression then you know why you’ll grasp at anything – a person, a drug, sex, a sport, a job, your smartphone, a thrill – just to not feel it for a few moments. But the moments end. Always too soon. And we go on living and reaching for those tiny spaces where the clouds have yet to pass that day but we just can’t quite make it…..