Nurturing Others, Nurturing Ourselves

The limitless power of nurture lies in the fact that it arises out of relationships that are always interdependent. Nurture acknowledges and cares for this interdependence. This is a different starting point than we commonly acknowledge. We often understand care as a unidirectional activity. Inspired in current understandings of care as labor, many care ethicists and caregiver advocates affirm the need for carers to be cared for, including to direct their care toward themselves. This is an important step forward, but nurture is a different paradigm entirely. In nurture, all living beings need care and all living beings give care. Nurturers give nurture and receives nurture; the nurtured receive nurture and give nurture too. When we begin by recognizing this mutuality of need and nurture, we can also begin to understand how universal nurture is and must always be.

The one who nurtures does so out of a sense of having been nurtured. To nurture the other, I must be well. I have received and continue to receive nurture from within and without, and out of the fullness of my own wellness I nurture the other. Without this mutuality of nurturing and being nurtured, nurture quickly devolves into a unidirectional care directed toward the other that depletes and injures the self. This is not true nurture. True nurture is a mutual care that enables all to thrive in the web of caring. When we recognize our need to be nurtured at the same time that we are nurturing, we begin to notice that even the most demanding “care” relations can also feed, teach, and fill us, when we are open to what the nurtured other is offering us in return.

This does not mean, of course, that every relationship of nurture is always based on a precisely equal exchange. On the contrary, in the web of nurture there are always those needing more nurture and those offering more nurture. But these are never absolute states or characteristics, and they vary from stage to stage and moment to moment. A newborn baby seems to be an example of a being who only receives nurture. Certainly the newborn stage is one in which the nurturing relationship seems most unidirectional. But even in their physically most helpless, vulnerable, and dependent states, newborn babies offer to their caregivers the radiance of their unconditional love and acceptance, and share with them an experience of the purity of the human being in its simplest expression. There is a vast power in the helplessness of the newborn that can nourish us as we interact with them, when we are attentive and receptive to this power. With their gazes and their peaceful presences, newborns offer us the gift of a direct and unadulterated presence. Few times in human life are we so there, so undistracted, so submersed in the simple fact of living and the simple relations of love that sustain us.

Not only newborns, but all young children require and demand vast amounts of nurture. In early life children absorb, as a leaf absorbs the ray of the sun, the resources of nurture that they need to establish secure and loving relationships with themselves and others. As they soak in this mode of safety and care, their very way of being is shaped by the web of nurture in order to soon be able to nurture themselves and others. Even during these years where children by necessity require and receive nurture on every level, they also give nurture. Young children are a fountain of unwavering, unconditional love, and they unconsciously and naturally extend this love to all they encounter: people, plants, animals, places. To be in the presence of young children is to know the reality of love in one of its purest forms.

Nurture is an expression and a sustaining of the state of abundance. Nurture begins from the ontological state of knowing that all your needs are met and that you can give as freely as you have received. This is a foundational state of being we are born into on both physical and emotional levels. The earth, in her abundance, gives us all we need to feed and clothe ourselves, build shelter, and enjoy the beauty of nature in all its sounds, sensations and colors. This abundance of resources is mediated to us through our caregivers, who also establish us in a similarly abundant world of emotional nurture. When our early life caregivers respond to our needs with compassion and joy, we learn that we are seen, enough, we are loved. Out of this foundational security and joy, we find it simple to extend this same recognition, respect and care to the many others who cross our paths.

The world of nurture is the world of abundance. One of the main reasons that we experience so much scarcity and unnecessary strife and conflict in our world is that we have shunned nurture, devaluing and forgetting the many everyday practices of nurture and glorifying lifestyles that seek to extract, attain, and dominate. Our contemporary Western society is a society nearly devoid of nurture. The sacred and intimate spaces of the home are out of vogue; the “real” value is understood to be “out there” in the public sphere where you must prove your worth by being the fastest, the best, the most. The world of nurture does not require proof; it is not “out there.” It is first and foremost a world of internalized abundance that flows freely from within to without. It is a world of inner and outer harmony and peace. It is a parallel world to the one we live in, separated from us by a thin veil that we lift the moment we return to valorize, learn, practice, and nurture nurture itself.

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