Is Nurturing Undervalued?

March 11, 2013


The Hugging saint.

The Hugging saint.

He was burly and robust. His cheek had a fresh cut across it, suggesting he had recently been in a fist fight. He pointed to his overgrown mane of blond hair with both hands and smiled broadly. I have to admit I was nervous about him sitting in my barbering chair. You don’t want to mess up on a guy like him. But as soon as my comb began stroking his hair, he visibly relaxed. He spoke to me gently and carefully, in his deep baritone. While I was cutting his hair, it was almost as though he were a little boy again.

I experience this time and again with men who live in shelters. Marginalized and isolated, often in and out of prison, they rarely experience nurturing. I can’t help wonder, if no one nurtures you, would you become anti-social? I believe that is my role at the shelter. Not cutting hair, but nurturing. Sometimes they do not want to leave the chair after the haircut. They go on talking, these solitary, street-smart men.

I sometimes see them on the sidewalk, curled up in a sleeping bag in a fetal position. Mothering is so nourishing that the toughest of men regress to infants in their sleep.

Is perhaps the desire for sex really about seeking our nurturing? Is that why people risk themselves in the bars, or online? In its rawest form, sex is about touching, holding, pampering. Might those gay men who cruise darkened, public toilets and park shrubbery be looking for a kind of anonymous nurturing?

It is a curious contradiction that people with a great capacity for nurturing are highly desirable. Even more so than physical beauty. I mean, Mother Theresa was no Miss World but she attracted admirers aplenty.

Later that week my sister was speaking to me about her sons. She is the epitome of a nurturing mother to her boys, and at times has been a substitute mother for me. “Everyone wants to be taken cared of,” she moaned. “But who is there to take care of me?”

Good question. Who nurtures the nurturers?

Is it something you can do for yourself? Or is it like currency, you have so much of it to give, and then you run out? After all, so many relationships break down because one party does all the giving, and the other makes no effort to replenish the nurturing of the giver.

I used to think it is a skill you can acquire through practice. The more you nurture the greater your capacity for nurturing. Then I came across certain nurses at the hospital, who after thirty years of service, do not bother to hide their contempt for patients. I wonder if they are that way because no one at home emotionally nourishes them. It seems to me the ability to nurture is a skill, but it requires something extra from the outside. A fuel. A fuel that has a source external to me.

Oh, there are spiritual types who will insist that you need no one else to replenish nurturing. They claim the source of it is divine. Saints are said to have an inexhaustible ability to nurture because they have tapped into the well itself. But I wonder if that is true? Every saint, every guru seems to move about with a retinue Mariah Carey might envy. O how the retinue pamper, feed, and flatter them. Is that how they really recharge themselves?

I have been fortunate to have observed more than a one such saint up close. I particularly think of a female Hindu saint known as Amma, or The Mother. Her capacity to nurture is indisputable. She hugs each and every person who attends her gatherings. Men, women, young, old, rich, poor, she stays till the last person has been hugged. In a crowd of 20,000 or more , that might not be until the early hours of the following morning. She sits in the same spot, without food or water or bathroom breaks, sincerely hugging each and every one. She speaks not a word of English, yet foreigners flock to be hugged by her. Like beggars at a feast they wait in line, their faces light up in rapture when their turn finally arrives. What is her source of nourishment?

Perhaps the answer is a combination all of the above. Perhaps nurturing is a nourishment so essential we take it wherever we can find it.  When deprived of it completely, we wither and turn anti-social.  A rare few are able to go past the human mind right to the very well of it. In deep meditative states, when my mind has stopped, I see glimpses of this source and it enriches not only me, but I believe, those around me.

That is just one way I replenish myself. These days it is rare that someone nurtures me. More routinely, whenever I perform a service for strangers, I seem to walk away feeling refreshed and recharged. The act of being selfless transcends the rut of the mind and there again is that glimpse of the source. In this sense my relationship with the homeless is symbiotic: I nurture the guys with free haircuts, and they in turn nurture me in another, deeper way.

Whatever it is, I reckon it is a force vastly undervalued. Peace and joy to all those in the UK observing Mother’s Day, both to those who are, and to those who have had mothers.

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One Response to “Is Nurturing Undervalued?”

  1. It sounds to me like you nurture the guys that you give haircuts to in a deeper way than you realize. We all need to be nurtured. And it’s true that sometimes the one who nurtures lacks being nurtured on the same level. But I think if it is in your heart to nurture, as it is in yours, then your heart is nurtured when you nurture someone else. Just in a different way. I’ve, too, felt those glimpses through meditation, or just doing a good deed. Both of those things are nourishing to me. So maybe we do have the power to nurture ourselves. As always, a very well-written, thought-provoking post!

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