The good nurturing guide

09/03/2012 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Happiness, Healing, Parenting, Wellbeing | 9 Comments
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The author and youngest child, in baby-wearing days.

‘Nurturing’ is a very ancient word, and we all know what it means… don’t we? It’s about being loving, caring, helping young ones to grow and develop. But remove centuries of common usage, and we get a much simpler concept. This is it.

‘Nurture’, ‘nutrient’, ‘nourish’ and ‘nurse’ all come from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root: ‘nu’, or ‘snu’. That root means, quite simply, ‘to flow, to let flow, to suckle’. The Sanskrit word is very similar: ‘snauti’ means ‘she drips, gives milk’. The ancient Greek is ‘nao’, meaning: ‘I flow’.

So to nurture means, literally, the act of giving milk to an infant. That is it – nothing else.

Why does this matter?

When you give milk to an infant, you give the milk, and that is it. True, you also look after the infant – the love and practical care you give them is extraordinarily important, and makes the difference between thriving and just surviving.  It is right that we include that sense of loving care within our modern definition of nurturing.

But the actual act of giving milk – the ‘nu’ or nourishment – is one of letting go. The milk is an unconditional gift. You don’t expect the infant to do anything in particular with it. You anticipate that they will grow. But the way they do this is not in your control. Their own particular combination of genes and psyche will blend with environment to create a unique human being.

Nowadays, arguably too often, the concept of nurturing includes a sense of sculpting and shaping the young individual so that they grow up to be a properly socialised human. Parents feel a sense of responsibility to get this right. Well-meaning manuals and playground conversations collude to create the pressured sense that parents have an awfully big role which we are highly likely, regularly, to get wrong. As the English poet Philip Larkin put it so memorably in This Be the Verse: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do/They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra just for you.”

These past weeks I’ve been working on the theme of nurturing with students and clients in my meditation studio. The pickle humans collectively get ourselves into over this word has become obvious to me. I have found two basic sub-themes.

One is a sense of not having being nurtured – emotionally and perhaps also nutritionally – as a child.

The other is a well-meaning and futile impulse to shape and sculpt young people who are way past the infant stage.

If we take ‘nurturing’ back to its original meaning, of giving milk – or sustenance, if you will – to an infant, then these two themes of profound human disappointment take on a different colour.

When we understand that the sustenance we received – flawed though it may have been – was an unconditional gift, then we realise that our own growth and flowering is ultimately up to ourselves and the laws of nature. We may choose to care for those aspects of ourselves that have been frozen in childhood patterns of trauma, want or need, and bring them to a more enlightened and happier adult reality.

When we understand that other adults do not need to be nurtured by us, it lifts the most enormous burden from our shoulders. Instead of trying to fix or rescue others, we give them the respect of one grown-up for another. And frequently we find that they do flower as a result of that respect.

Nurturing is a simple act that happens in the present moment, and then is gone. Once we have given it, we no longer own it.

Isn’t that a relatively carefree feeling?

Three Happy Moments Game

23/11/2011 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Happiness, Parenting, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 1 Comment
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The unexpected fragrance of a flower as you pass by.

This is a great game to share with a child, partner or friend at the end of the day. And it’s guaranteed to make the toughest days seem better…

Simply take it in turns to share a first happy moment that happened during the day; then a second; then a third. Choose anything that comes to mind; they don’t have to follow chronological order. Here are some examples:

* seeing a tree with brightly coloured leaves, with the sun shining through them

* a letter containing good news

* thoughtful praise from a colleague

* sharing a laugh with a friend

* seeing your child’s face light up when you picked them up from school

* a blissful half-hour of meditation

* the unexpected fragrance of flowers as you walked by.

* a healthy work-out at the gym, or a yoga practice.

Over time, you get a very clear idea of the things that make you and your loved ones happy. And the more you focus on those, the more often those happy things happen. This is a win-win game.

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