What is nurture?
Nurture is mutual care. Nurture is to give to another (living) being what it needs to thrive.
Nurture is creating a holistic set of conditions that enable a (living) being to thrive. Nurture is knowing what kind of development a being needs to thrive and creating the conditions that provide all it needs to develop appropriately and well.
Nurture is about meeting needs. Because of its bi-directionality, in nurture, all are well. The one who nurtures also receives nurture to thrive. The one who receives nurture also does its part to nurture others.
Nurture does not mean reciprocity. Reciprocity is a political concept that can apply in certain relationships at certain moments. Nurture is mutual but not reciprocal. It is not equal in quantity or in kind, and this is in part because nurture gives to each one what they specifically need. It is a recognition of and response to the unique developmental patterns of the individual. Furthermore, we are not always nurtured in the same way as we nurture those we nurture. There is a fundamental dyssymetry to nurture that arises out of the unique abilities and offerings of each individual as well. When I receive nurture from the earth and the sun and the clean air, I do my part to nurture the earth by breathing out carbon dioxide, releasing my waste to fertilize the soil, and otherwise by living in sustainable cycles using renewable resources and renewable waste. I don’t produce sunlight to feed the plants I eat; I do create a harmonious and well tended garden that promotes the health of the soil and its many micro and other organisms. Each element and being gives the nurture it can and receives the nurture it needs.
Nurture aims at wholeness. In reality we may receive insufficient nurturing in some areas of life and abundant nurture in others. But nurture itself tends toward wholeness, toward seeing that the living being has all that it needs. Nurture is a mindset of wholeness that sees the living being as it is and as it wants to be and can be. Anticipating this being and becoming, it looks around at what is missing and supplies what is necessary and helpful to optimize development and becoming. It is holistic and thorough.
Nurture is time-sensitive. It is able to perceive the situatedness of the living being in time and adapt its nurture to this being in time. In a very important way, nurture IS time .We nurture through time and in time, with time. Holding open time is one of the most important features of nurture – not rushing, not foreclosing, not forgetting, but accompanying patiently and joyfully. Without a harmonious relationship with time, there can be no nurture.
Nurture is a set of practices formulated in response to the particular needs of the being who is being nurtured. These practices anticipate and meet a complex set of interacting needs as they develop through time. They are thus highly specific to each individual being that is being nurtured, and as such can only be developed on small, even intimate scales. Large-scale nurture does not and cannot exist. This is one reason why nurture is so marginalized in our industrialized societies. Our modern mindset has led us to create large-scale systems for everything, from food delivery to child care to education. Since nurture cannot be delivered in general, but is always specific, our large scale institutions necessarily lack nurture. The more facets of our lives are consumed by these large institutions, the less space there is in our way of operating for the specific and intimate practices of nurture that we all need.
This is not the only cause of our lack of nurture. Even where cracks in the edifice of large scale institutionalized life appear, or even when institutions try to be as nurturing as they possibly can be (health care, child care, etc), we lack the mental and practical knowledge of what nurture is and how to nurture. These are universally necessary and nearly universally lost forms of life world knowledge. When we have space in our lives where nurture could come to enrich and support us, we often choose to fill that space instead with more expenditures, more performances, more empty purchases or entertainment or calories, more waste and loneliness. In our moment of need, we often do not turn to nurture because we lack memory of how nurture fills us. We lack vocabulary to express our need for nurture. We lack practical knowledge of how to nurture ourselves, others, and the living world around us. We are all suffering from nurture forgetfulness, an insidious and fatal illness that we must reverse at all costs.
Nurture is not only what is done but, even more importantly, how it is done. It is a practice of the spirit, of the relationship, of the connection. It consists in doing small things with great love, with humor, with joy, with patience, with awareness, with connection. There is no nurture without loving presence. Nurture attends to the feeling of the environment, to the beauty that is felt, to the sensations of joy, wonder, delight, peace, love, and kindness that flow in the moment and in the space. Nurture is all pervasive. It sees, it feels, it smells, it hears, it tastes. It wonders and offers. It asks permission and offers generously. Nurture provides. Nurture cares. Nurture waits hopefully and expectantly.
We can easily imagine a home where food is prepared and served and eaten without love., without attention, without joy. Where clothing and bedding and shelter are offered but without a spirit of loving protection or beauty. Where what is needed to survive physically is in place, but the spirit of love and joy necessary for delighting in existence are not present. We can imagine a place where emotions are refused or scorned. Where the common humanity of each person present is belittled and ridiculed. Where people are only valued for what they achieve or contribute with no concern for the cost. Where being together becomes a form of deep loneliness and violence. There are relationships, but they are relationships that wear down, damage, drain, undermine, kill.
On the other hand, we can marshall the resources of our collective imaginations, the whispers of nurture coming through the generations to each of our lives in quiet moments of love and care, to expand in scale and quantity the moments of nurture we have experienced and dream a world characterized by an abundance of nurture. We can imagine a home in which food is grown, chosen, prepared, and served in conscious awareness of the needs of each family member and in love and gratefulness for their presence and for the resources provided by the abundance of earth, soil, nutrients, rain, and sun that enable us to nourish ourselves and one another. Where each morsel is prepared and served with a delicious sauce of joy and love. Where joyful and honest conversation makes the meals a place of nourishment for the soul, as well as for the body. Where the shelter, blankets, towels, and clothing we need to stay warm and well are conceived, created, washed, and used in a spirit of protection and honor. Where the beauty as well as the functionality of each item is considered and where we are put at ease by the comfort and the beauty around us. Where the use items in our homes provide a comfort that extends from the body to the heart, where we know there is a place we belong and are safe and welcome.
We can imagine a place where relationships begin and end in a compassionate understanding of our shared humanity. Where all emotions are normalized, accepted, welcome, talked about. Where each member of the community is valued for their presence and uniqueness, and treated with respect, kindness, and appreciation. Where fear, anger, impatience, frustration, envy, etc. are treated with compassion and transmuted into confidence, certainty, action, patience, generosity, and other emotions that sustain life and feed happy, thriving lives.