By Eliana Gilad
What does an Israeli neonatal intensive care unit and the biblical prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses – a figure equally respected by both Jews and Muslims – have in common?
They both employed the conscious use of voice, rhythm and music as a means of natural healing in the face of calamity during times of change.
What began as an informal healing music project in an Israeli neonatal intensive care unit during the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000, evolved into a healing music research project, named the “Voices of Eden”. It has provided a unique opportunity to discover alternative means of communication that effectively bring together a culturally diverse population and enable cross-cultural encounters in an intensive care setting.
Meir Hospital in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba, where the research took place, serves a multicultural population of parents to premature babies belonging to Jewish and Arab families from different cultural, musical and political backgrounds. In addition, the population speaks two different languages. Sometimes the most difficult situations are the greatest mothers of invention.
Informal maternal vocal training offered during live healing music sessions in the unit allowed the mothers, the nurses and the physicians to experience each other as a source of support and nurturing – despite their different backgrounds. So much of what divides us occurs in verbal communication. Wordless singing, on the other hand, bypasses the need for speaking and opens the way for a more primal form of communication.
The universal desire to care for one’s child is a powerful common ground. Perhaps if mothers – no matter what their origin – who experience the stress of caring for their premature infants in an intensive care unit could experience healing music together, they could create personal bonds that transcend political, cultural and religious divides.
Wordless singing has no boundaries. It takes us back to our maternal roots in the womb. Breath, heartbeat – these are universal elements. The mothers who share this experience with each other are likely to reach a greater degree of mutual acceptance. It also gives their small babies a deep sense of safety.
In ancient times, prior to Abraham, women were the healers. They used their voices and rhythm as natural healers, with common archaeological evidence of these practices found in ancient Egypt, Persia, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon. In Jewish tradition, Moses’ sister, the biblical prophetess Miriam, was also a midwife. It is written in the biblical commentary that Miriam taught women (Targum Michah) and in the book of Exodus she leads them in rhythm and song praising the Divine for leading the Hebrews to safe passage from slavery through the treacherous parted seas.
Over time, a wordless music modality was developed combining both an Eastern and Western approach to music. Ancient healing and transformational music is based upon the premise that wordless singing embodies inherent healing qualities. It also bypasses the intellect, allowing the listener to connect to the essence of the sound, as opposed to the cognitive idea of the words themselves. This can have a calming effect upon the listener. Today this music model is being taught to health care professionals, pregnant women and new mothers throughout the world.
Social media and the internet has allowed the Voices of Eden project to disseminate information especially during the 2006 war with Lebanon, when mothers from around the world, including Saudi Arabia and Dubai, wrote to support the efforts of the Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli mothers making peace with their voices. A healing lullaby music blog was launched to empower mothers to connect and express their authentic and natural voices.
The “peace education” through healing music has allowed what began as a Jewish-Arab project to inspire other healing projects such an in-service training for Israeli Jewish and Arab health care workers, a Greek-Turkish-Cypriot healing music encounter in Nicosia, Cyprus, as well as a healing music symposium at the United Nations in New York.
The healing music project has brought together Jews, Christians and Muslims in a rebirth of the ancient healing arts common to both cultures. Professionals, who have been through training in healing music, are now incorporating wordless healing melodies into their own practice. One director of a natural birth centre who works with Israeli and Palestinian birth professionals uses wordless melodies recorded with mothers and fathers from Jewish, Christian and Muslim backgrounds. Another student who is a Druze is taking the healing music to a Jewish-Arab nursery in the Galilee where she works.
The intention of the project is to inspire and empower others to connect and express their own primal, boundary-less voices. This is one way in which harmony can grow.
Eliana Gilad is founder of the Voices of Eden project (www.voicesofeden.com) and works with pregnant women, new mothers, healthcare professionals and peace leaders from all over the world to help them express their authentic voice and remain calm in the midst of change. She is the author of “Rhythms of the Natural Voice” and “Quiet in the Eye of the Storm”. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).