This summer in Jerusalem, sound has played a big part in my experience of conflict. Rocket sirens told me when ceasefires were over, ambulance and police sirens shouted out the tension in the streets, and racist chants filled the air with messages of hate.
This Monday I was sat in my office in East Jerusalem, listening to live bullet fire, tear gas and more sirens. After a long day, I came home and crashed. Needless to say, my mood was pretty low.
But that evening a sacred singing circle was being held near the walls of the Old City. It was the unofficial opening to the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival (September 9-12).
As I entered the space passing between the olive trees, a woman wafted smoke from burning sage over us. It was dark and I could just make out the full moon over the Old City walls. I found a place on the rocks, looking down over the people sat or stood in circles around the stage. Most were dressed in loose clothes and scarves. The performers in the middle were dressed in white, sat in a circle. And in the center of the stage was a small table with crystals and a pot of basil.
The songs were a mixture of inspirational, well-known songs and devotional songs from different cultures. They included Shir LaShalom, the song for peace, which was a favorite of President Rabin, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. He sang this song shortly before he was assassinated. It has the verse:
Don't say the day will come
bring on that day -
because it is not a dream -
and in all the city squares
cheer only for peace!
The circle closed when we were asked to take a deep breath and chant the word: shalom, or peace. It's similar to closing yoga practice with an "om." People's voices resonate and connect. The "om," which is inside the word "shalom," has three parts in Sanskrit. The ah represents our wakeful, conscious state, our personal experience of the world. The ooh is our inner world of dreams, thoughts, memories and desires. The mmm is our dreamless sleep, which is seen as an expression of ultimate unity.
Jerusalem isn't always an easy city. But to be sat outside at night, near the Old City, listening to music and singing, the sounds washed over me, cleared me, and made me feel lighter.
The group that holds these circles is called Unite in Babylon and has events in many countries - search for your country on Facebook.