Nourishment

 

What Is Nourishing To You?

Have you ever really thought about what nourishment is, or explored it for yourself? Last night, in the monthly group I facilitate, this was the question I was exploring with some other women. The conversation we had is still reverberating with me so I thought I would continue it here.

The dictionary says that to nourish is to “support, maintain, promote the growth of.” Personally, this definition does not even come close to what the act of nourishing feels like to me when I am really doing it. The dictionary version feels too dry and disembodied to describe the deep, deep down feeling I get of being tended to in the most sacred of ways when I am really nourishing myself. 

Which is why I am proposing an exploration of your own. One that truly taps into the rich and luscious possibilities of discovering what nourishes you, along with what does not. And maybe most important of all, why you are not.

As with all things related to the health of mind, body and spirit, there is never any one-size-fits-all out there that could ever do justice to the experience of feeling fully nourished across all the changing moments of your life. To believe that would be to not only rob yourself of the greatest of experiences of learning to be more present to yourself, it would promote the rationale for believing that you are being nourished when in fact you are only accepting sloppy seconds. In other words, using sub par substitutes for what you most need and desire; believing that that is all there is for you.

So, how do you know? How can you tell whether something is truly nourishing or just some “facsimile of” masquerading as what you most need? Can anything be nourishing? Can something be nourishing in one moment, and not in another?

While I can’t answer those questions for you, you can. But the only way to do that is to learn to be in your body more and more often as you go through your day making all the decisions you need to make when it comes to that which nourishes, and that which does not. This is different then the habits you have, the thoughts you keep, the opinions of others, expert advice or what your past has to say.

Just writing that brings up how much there is when it comes to truly figuring out what is nourishing to each and every one of us. Which is why it can be easier to start by identifying the places in your life that it is not.

Nourishment is not, and never will be, a post on social media, a hashtag or a meme. It is never a way to beat yourself up or keep up with the imaginary Jones’s. It is never about medicating yourself or pleasing another.

Instead, this is a daily ritual of returning to yourself as often as you can remember to, while seeing that the choice of what you give to yourself is always yours. This takes time and practice. It also takes a lot of courage to put the pause button on long enough (despite the noise in your own mind and all around you) to connect to whether or not something or someone is feeding you. Or taking from you.

Here’s a practical way to get started. Make it a point once a day to catch yourself in a choice you are about to make. It could be eating, having a conversation, being in front of a screen, doing something on your to-do list. Pause. Ask yourself, “Does this feel nourishing to me?”

If so, keep going. If not, take note. Get curious, not judgmental. If you can, wonder to yourself, “Is there a way I can shift this to something more nourishing?” Maybe that means leaving the last bite of dessert untouched, excusing yourself from a depleting conversation, allowing yourself to be done even though the to-do list is not finished or being brave enough to disappoint another.

There is no good or bad, right or wrong here. Your only litmus test is whether or not you are honoring what you need in any given moment with something that is truly nourishing to you.

Infinity

 

I am in the midst of one of those fake conversations with another person inside my own mind. If I’m being honest, it was less a conversation and more of a me telling them off. Even though I am “winning” the argument, it’s not going well. Why? Because it is happening in the middle of my morning practice. The very place I go to for understanding, peace, solace and did I say, Peace?

I am at war inside myself.

All my usual stuff to re-route my mind isn’t working. Frustrated, I decide to be still for a moment. Spent on trying to resolve it myself, I turn to Source and ask a question. “Can you help me figure this out?” The response, You won’t understand. This doesn’t sit well with me, so I ask “Why not?” Because you would have to see the big picture, and you can’t. Again, I don’t like the answer so I say, “I can do that. I can see the big picture.” The response, Infinity Big Picture. 

“Oh.” That I cannot do.

Here’s my takeaway. What if we knew, I mean really knew, that even though we can’t see the whole thing, that everyone was exactly where they were supposed to be (including us), doing what they are supposed to be doing, and that it was all being done, for us? Not to us.

Personally, I do believe this is true (as hard as it can be to live with that knowing all the time). But for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s not true. That this is just a bunch of New Age hooey. Would it matter? What would be the harm in agreeing to the fact that we don’t have the biggest perspective? That there is so much more than one human mind can know. That there is always way more to the story than our limited set of “facts.”

Given where we are at collectively, what would be the harm in throwing caution to the wind and admitting that we don’t know it all? That the usual stuff isn’t working and that we need a much, much bigger perspective if we are ever to have the peace of mind we all long for. Not to mention the peace we need with each other if we have any hope of being here together and not being at war with each other. Both in our minds, and in the “real” world.

(If there is even any such thing anymore given what we have constructed and agreed to.)

Simple Requests

 

I think a lot about what it means to live in a way that honors myself, while also living in harmony with others. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of opportunities for me to practice, in real time, how to actually live this.

I got another chance recently when one of the men doing some work on our farm brought his dog. When he asked me if it was okay for the dog to be here, I said, “yes.” But that was only a partial answer. I really wanted to say “Yes, as long as you keep him out of my medicine garden.”

But I didn’t. Why? Because I thought he would think I was uptight, a bitch, not a dog lover. And if I’m really being honest, it’s because I thought there was a chance he would be angry. Not because he had shown any inkling of behaving that way, but because that is an old imprint of mine: I make a reasonable request to a male and I get exploded on.

This leaves me not saying what I need to say in certain situations. And because I didn’t say what I really needed to say, when the dog did go into my medicine garden, I vacillated between seething and feeling like I didn’t have a right to seethe. This led to all kinds of unkind thoughts towards this unconscious man and his unruly dog. Which then led to unkind thoughts about myself.

It all felt terrible.

Then, I got an opening. When I had to leave a note for the men for something else, I added the part about doing their best to keep the dog out of the garden. The response? Both men profusely and sincerely apologized. No one flipped out on me. This left me able to spontaneously and naturally say to them, “I just wanted to let you know so that I would’t be secretly pissed at you and your dog.” We all laughed.

Something very old and afraid in me lifted through that honest exchange.

More than that, saying what I needed to say has allowed me to enjoy having their dog around. Interestingly enough, as I write this, he is standing outside the glass door looking in at me. Now it could be the two raw eggs I gave him this morning, but to me it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that by speaking up when I needed to, not only did I not have to live in fear or resentment, I see, once again, that every time I speak up from a place of clarity, not only am I better for it, we are all better for it.

But this takes effort, and an enormous amount of personal responsibility. We all refrain from saying what we really feel because we are afraid of the reaction we might get. What’s important to know is that any time you are trying to make a simple and reasonable request, and you are afraid to speak it, the past is in play.

That’s where the responsibility part comes in. It’s your job to run down what that is for you so that you do not project something onto another that doesn’t belong to them. The result? We learn to honor ourselves and to live in harmony with others.

Through Whose Eyes?

 

Seeing ourselves through another’s eyes has its benefits. It can help us see what we cannot on our own; guiding us though our blindspots and limitations of self-recognition, while giving us the kind of reflection we all need to see ourselves, our circumstances and life in general in a more clear-eyed way.

Seeing ourselves through another’s eyes also includes a deep and dark shadow. As in, what if who is doing the seeing is unwell, afraid, biased or driven for some reason to keep you from being seen in your fullness?

As children, how we were seen by the adults around us created how we then went on to see ourselves. If that early seeing by another was clear, loving, kind and fair, we got one image of ourselves. If that seeing was distorted, wound-filled, mean or chaotic, we got another image of ourselves.

Recently, I got poison ivy all around one of my eyes. Not only did I get the telltale blistering, but because the eye is so sensitive, I also got all this swelling on my eye lid, and on the side and under my eye. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I could think of was that movie, The Elephant Man. I felt like his daughter.

So while there has been a fair amount of itchiness and physical discomfort, it has been nothing compared to the psychological discomfort. Dozens of times each day, especially when I am encountering other people, I find myself rehearsing what I will say to whoever I encounter. Some part of me wants them to know what’s going on here. A kind of compulsion to make sure they know this is not how I usually look. (This is also still the case with people who know how I usually look??!!)

So they won’t think…What? What am I working so hard to keep them from seeing?

That there’s something wrong with me? That they will be turned off by my appearance? Then what?

The “then what” is where it actually gets juicy because whether we know it or not, this is what we all suffer under. The belief that another won’t like something about us. And if they don’t like a certain something about us, they won’t like us. They won’t think well of us, include us, take care of us, give us what we need, that we will be left alone, made fun of, maybe even harmed.

All because we believe that if someone doesn’t like what they “see” about us, somehow, somewhere, we’re screwed. Which is why so many of us work so hard to manage how others see us. Hoping against hope that if we can just get them to see the “right” version, we’ll be loved, safe, happy…

But if you have been at all paying attention in your life you know exactly how this plays out. You know exactly how ridiculously hard you need to work to measure up to all the different seeings by all the different people. And you know exactly how often you must betray yourself to measure up; creating all kinds of inner tension, misery and inauthenticity.

As a human being who needs to be seen and to belong, I am susceptible to what others see in me. But because I am equally, if not more, committed to something more than acquiescing to old dysfunctional relational patterns, I have been doing an experiment. I have been intentionally not mentioning my appearance. Intentionally giving no explanation. Even when I know they are looking at my face and thinking about it.

Even when I feel nervous about what they are thinking about.

Something to consider. Whenever you find yourself explaining yourself, your behaviors, appearance, motives, it is a dead giveaway that you are trying to mange how another sees you. A dead giveaway that you are back being a kid who is worried about how others see you in terms of belonging, safety and survival.

That’s when you have a choice. Stay with the old pattern of letting who you are be reduced down to what another does or does not see. Or decide to see what it would be like to see yourself.

Outrage to Real Contribution

 

It’s so easy for me to go to outrage the moment I perceive even a hint of injustice or harm being brought to bear in the world. For a very long time, it felt like it was the only sane response to a world gone mad with polluting, degrading our food and water supplies, not protecting children from the vagaries and sink holes of the screen technologies, a disease care instead of a health care system, power running amok everywhere with its disregard for human life, and more.

I could go on, but I believe you get the point.

But as the years have gone by, I see things differently. I see that I am wasting my precious life force to be continually shaking an angry fist at the powers that be; believing that the intensity of my commitment in this regard will change what is happening. It doesn’t. Or believing that I have to be the one to hold the line against all the ‘bad’ guys. I don’t. Or believing that if I stopped feeling so much intensity, it would mean I was giving up. It doesn’t. 

I recently heard someone say that outrage is the voice of the victim. That sealed it. That was all it took to fully push me all the way into another camp.

That camp being a kind of “Build it and they will come.”

Now I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world. Nor am I suggesting we leave it in someone else’s hands to deal with. And I am definitely not suggesting we check out into some fantasy land where everything will somehow magically correct itself all by itself.

So if it’s not any of this, what is it?

Here’s where it gets tricky. We need to act. But how? And then, here’s where it gets really tricky. Can we recognize that everything is happening for a reason, without collapsing into giving up and doing nothing? This is a lot to sort out, and because of its seeming enormity, it can feel impossible, or at least too daunting to sort out with any chance of having a meaningful impact.

But here’s what I know. There is something that each of us can do simply through how we choose to live. This doesn’t have to be big, or even anything anyone else notices. It’s got nothing to do with guilt or beating ourselves up for being people of the first world. It’s not a competition to see who recycles more or gives their kids organic snacks. And for goodness sake, it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with what you can post about and get rewarded for the virtue you show as you wait for all the ‘likes’ to pile up.

This is about choosing, when and where you can, for a world that makes sense to you. Dare I say, for a world of your dreams. And it’s as close to you as your next thought, word or action. It’s as close to you as how you behave when someone, in person or online, behaves differently than you want them to. It’s as close as not taking more than your share at dinner or at the grocery store. It’s as close as not flipping someone off when you’re driving.

And it is as close as catching yourself playing the victim instead of doing what you can do. Instead of doing what is yours to do to contribute in a real and meaningful way to a world literally dying for more of us to do so.

Making a Difference

 

This morning in practice, after spending some time contemplating how to better serve the world, I ‘randomly’ ran into a quote by William James.

“I will act as if I do make a difference.”

There it is. Once again we are back with us, even when we believe we are asking for others. It is another reminder to me that always, always, it begins with me. Not in some narcissistic, selfie way, but in a grounded, I can only help others to the extent that I can help myself, way.

More to the point here, I can only make a difference in the world to the extent that I can embody that who I am and what I do matters. A lot. But in the time of big splashy altruism, philanthrocapitalism, social media, influencers and having millions of followers, this can sound lame. Ineffective. Ridiculous even. As in, what does it matter what’s happening on the inside of you in the face of what is happening in the outside world?

And that’s why so many of us fall into despair, outrage, anger, fear and aggression. These are the responses of people who feel they have no impact in the world. That no matter what they do, nothing changes.

This is where an enormous paradigm leap is called for if you expect to see the changes in the world you yearn for. The leap of faith that must be made is going from believing that the changes need to occur outside of you, to knowing that the changes need to occur inside of you.

I will act as if what I do, who I am and what I believe in makes a difference is the non-negotiable shift that must occur. A kind of internal mantra that must get paired every day with a penetrating question like: What can I do today to live like who I am and what I do makes a difference?

Ask it before getting out of bed in the morning. Ask it when you encounter a difficult moment with the world. Ask it when you find yourself falling into despair or outrage. Ask it when you feel too small to make a difference. Ask it when it all feels so unfair and unjust.

And then look for the most mundane of moments in your life to live like what you do matters. As in, how you talk to yourself and others, how you spend your time and money, how you handle disappointment, horror and greed, how you nourish yourself, how you…

I will act as if I do make a difference.

The Mind & Its Ways

 

As someone who has been observing her own mind for decades, it’s truly fascinating, sad, maddening, and more to watch how often I can catch my mind in some version of “I’m not doing enough.” Sadly, we all do this.

I know some of us would say that it drives us to do better; to be more of this or that. Sure, we get productivity out of this orientation of the mind, but what about the downside? What are the costs of “motivating” ourselves (if that is even what we are actually doing) by focusing on “not enough?”

This “less than” version of the mind is old. Very, very old. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t even ours to begin with. These were the thoughts and beliefs of those around us growing up, which we took on because it was what we thought was real and true about us as children.

I think of this part of my mind as the taskmaster who believes that by keeping me under its thumb, I’ll do more. I’ll do better. I’ll be safe.  But at what cost and according to who? My past? The number of “likes” the world is giving out? What everybody else thinks? A conditioned sense of unworthiness?

While these costs are certainly enormous, they actually pale in comparison to something we often miss. That being, that through the lens of “not enough” we miss our truest selves. Our beauty, fortitude, kindness, grit, generosity, and more; literally robbing us of the opportunity to experience the Truth of who and what we are.

To live under the mean and unfair taskmaster of “not enough” is to miss the very experience and essence of us.

This can show up for me, in all places, in my daily spiritual practice. It creeps in in the moments where despite having just spent an hour or more in deep contemplation, prayer, and connection, I’ll find my taskmaster mind saying that I’m not doing enough when it comes to the physical portion of my practice.

It sounds like this, “You’re cutting short the posture flow. You’re not doing more challenging poses. You didn’t do a full breathwork practice. You only sat in meditation for 5 minutes.” Blah, blah, blah.

It’s truly laughable and absurd to watch this parade of criticism go through my mind. My standard approach these days to the mind in this place is, “Sure, whatever.”

We need lots and lots of ways to work with the taskmaster mind. So if you’re up for it, any time you want to work with the mind, begin by catching yourself thinking. And when you catch yourself in a loop of “I’m not doing enough,” try the light-hearted “Sure, whatever” approach I just mentioned. This only works though if you keep a kind and light attitude towards the criticisms. Like you know what is being said has no merit, and you don’t feel any need to prove it wrong. 

Then, if you want to really change the mind’s orientation and start to rewire all those neural networks into something new and uplifting, try a phrase I use with myself to not only create a balancing response to that old tape, but to create a mindset that will take me back to the Truth of me.

It goes like this, “In this moment, instead of seeing “not enough,” I choose to see a woman who is…committed to her daily practice and devoted to doing deep inner work. Try it for yourself, filling in your own blanks, while you notice, with the criticizing mind held at bay, what do you see now?

Hearts Are Made To Be Broken

 

Years ago I found a little hanging heart for the garden. It’s made of metal and there are two hearts within a bigger outer heart. It hangs off a pole that goes into the ground, and it moves with the wind.

Because it got broken beyond even all the repairs my husband could do, last year I got a new one. An even bigger one. But just like the first one, it got so banged up by the elements that my husband has already twice had to repair it.

When it happened the first time, I found myself saying, “My heart is broken. Can you fix it?” I immediately saw the deeper meaning behind what I was saying. As in, the world has broken my heart. Can it be fixed?

It’s not easy being human. There are so many harsh realities we must all come to face. So many ways we can be hurt. So many ways that the sensitive, loving parts of us can be broken, and driven underground. So many ways that our open-hearted innocence can be warped into anger, cynicism, fear, and victimhood.

It reminds me of something my yoga teacher once said in a training I was in when I was feeling particularly heart-centered, open, and vulnerable. He said, “The world will break your heart, but you are not your heart.” I have never forgotten these words. It is life-altering for me to know that despite how painful life can get, I am more than even the greatest of any heartbreak I will ever experience.

So now, my first little broken heart lives in the earth of my medicine garden. My newer and bigger heart swings around in the wind, shored up by my husband’s loving touch. I look at it every day out my study window as I write, or as I make my way to the chickens, while it stands imperfectly at the entrance of the path that takes people to our yurt, and I think, “Hearts are made to be broken, and the measure of a woman is how many times it can happen to her without her spirit being broken.”

Rethinking Harm

 

I am these days, as dare I say all of us are, aware of, alert to, and afraid of, lots and lots of what is happening in our world. Lots of what feels out of my hands, and certainly nothing I would ever knowingly create.

And yet, here I am. Here we are. Now what?

Let’s start with the obvious, and then make our way to the not so obvious. There’s a lot of harm going on in the world. That’s obvious. From here on out is where we start to get into the ‘not so obvious.’

While it’s easy, maybe even natural, to believe that someone else is causing the harm and that we are the innocent bystanders caught up in something not of our own making, what if this is not the whole story? What if there is way more to this narrative than meets the eye? What if we have more responsibility in the harms being caused in the world than we would like to admit?

This can be hard to hear. Offensive even. Especially if you have never considered how your state of being contributes to the ways of the world. But hear me out. To be with this in a meaningful way, you have to stretch your lens and be willing to see the underlying connection of all things.

Let’s start with an ancient perspective on how all things are connected. Since the dawn of at least recorded history, all of our wisest and well-known teachers have espoused some version of “As within, so without.” In other words, whatever is going on within you, me, or us, is exactly what we will find going on outside of us in the world.

For instance, maybe you never have or never would murder someone, but have you ever felt a rage so deep within yourself towards another that felt beyond your control? Or perhaps you would never rape someone, but have you ever tried to control another person and get them to do what they didn’t want to do? Maybe you’ve never created a war, but do you ever go to war with other people in your own mind?

If you’re willing, there are lots of ways to play with how your inner life is connected to the outer life. But it takes a kind of openness and compassion on your part to look at what is outside of you that you find deplorable, and to see if you can find it in yourself. To root out the harm in your inner world in the service of transforming that harm into something else for the outer world.

But I will tell you from firsthand experience, it’s not easy to get this honest with yourself. Perhaps the hardest thing we will ever do as human beings is to look at the places in ourselves we hide from. The very same places that we will disown by projecting them onto somebody else. As in, that’s horrible, I would never do that. Only to find upon closer examination, that in your own way, yes you do.

Because this can be so tricky to be with, I offer you something a very wise woman offered to me years ago. It seems that in the port town she lives in, the war ships would come in and out. This greatly disturbed her and left her feeling powerless and angry. So she made up a little prayer and it goes like this: “May no harm come to you, may no harm come from you.”

I have found this prayer to be a beautiful way to defuse the inner fears and hostilities that can arise in me in response to a world bringing harm. In the meantime, it creates the space I need to rethink how I might be, in my own way, bringing harm. If even ‘just’ through my own thoughts and inner reactions.

Every Single Bit Of It

 

“All of it gets to be here,” is a practice I come in and out of using. Right now, I am back in.

I both love and hate this practice. I both resist it, and know it to be true. Beyond true, I know it is the directest route to healing my own body/mind separation, the splits that divide us as people, along with the false personas we mistakenly claim as being who we are because we don’t feel we have a right to be all of who and what we are.

This is what gets to be here in my world. The wasps and the ladybugs that infest my home each year. The people defrauding our government, and the ‘entrepeneurs’ bringing us closer and closer to the brink of extinction with their GMO’s, chemicals, surveillance technologies and fake foods. The policies that deny anyone free will over their own body. The people I feel have hurt me. Any and all of the ways that I believe the ‘wrong’ things are in charge.

The list goes on, and it’s enormous! But all of it, every single bit of it, gets to be here. Day after day. Year after year. It’s maddening to include what I don’t want to be here. And frightening. It can feel depressing and risky to believe, to know, that it all gets to be here. That pain that won’t resolve. The lingering illness. That unresolved conflict. The corporation bringing harm.

All of it gets to be here.

I am in no way suggesting that I want these things, like them, or am giving them a free pass. What I am suggesting is that when I take this attitude my life changes for the better. This sounds hard to do. Impossible even. You might even be wondering, Why bother? What’s in it for me? In a word, PEACE. A literal oasis in a desert of fighting against everything we do not want, but that is here nonetheless.

Think about it. How often are you fighting something within your own mind? All the things you don’t want to be here. All the ways that you resist and try and manage ‘what is.’ The weather you don’t like. The traffic you rage against. The annoying co-worker or boss you wish would just go away. A family member not supporting you. The government or a political party that just makes you want to scream.

On and it goes. All day, every day. Big and little wars within that go on to create our outer wars in the places we inhabit together. For as the old adage goes, “As within, so without.”

If this makes any sense to you, give it a try in low stakes situations. For example, ‘let’ the weather you don’t like be here. ‘Allow’ another person’s bad mood to be here. ‘Accept’ that those you disagree with, even vehemently, get to be here.

Instead of looking around at how the world will fall apart because it’s not going according to your plan, watch what happens inside of you when you can honestly and truly let what is here, be here.