Properly Nourished / by Michelle Cowan

It amazes me when, after frittering about for many hours, engaging in my interests or accomplishing necessary tasks, I sit down, become still, and feel a wave of sadness or fear. Did those feelings just appear, or was I blocking them with my activity? At that point, I begin to decipher exactly why I feel that sad or fearful.

Even more amazing is that the answer is almost always the same: I have not adequately nourished myself. Sometimes, I’m honestly hungry after performing all of those activities. A nice meal can sometimes be the cure for the blues. Most of the time, though, I’m missing a sense of security or am feeling disconnected from the world. I was so wrapped up in whatever I was doing that everything else fell by the wayside.

Sometimes, I’ll insist, “It’s not a question of nourishment. I just spent the last few hours doing things that interest me, things I like, and things I feel good about doing. Surely I can’t need more nourishment than that. I should want to go out and face the world now. I should be ready to party or help someone.” It goes on and on, and I’m missing the point.

We all need many different kinds of nourishment. Sometimes, we need to be alone to rejuvenate. Sometimes, we need a bath, a meal, a hug, a conversation, a walk, a bit of time outside, or a good night of sleep. There are many different kinds of needs.

I may enjoy writing, but spending a few hours doing it is still draining. It may seem self-indulgent to want a long, hot shower after doing something I love, but maybe I need that. Just because I nourished one part of me for a long period of time does not mean the rest of my needs have been fed. You can hold and cuddle a baby all day long, but she won’t stop crying if what she really needs is a diaper change. I have to nourish EACH part of me (and that includes getting out myself occasionally and filling my desire to be of service to others).

I can even convince myself that a phone call to a beloved friend is unwarranted after spending an hour responding to emails. While I may have filled my need for deep connectedness via letter-writing, I am missing a sense of immediate closeness. I may even need to go to a friend’s house to experience the physical presence of another person.

I can talk myself out of any kind of nourishing behavior just as easily as I can abuse another kind of behavior. I can put off simple acts of self care in the name of completing a home improvement project or preparing a gift for a friend. I can even put of certain forms of self-care in favor of other, “better” forms. For instance, I might insist that I read a spiritual or self-help book instead of a novel. Or I’ll try to make myself finish a song I’m working on when I really just need to play music without thinking.

I feel SO nourished when I simply allow myself to feel and go where I need to go. There are places I may not need to visit because they do not nourish me. There are certain friends that I only like to see after I feel completely physically and emotionally nourished because their homes are uncomfortable to be in or they do not connect with me on an emotional level. There are people I go to solely for companionship who may take more from me than they give. It doesn’t mean I like them less. It just means that our relationship works in a certain way, and I have to be aware that just because “visiting a friend” is one of my tools for feeling more grounded does not mean visiting CERTAIN friends is as beneficial as doing other things that make me feel connected.

If you’re looking for ways to feel more balanced in your life, you could try this little exercise (which I intend to do for myself). List out all the different ways that you feel nourished or loved. The list can contain things you like to do, people you enjoy being with, places you like to go, how you like your surroundings to be, types of physical touch that feel good, even work or volunteer service activities—anything that nourishes you physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually.

Once you list the main things that make you feel good, think about each one and how often you use that item to feel nourished. Are there ones you use far more than others? Some you rarely use at all? Which ones do you want to incorporate more into your life?

If there are some that you use almost to the exclusion of others, you might want to consider whether you truly feel balanced. Are you nourishing your physical self when you really need to attend to your spirit? Are you nourishing your sense of connectedness with others while disregarding your intellectual needs?

I have puzzled a few times over friendships that seemed nourishing but that I had no interest in. I couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t want to spend time with such perfectly all right people. After some inspection, I discovered that some of those relationships nourished me purely by providing an outlet for my caretaking side. I was able to care for these people and do things for them, but they weren’t capable of providing me with similar care. If I give and give and don’t receive intellectual stimulation, emotional support, or even physical care from a person, of course I will stop feeling compelled to spend time with him or her.

I had to let go of my guilt and take those relationships for what they were. It’s fine for me to continue to help them and hang out with them (although some relationships like that do need to end). But I need to realize that only the caretaker in me feels nourished by those relationships, so other needs will be left unmet. I have to make sure that I feel fully nourished before spending much time with people who cannot meet my needs.

Conversely, I have wondered why I was getting nothing out of certain friendships. I wanted to be friends, and it just wasn’t working. Well, I had to realize that I could not give what they needed. I did all the things for them that I do well, trying to nourish the friendship, but things never gelled. They didn’t feel compelled to grow closer to me because I could not provide the kind of care they needed.

That can be hard to accept, but being aware of what I am giving and what others need (and vice versa) has enlightened my friendships. This does not mean that I am inadequate or that the other people in my life need to shape up. We all simply have different things to give. Relationship dynamics are built on the compatibility of the ways we each receive and give love and support.

So – for today, I am exploring all the different ways I nourish myself, seeing if I’m neglecting any areas. I’m also examining the ways I relate with and nourish others. How do I need to stretch myself, and what parts of me do I need to accept? There are certain things that I can give right now and certain things I cannot. Can I accept these things and use this knowledge to make wise choices and grow? That’s the goal.