I just sat down to practice piano. My recently unemployed status allows me time to do some of the things that I’ve allowed to slip away, like vacuuming under the couch or baking for my family or cleaning out the garage. Piano, however, is one of the things that keeps me sane, keeps me from slipping under. Even when I’m fully employed, I play the piano every couple of days, if only for a few minutes. Something about the tactile nature of the task, and the way it inhibits speech, has always allowed me to connect with a silence that gives me strength.

I haven’t had a lot of silence in the last year. The noise of work has been the soundtrack behind everything from dishes to sleep for the last 16 months. Even interacting with my family has run concurrently with thoughts of my work. But today, suddenly and for the first time in months, I am well and truly alone. The kids are back at school after a four day weekend, my husband is working in another state, and I am in my kitchen parsing the quiet.

The silence in this solitary time is harder for me to assimilate. My thoughts are sparsely populated, and I am acutely aware of the absence of mental noise. I’m so used to juggling thoughts about work/family/housework/blogs/politics/friends that the abrupt reduction of hunks of life my brain can examine comes as a mild shock.

I am forced to listen to the silence. To be, to move through my day at a slower pace.

When my piano students struggle with a particular passage of their work, I instruct them to set the metronome to “excruciatingly slow” (a technical music term, for you non-musicians) and pay close attention to each note as they play it. They are to repeat the difficult passage multiple times, until it feels familiar, until they are comfortable with the section alone. Once the section is mastered at the slow pace, they can increase the speed incrementally, still working on that section.

This time in my life is my difficult section. The weight of this solitude forces me to slow the pace of my thoughts, to stop looking at the other parts of my life and simply reflect on what’s in front of me right now. This section, these measures of quiet, may be the hardest fragments of time for me to deal with because of the frenetic habits I’ve acquired.

I’m setting my metronome, turning off my cell phone, and moving into the quiet.

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