Some of my students have discovered a whole new meaning to the concept of efficient practicing. “I just skip the rests,” they tell me earnestly, sure that I will praise their ingenious idea. “It’s faster that way.”

I fear they might be on to something. While skipping the rests creates rhythmic chaos in their Clementi and Beethoven, the temptation to push through our work, ignoring the natural silences in our music, speaks volumes about us. It’s humbling, really, to be reminded that the seven and eight year olds that walk through my studio door every day are only a mirror of myself. I may be the teacher, but I too skip the rests, zipping through the channels of my productivity. Checking off accomplishments feeds my ego. The rests do not.

Rests, it turns out, are scary, which may be why we avoid them. It is much easier to fill our lives with noise than to sit with the raging voices within. We immediately turn on the radio when we get in the car, instead of keeping time with our own thoughts. We flip on the television at night to unwind before bed, zoning out to the mind-numbing sound of other peoples’ dialogue. We race from task to task, forgetting to breathe. Our bursting schedules lull us into smug complacency. If our days are full, we can convince ourselves that our lives have meaning, and that we are in control, not only of our time, but of our very futures. In a dozen telling ways, we all skip the rests.

But this summer, I want to stop skipping the rests. I want more time to stare at the hollyhocks swaying in the wind. I want to watch the hummingbirds at the feeders and to count the stars as they come out at night. This may be more a survival technique than anything. As I told a friend recently, “I think I’m suffering from profound exhaustion.” Lora nodded seriously. “You could be experiencing organ failure.”

This sounds about right. As it has so many times in the past, the last semester didn’t slow down to the finish line, it skidded to a heart-racing stop. I had three consecutive

weekends of performances, ending with our spring studio recital. I taught final lessons, nailed down my summer teaching schedule, filed away programs and sight-reading music. Friends came to visit for a week. There were parties in the garden. My college kids all came home and started texting, “When can I come to see you?”

Fearing complete organ failure, I began considering transplant options, weighing the advantages of a new kidney or perhaps a fresh set of lungs.  Instead, Matt and I flew to Portland to begin our vacation. For nine days, we let time stand still, the rests swallowing us up completely. We ate copious amounts of raw oysters and drank wine. We visited gardens and bookstores. We went to bed ridiculously early and slept in ridiculously late and then whiled away entire mornings drinking coffee and reading. After a few blissful days of this, we rented a car and started driving south to San Francisco, avoiding highways and interstates, wandering down back roads in search of waterfalls and redwood forests and deserted beaches. We spent a night in a house on a river that had beds suspended from the ceiling like swings. We ate breakfast at 10am, dinner at 5pm, and took long naps in between. Rests, it turns out, are disorienting.

But was a fitting start to the summer, really, to be completely thrown out of my tired habits and ruts, my normal practices turned upside down and inside out. In a life that is too often over-scheduled, there is nothing more delicious than a string of open days, entire tacet afternoons, evenings where the only agenda is finishing a bottle of wine.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of rejuvenation, wondering what it might be that would most re-energize my work and practices. It occurs to me that the answer, surprisingly enough, isn’t doing nothing. Instead, it is doing the things I love within great swatches of empty space. I want to wander from the computer to the piano to the garden and back again, without having to look at the clock. I want to float from my yoga mat to the couch to the Adirondack chairs in the backyard without hurrying. “I love a broad margin to my life,” said Thoreau. I want that. A broad margin.

Rests, after all, aren’t nothing. Rests hold space and time. Rests guard the silence around the notes. Rests are the places we breathe.

Ahead of me lies two and a half delicious months. As I write this, there are dozens of hollyhocks in bloom in the garden; the hummingbirds frantically dart from feeder to feeder; the lavender basks in the New Mexico sun. The doors are wide open to let in the air; the cats roll contentedly in the sunshine on the black and white tiles. The summer has begun.