The Beauty of Betweeness

In an interview with psychiatrist and author, Ian McGilchrist, on the podcast The Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam talks with McGilchrist about why the brain is divided in half and some of the age-old questions related to the left brain versus the right brain.  In the interview, Gilchrist talks about “betweenness,” in reference to music:

A note is a simple tone. What does it mean? Actually, it means nothing…It’s the gaps between the notes, the gaps that make melody, the gaps that make harmony and so on. But the gaps are just, as it were, silence. They don’t mean anything either. So if you put lots of things together that don’t mean anything with lots of gaps that don’t mean anything, you get something…

That’s what I call betweenness. So it’s the notes and the gaps plus whatever happens when they’re all edited together. Something new emerges.”

I thought about this idea of “betweenness” and the importance and beauty of it in our day-to-day lives.  In our impatient world, we have made a habit of rushing to the next thing. When we are in the thick of winter, we can’t wait until Spring.  Young people want the job, the promotion, the corner office, the big house without having to experience the internship, the hard work or the steps needed to get to their goal.  We want immediate results when we start a diet or exercise regimen without the hard work necessary to get there. When we see the big picture and recognize both the significance and the importance of the “betweenness”, we can step back and appreciate the journey.  We can acknowledge the beauty in the routines, the mundane, and sometimes the hard work along the way.

McGilchrist argues that Western society has become overly left-brained, focusing on the details rather than the big picture.  Clearly in order to function, we need both left and right brain to work well. If we are overly focused on the details, however we can lose sight of purpose, meaning and beauty.  In our hyper-connected world with increasing rates of anxiety and depression, purpose, meaning and beauty are more important than ever before. We must appreciate the big picture to find purpose.  And if we value the in betweenness, we can embrace the hard work–and sometimes the struggle– that is involved in the details.

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