© 2010 Oona McOuat
I spent the last half of my summer learning about kindness. It all started with a sheep and an act of compassion. When I stumbled upon an ewe in the woods with poky barbed wire wrapped around her hoof and neck I was concerned she was going to choke, and so I carefullly unwrapped her, speaking in soothing tones, until she looked at me with wild eyes and abruptly jerked away, taking my outstretched arm with her. A torn rhomboid muscle, six weeks of pain and several cancelled concerts ensued. Bad luck, Oona, you might think. But no, this sudden free time allowed me the opportunity to take a spontaneous, unexpected exploration into the realm of kindness.
Photo by Stocks Photographs
I travelled to Sardinia and Tuscany because a ticket into Rome and out of Barcelona was the cheapest trip to Europe I could find. I decided to join an online community of “couchsurfers” and see if I could find some folks with similar interests to host me during my stay. Yes, the thought of staying in strangers’ spare rooms for four weeks was daunting, but the thought of staying alone at hotels was uninviting and would cost more than I could afford. And so, I set off on a journey of total trust, at first uncertain of how I should respond to these people who were housing and often feeding and driving me around. Offer to pay them something? When they said no, sneak money into their sock drawers? Wax on about how much their generosity was appreciated? It soon became clear I had entered a whole new level in the game of giving and receiving. While my hosts were taking care of my daily needs, my job was to be as present as possible to theirs, to be a witness to their lives, and to learn about their country, their culture and them by being open to exchange. This did not mean giving up my own needs for privacy or individual exploration. It was simply a call to be fully engaged when I was in their presence.
As my heart was blown open again and again by the simple, down to earth, amazing, out of this world generosity that was repeatedly showered upon me, I became simultaneously aware of both my worth and the incredible worth of everyone I met. “People are good”, I began to mutter like a mantra, or people thrive when goodness is present. Maybe I was just happily, fortunately, embraced in an Italian bubble of perfect pasta al a dente, sweet red wine, golden Tuscan light streaming, and cultural kindness. But I don’t think so. I began to suspect that when given the opportunity most people will choose positive co-created experiences over neutral self-satisfying ones. Most of us love to sit at a long table with old friends and new, sharing food, laughter, conversation and music. Deep in our hearts, we long to be acknowledged, received, and to know we belong to the earth and one another.
I have returned to autumn’s gold and descending darkness, into the bittersweet reminder of our own mortality and I think – all I really have to give is kindness. It begins with myself, listening to my needs, laughing at my foibles, responding to my longings, expressing my voice, and yet I am a member of the human community and if at times I feel isolated that is only because I am forgetting to reach out to others. And the best way to do this is to give – not because I hope or need to receive in return (although it seems that once we enter the circle of giving and receiving our giving is reciprocated, if not always from the same source) – but because being present to other’s needs affirms our communal aliveness. Every act of kindness we offer flows into the pool of goodness that we can all draw on when the days seem too dark, the politicians too screwy, the world on the brink of collapse.
photo by Tomas Hellberg
My battery is charged with kindness, I feel it like an effervescent shimmer moving through my body, up to my heart where it transforms into joy. A part of me wonders if kindness is easier when the days are warm and glowing, the sun golden, and the gardens full, but I figure it will pare itself down to a bare boned sort of kindness as the trees lose their leaves and become skeletons scraping the winter sky. It will become about generating an inner warmth and helping others do the same. It will be about acknowledging loss, despair, abuse, and listening to pain, about letting tears flow into an inner ocean, sun-kissed, beckoning and blue, that will hold if I need to float upon a reservoir of beauty.
Photo by Kmax
As I commit to kindness, my life is overflowing. A friend mends my quilt and two others drop by bags of goodness from their gardens - pungent basil, sunny calendula flowers and crisp heritage beans that look like skinny purple Holsteins. A stranger lends me her food dryer and I make jars of dried pears – chewy bits of summer’s sweetness to savour as the darkness comes. Baxter, a wonderful journalist I have never met who lives in the Philippines, writes more about me on his well-loved Celtic music blog (read this for a concrete update on my career celticmusicfan.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/oona-mcouat-thoughts-from-burgoyne-bay/). The owner of a small record label in Washington State offers to help me get radio play, west coast gigs and possible licensing deals for my music for film and TV. For now this is a “friendship deal” he says because he is doing this work for other artists anyway and he likes what I do and I am unable to do it all myself. A wonderful, well-respected Canadian music manager offers to review my material and possibly help me get represented at WOMAD, the big world music conference held in Europe next month, again out of kindness and a spirit of giving. I figure that after I thank these men for their support, all I can do is take the sense of being cared for that their loving attention generates and “pay it forward,” allowing it to keep creating more goodness in the world. For as simple as it sounds, I think this is our only hope now, the only way we are going to weave days that are lovely and full, as well as a world that is socially, environmentally and economically balanced and whole. Moment by moment, breath by breath, word by word, and action by action, the power to transform the very real neglect, greed, denial, selfishness and destruction rests in our voices, our hearts and our hands.
Photo by Kmax
If you are in the northern hemisphere, I wish you a gentle transition from the fullness of harvest to the stillness of dreams and rest. Jump on a pile of ochre leaves, carve a pumpkin, eat an apple, be kind to yourself, to the earth and to others; know you are love and you are loved.