An excerpt from Dr. Jaiya John’s book Reflection Pond: Nurturing Wholeness in Displaced Children. A compassionate guide for professionals and caregivers.
EACH OF US is born with an essence–a distinctive nature or character. An inclination peculiar to us alone pulls us toward some things and away from others. While we commonly understand this as personality, this truth has been honored in world cultures for centuries in a more textured sense.
Many African communities have long held that each spirit born into the world carries its own unique song. This song represents the rhythm, frequency, and flavor of life that strikes the chords of the child’s spirit with the greatest degree of harmony. It is her way of being. Her nature. Her song is her reason for having been brought into the world. She carries a package she must deliver, an insight to join into the collective awareness of her people.
When a woman in such a community becomes pregnant, a tradition occurs, varying according to the particular tribal culture. Here is a general depiction: The expecting woman gathers her female family members and friends. They venture out away from the compound, away from the children and men and the daily noise of society. Surrounded by listening trees and sitting close to Earth, the women form a circle.
They have a singular purpose in being here: to recognize the song of this new life on its way. They spend many moments in silence, so that they can hear what nature speaks to them. Back in the compound, commotion would drown out these voices.
Protected by shade clouds from the determined sun, they laugh together and tell stories. Laughing and storytelling create good vibrations that loosen clumps of dirt blocking the unseen rivers they wear like a skirt. Inspiration begins to flow.
At times they join hands, the two closest to the waiting mother cradling her affectionately like a small child. Waiting mother massages her belly. She is not just soothing her baby, she is receiving what that precious life is already voicing. This may seem like folly to us who inhabit a reality of the tangible and who often scorn what cannot be seen. But what is the nature of all things but energy? And how does energy exist but through vibration? How are we to notice and understand a vibration except by letting it dance into us?
Night emerges to greet the circle of women. Truthfully, some of them are impatient. They want the song to come so they can get back to their lives. But this ritual is sewn into the fabric of their lives. It is what their heritage has delivered them. They have the context in which to understand this ritual’s value.
Some children sing louder from their mother’s belly in the night. Some become brazen in the morning. Note by note, the song emerges. The song is a love song to the world: Prepare yourselves. I am come. Beat the drum.
The women begin to share with each other what they are intuiting about this new child. Intuition is all we have in this world. Many of us do not believe in our intuition so it becomes a rusted tool left on the floor of our despair. These women cannot imagine not believing in a gift such as this. When they intuit, they speak what they have received to each other without self-consciousness or worrying about what the others will think.
To lie about what one intuits of a child, or to cloak that intuition in the clothes of what we desire of that child-these are bad tidings. They bring harm to the child, to the family, and to the community. Because all relationships based upon a false or disguised intuition about the child wreak havoc.
It is like being sold a bag of what we are told are melon seeds when in fact the bag contains flower seeds. Then we go about happily planting our seeds, congratulating ourselves; salivating at our expected harvest. When the harvest we expect does not come, we curse the seeds. But the seeds have done nothing wrong. They were flowers all along.
Our faulty understanding of the seeds’ nature is behind our disappointment and frustration. What’s more, conflicted about our failed expectations for the seeds, we fail to realize that we have been blessed by flowers. Their beauty escapes us because our limited understanding demands that they be something else.
Our children are those flower seeds. In this African setting the women continue to share what is being revealed to them about the nature-song of this child. The waiting mother’s intuition is given the highest authority. This is true except in cases when an elder woman present deciphers something that helps clarify the mother’s understanding of her child.
The child’s song unfolds: I am a boisterous spirit; you must allow me voice and room to move and roam. I am a quiet child; you must grant me my silence. I am a teacher, please nurture my skills. I am meant to feel things deeply; I will use this for being a healer. I am small, but my vision is large; our people would do well to fall into it and drown.
Waiting mother and the other women reach an accord on their initial understanding of this new life on its way. This recognition of song has been the first sacred step in preparing to relate to the child in a way that will create wholeness. Wholeness depends upon being seen, recognized, and understood accurately. This is why one of the most important questions between people in many of these grandparent cultures is: Do you see me?
The women return to the compound and gather the people around them. Again in a circle, the women announce to the community what they have learned about the song of this new life on the way. At this point, the broader community begins its responsibility for constructing the understanding necessary to honor the child. Parents initiate conversations with their children about the waiting mother, her family, and the new child. Young people question their elders about the same. This is how we begin to prepare a safe space, a greenhouse for wholeness to grow.
A child is come! Go beat the drum! The compound of children and adults, each with a conscious stake in the new life on its way, eagerly sing the child’s song during the pregnancy; not only to the child but to each other. This way, when the child emerges and begins crawling, walking, running through the community, she encounters people and places that have been drenched in her essence. What a wonderful way to make her feel beautiful!
The song is the family’s and community’s way of saying to the child, We recognize and honor that this is who you are. The song represents values, beliefs, personality, talents, life purpose, preferences–all of who she is.
Everyone’s eagerness to sing comes from a simple understanding: that for each child who suffers in life there is a community that also suffers. For each child who thrives is a people who thrive. The degree of suffering or thriving in a child is mirrored by the amount of suffering or thriving in her people. This is a law that never changes.
The new child is bathed in her own song during her gestation; she receives this nourishment just as she receives nourishment through her umbilicus. She gestates in a bath of validation, celebration, and understanding. She is sung into beauty before she draws her first breath.
At the moment of her birth, among her first sensations are the sounds of her family and community singing to her. Along with the stark contrasts of cold air and bright light outside of the womb, she is wrapped in the warm blanket of recognition: Welcome new child! We see you. We have planted good seeds in you. You are a seed who grows in us. You are not alone in this world. We are each other. You will never be alone. This is a good way to begin a life.
During the important landmarks of the child’s life, her loving people caress her with her song. When she learns to crawl, walk, or run, there is the song. When she learns to speak, there is the song. On her birthdays, on her first day of school, she is greeted in song. When she first menstruates she is initiated by song into the deeper meaning of her transformation. She is not allowed to breed shame inside herself for becoming a woman.
The older she grows and the more she develops, the more she dictates the nature of her song and teaches it to her people. She is the best teacher that can ever be of her song. She is granted her divinely endowed right to teach the world what she has been brought here to share.
Being imperfect, the child will struggle. This is a time when her people gather around her with determination. They sing to her more forcefully than ever. They have come to return her to herself. They recognize that punishment does not cause a struggling child to recover her vision of self. Discipline does. Discipline is a hard reminder of who we are and why we are. It snaps us back to our intended path.
In collective social harmony she receives the message: Dear child, you are forgetting yourself. You are losing your footing. The Earth beneath you does not change. The way in which you step has changed. Remember how you began. Remember why you are. Remember the truth of how you are to be. In Nepalese culture there is a term for this. Shanti ko Samjhana: Remembering Peace. This refers to the peace of the womb, the peace of our natural state, and the peace of self-understanding.
Be true to yourself. This is the one and only Yurok Indian law. Imagine how powerful this manifestation must be for a people to hold it as their essential law. When we are true to ourselves, health and prosperity flow from that cup. Most personal and social despair can be traced back to individuals failing to be true to their nature and purpose. Trueness implies the child knows herself; believes in herself; understands her purpose; and has faith that being true to that purpose and to her nature will yield a bountiful life for her and the circle of life she inhabits.
The African village sings to the child to remind her of who she herself has told them she is. They sing to say: You are not being true to yourself. All of your suffering is a polluted water springing from the source which is your self-betrayal. They sing so she can find her way back through her blindness to the clearing of her recognition. They sing her back home.
When the woman who was once the child becomes an elder, she is crowned with her song–a harmony always evolving as she evolves. At the moment her seasons on Earth have ended and she passes into all things, oh what a glorious song comes out: Our dear child has become all things! She joins us now in the trees and the sky, in the water and the wind. She has not left us. She is all around us. She will visit us as she wishes, to teach again. A soul learns many things when it sits at the feet of all things. Immersed in affirming harmony, this child has lived a good life.
Dr. Jaiya John’s book
Reflection Pond: Nurturing Wholeness in Displaced Children, is a compassionate guide for professionals and caregivers. It is available online where books are sold. Learn more about Jaiya’s books at