Even as a child growing up in conflict-torn Tel Aviv, Amir Paiss wasn’t afraid to swim against the stream.
‘I remember as an eight-year-old telling the teacher “hey, I just think we [the Jews] got land to be in, now we have to help the Palestinian people to be in their land”,’ the local music legend recalls.
‘It didn’t go down well – some of my classmates called me a traitor. But I remember, even then, not being deterred by having an unpopular opinion. I felt aligned with my own values.’
Forty-five years later Paiss is once again going his own way, exploring a new career path as a somatic experiencing practitioner – a healing modality that assists in the recovery from trauma and promotes emotional well-being through nervous system regulation.
Paiss and his wife, Nirupa Hoffman, are presenting a local somatic experiencing workshop together at Mullumbimby’s WeMove studio on May 5.
‘Music is a continuous flow in my life – it’s always here and, I think, always will be,’ he says from his home in Mullumbimby Creek.
‘But somatic experiencing is something that really inspires me.’
Those familiar with Paiss’s music career may not be hugely surprised at this new direction.
The desire to heal has been a recurring theme running through his many projects and collaborations, from the internationally-renowned cultural fusion group Sheva, to the reconciliation gatherings in which Jews, Palestinians and Christians were brought together through music.
It began, the 52-year-old says, with the desire to heal himself.
‘When I was a year old the six day [Arab-Israeli] war happened,’ he says.
‘When I was seven the Yom Kippur war happened, and then at age 16 the Lebanon war happened. And in between that there were all these terror attacks that happened and incidents involving the army.
‘To grow up in that environment is growing up in a pressure cooker. It’s a tough neighbourhood.’
After completing his compulsory military service at 21, Paiss left Israel and didn’t come back for nine years, travelling through India, South America and South-East Asia, playing music and exploring different ways to heal his pain.
‘I was suffering,’ he says.
‘I looked at the “normal” society around me and I didn’t like what I saw. I looked at the western world’s values of financial success, achievement, innate competition, this Darwinism outlook and I realised I was after something else.’
‘I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and feel that the world was unfriendly. I wanted to wake up in the morning and feel grateful, to feel that life was user-friendly.’
Throughout this journey, Paiss had deliberately stayed off the stage.
Having performed scores of times as a child and throughout his military service (which was spent as a member of an army music group) the young man had decided he would not return to the spotlight until he ‘had something original to say’.
‘It was clear to me that I didn’t want to be a slave to the entertainment industry,’ he said.
‘I saw what was going on backstage and the dynamics of the industry – the chase for success, financially or fame – and I didn’t like what I saw.
‘I was searching and researching how I could get in touch with the essence of music as a healer, exploring how it could create a safe space where people could pray together and connect and express themselves.’
It was during this exploration that Sheva came into being – a group which included members from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds and had a strong message of peace.
‘We all met in different constellations of life and somehow it just happened,’ Paiss says.
‘We got asked what our name was and I just looked at the group and said ‘well, there are seven of us, how about Sheva – [the hebrew word for] seven.’
‘Then it just caught like a fire in a dry forest. We were asked to play festivals, and then before you knew it we had a gold record without being in the media even once. It was all from the grass roots.’
Healing the divide between different cultures and religions was central to the band’s purpose.
‘We asked ourselves “What is the same between the far away indigenous culture, and the synagogue, and the Christian church and the mosque? How can we integrate those qualities into an experience that will inspire us and facilitate that connection among other people?”’
‘We always felt when we were on stage that it was a prayer. It’s a celebration, a meditation and going wild.’
It was Sheva that ultimately brought Paiss and his young family to Australia.
‘Israel was very tumultuous at that time,’ he says.
‘The second intifada had started and there was a lot of violence and blowing up buses and bombs – it was horrible.
‘And then we received an invitation to tour Australia and I said to my partner, how about we go there a month early and we see what it’s like? And we arrived in the Shire, and we immediately felt at home.
‘It was like a chicken house of strange birds – you can be who you are. All the best things that we loved everywhere were combined together to make up this place.’
Like so many other travellers to the Shire, Paiss’s journey in obtaining permanent residency was far from a quick and easy process.
But thanks to local producer Danny Yezerski he obtained sponsorship and eventually became a citizen.
It was then, with his foundations set more solidly that Paiss began to turn his attention to somatic healing.
‘That area of helping others was always attractive for me,’ he says.
‘But the more I grow up and mature, the more I understand that the more grounded and regulated and healthy I am, my ability to help others is increasing.
Another major factor in Paiss’s decision to pursue this course was the fact that his wife, Nirupa Hoffman, is a somatic experiencing practitioner.
‘She is a highly regarded practitioner in her own right and I’m grateful to be partnering with her,’ he says.
The workshop on May 5 is available to anyone interested in somatic experiencing, and does not require any prior knowledge or experience.
For more information or to buy tickets, go to https://wemove.studio