The Nurture Project

How to count the ways that nurture changes the courses of our lives, of life itself? Nurture, a word so close to the words nourish and nutrition, a word wide as the world and momentary as a loving glance. Nurture requires time, attention, adaptation, creativity, generosity. Nurture does not need to be great, and almost never is. Nurture is by nature ordinary and everyday. To nurture is to give, daily and hourly, what the self and the other need to thrive.

This need is expressed on many levels and takes many forms. Physical needs, emotional needs, intellectual needs, spiritual needs. Needs for ample space and sunlight and fresh air. Needs for adequate, appropriate, and satisfying food and drink. Needs for warmth, comfort, quiet, peace. Needs for love and affection, for recognition and company. Needs for challenge, stimulation, rest, renewal. Needs for compassion and understanding, support, patient bearing with and brave encouragement. Needs for interdependence and needs for autonomy. Needs for self determination and needs for being-with-others.

Nurture is first and foremost an attitude, an attitude of desiring the living thing to thrive. Without this mode of relating, we can neither subsist nor thrive. Every successful, happy life is built on the foundation, in the atmosphere of nurture. When we open our eyes to see, we begin to notice the way nurture holds us up, mends our wounds, tends our hearts, fills our cups. We become aware of a vast web of nurture making each day possible, nourishing our bodies and fertilizing our inner selves so that we can continue to grow.

Nurture is a kind of practical, active love that create the conditions for life to thrive. These conditions range from how we arrange the lighting and temperature of our homes, the nutritional content of our foods, to the peaceful and compassionate attitudes with which we encounter everyday life, our attentive listening to our own hearts and those of others, the fittingness of the words we use to speak, and the ways we recognize and honor our own uniqueness and the uniqueness of each other to whom we speak. It is hard to imagine a domain of life where nurture is not subtly present, including the domains of work, school, politics, and public life. When we imagine a space, whether a home, a relationship, a workplace or a group, that is utterly lacking in nurture, we understand that the opposites of nurture are neglect and violence.

The arts of nurture, the practices of nurture, the attitudes of nurture… these are slow arts, growing arts, sensitive, living arts. We nurture best when we can release a desire to do more, be more, have more. To nurture well we must first slow down, see where we are, who we are, with whom we are. True nurture is born from a state of inner quiet: attuned, aware, at peace. We give nurture to ourselves and others from a place of well-being, one that anticipates and welcomes in the well-being to come. Nurture is a circle of generosity that begins with ourselves and flows to the other(s) and returns to us, greater than it had been. In nurture, none are left aside, none are sacrificed. In nurture, all flourish.

In our world, nurture has been cast in other lights, most notably as care. Care is work, we have learned. Work should be paid and recognized publicly. This was a noble impulse, born from the desire to recognize the importance of care. Yet a deeper and more holistic revolution awaits us. A nurture revolution is one in which we recognize not just the labor of care, but the POWER of nurture to utterly transform life. It is more than work and economic exchange; it is invaluable. None can put a price on the value of nurture. We need a society not where some nurture for a price, but where all nurture as part of being alive, as a member of the web that sustains and supports the growth and thriving of all.

This is a revolution that awaits us because, for the most part, we ignore, undervalue, and neglect nurture. We try to extract, perform, and succeed without the investment of nurture that makes life livable and sustainable. By neglecting nurture, we incur a debt toward life for which we pay an exorbitant price. We pay in anger, in rage, in cycles of violence and depression. We pay in extractive economies that ruin the lives of many and ransack the rich resources of the earth. We pay in endless therapy bills, in misery, in loneliness, in mistaken attempts to fill with useful and useless stuff the deep holes left by the absence of nurture. So many social, and personal ills are diseases we cause

Nurture truly has no equal, no substitute. Nurture alone has the ability to prevent these illnesses and create the conditions for health and thriving. As a society it is time we understand the unlimited power of nurture. It is time to set aside all our haste to do, achieve, and buy, and turn our attention back to the simple underpinnings of our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual lives. It is time to take seriously the power of nurture. It is time to find ways to make nurture the focus, to make attention and time for nurture, to learn the ways of nurture, to valorize, encourage, support, and appreciate the web of nurture that sustains and heals us.

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