The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter studied at the Russian Conservatoire under the brilliant pianist Heinrich Neuhaus. Of his teacher, Richter said, ‘ He taught me the meaning of silence. In my first term he gave me Liszt’s Piano Sonata to practise – and the essential point about this piece, which Neuhaus taught, was the sound of silence.’
Today, with the prevalence of music in restaurants, bars, hotels, with households that have the television on all day, with people scurrying along the street talking into mobile phones or listening to iPods, it is not easy to find silence, outwardly at least. We have first to find it inwardly. Those of us who suffer from tinnitus, a continuous noise in the ears, know that if we keep being conscious of it, it can drive us mad. The secret is to detach oneself from it, so that one is less aware of it. And this is where, on a simple, natural level, the practice of meditation can help one find an inner silence. There are, within each of us, vast halls of silence where we can walk and be at peace.
In hot weather a group of us who meet once a month to meditate will often choose to sit in a circle in the garden for our meditation. And into this inner silence are blended other sounds – the cooing of woodpigeons, a blackbird singing, children playing in the park, an aeroplane overhead, someone’s radio, an ambulance going by. Instead of being distractions, these are woven into the silence. There is a deep realisation that we are all part of the same pattern.