What nourishes us and how do we ensure we get theright kind of nourishment while reducing the wrong kind?A more pertinent question might be how do we tell thedifference? After all, the same nourishing object mightbe positive or negative depending on various factors,like the slice of chocolate cake we can eat for pleasureand a well deserved treat, or out of guilty greed, satisfyinga hunger that can never be filled.To answer this is to know the difference between selflove and self indulgence, to distinguish between darkand light, intuition and illusion.
There are many kinds of nourishment - fulfilling ourphysical needs, feeding our souls, stimulating our minds.Let's examine some of these in detail and, hopefully,arrive at a better understanding of the choices we makeevery day. Empowerment comes through knowing we havechoices, then making the ones that uplift us ratherthan drag us down. Each one of the following areas hasa positive and negative side which tells us a lot aboutthe true nature of addiction. It's not the object oractivity that is significant, but the need for it andthe power handed over to it. Back to the chocolate cake.In itself, it's absolutely innocent, yet can becomean object of fear to the anorexic or the obese. Thenit's no longer nourishing, but indeed harmful.
We can't exist without food. This we know. But I thinkwe often forget that food is literally fuel for ourbodies just as petrol drives our cars. The fact thatit tastes good is merely a bonus. Yet food is used bymany people for all sorts of reasons that have nothingto do with nutrition. How else can we explain the popularityof junk food which tastes so good but is so bad forour bodies? When I eat fresh, healthy food, my stomachactually feels different, kind of "in harmony"if that makes sense. When I eat "bad" food,no matter how delicious, it feels heavy and my energylevel goes down. Yet I don't believe in being obsessiveabout always eating what's "right". Fast foodsand takeaways may not be as nutritionally nourishing,but they're good for our inner selves if eaten onlyoccasionally, connecting us to the children we oncewere who perhaps weren't allowed sweets or chips.
So, when do we use food negatively? When we eat to fillan unfillable hole inside us that has nothing to dowith being hungry, in other words, what is known ascomfort eating. It stems from childhood when desperateparents offer snacks to appease stroppy kids. The associationbetween food and an emotional need is thus set. It'sall a matter of proportion. Eating a chocolate bar atthe end of a long, tiring day is fine as a reward, aslong we know that's why we're doing it and it we don'tdo it frequently. Food also has a social context whichis a joyful way to nourish oneself. Sharing food overconversation probably stems back to the Stone Age whenfamilies would eat in front of a campfire and tell stories.
Sex is a natural, joyful function, but as with food,it can be abused and overused. Sex is certainly nourishingas an expression of physical desire, lovemaking, spiritualconnection, fun and even friendship. Its dark underbellyappears when it's twisted into acts of self loathingor abuse of others. It also can be taken to excessivelevels, not just in frequency of activity but in termsof compulsion and need. I have no moral issue with anysex act undertaken by consenting adults - it's the intentthat matters. A one night stand between strangers isfine as long as no one is deceived or deliberately hurt;fetishes and deviant behaviour are matters of personalchoice; even promiscuity and infidelity are mattersof individual conscience. However, when sex is employedas a weapon, imposed by one person on another, or takento self destructive extremes, it is no longer nourishingbut, rather, toxic. Within a relationship, the potentialfor sex to be misused is actually greater because ofthe deeper feelings involved, be they love, spite, contemptor hate. Sex, unfortunately, is not always about positiveemotion; sometimes, it is linked to such issues as boredom,resentment and power. By embracing our sexuality inthe light, we ennoble ourselves and interact with ourlifeforce. In the dark, it is merely a physical actwith little to feed us. There's nothing wrong with thesex act for its own sake, affording immediate gratification.Yet, just as with fast food, we need to consider theaftermath and partake with care.
Our material comforts, the things that money can buy,can be very nourishing on a superficial level. Who doesn'tenjoy a cosy bed, beautiful furniture, a lovely home,delicious food, social outings, nice clothes, all theluxuries of life? We hold them in high priority, workhard for them and are entitled to enjoy them. Here,the dark side appears when desire turns into greed.Every year, the better car, the bigger television, moregadgets, toys and trappings - materialism running rampant.There's little nourishment in that because with thepleasure also comes the pain of debt, stress, the strainon health, running ever faster and faster on the treadmilljust to stay in the game. Where's the joy in that? Neverbe in love with the things you own. They don't trulybelong to you, but are only available for your use ona temporary basis. So, enjoy them, revel in them even,but don't identify with them, or your social standingor your career or your money in the bank. Using theanalogy of food once again, materialism is like eatingicecream as compared to the true nourishment of innerpeace, love, compassion, friendship, joy, contentment,the vegetables and fresh fruit of spiritual life.
True friendship and connection is one of the most nourishingof all human interactions. We have many needs, rangingfrom the obvious ones like water, air, food, shelter,to the more esoteric ones like knowledge, poetry, music,art, conversation, touch, happiness - the list is infinite.I would argue that both sets of these needs are essentialbecause, though the lack of the second may not killus physically, it would kill our humanness, our souls.Friendship brings out the purest of our intentions andis an exchange based on mutual respect and unselfishlove. It nourishes us in a number of ways - it offerscamaraderie, companionship, confidence, sharing, caring,support. Socialising, too, is necessary for our generalwellbeing. Without it, we can get too set in our ways,too stuffy, insular and, finally, isolated. There aretimes when we need to be nourished by time alone andthen there are times when we need to be around people,chatting, laughing, exchanging ideas.
As regular readers of my articles will know, I believenature is the most healing aspect of life. Nourishmentis more about feeding oneself on an ongoing basis ratherthan repairing damage. But when life gets extra toughand challenging, that's when we need to think more aboutwhat we're consuming -stress, anger, conflict, hostility,hatred, fear, or love, joy, compassion, kindness, nurturingand so on.
It's terribly easy to let nature nourish us; it's justa matter of sitting back and allowing it. We can walkby the sea, wander through the bush, sit in a gardenor park, breathe in fresh air, smell a flower. It'ssimple.
Letting nature nourish us on a regular basis is notoptional; our souls need it. So, don't tell yourselfyou're too busy, or you'll get out into the backyardor countryside on the weekend, or when you retire. Feedyourself on all the beautiful living things around youevery day, if at all possible. It doesn't have to bea major undertaking. For example, if you work in thecity, walk for 10 minutes during your lunch break.
We're all stretched for time these days. All the morereason to create some for ourselves at every given opportunity.We're all given 24 hours each day so it's no use crying,"There's not enough hours in a day!" No oneis ever going to hand you spare time; you need to seizesome and hold on tight to it. If you don't, it'll besnatched from you. It's not just any time either, ithas to be quality time. Meditating is beneficial butthat can take the form of almost any quiet activity.Time out can represent almost any form of any nourishmentto us. We can use it to pursue hobbies, read, watchTV or films, go for a walk, sit and think, listen tomusic, fly a kite, kick a football. While I said beforethat socialising is important, solitude is also essentialas spiritual food. Balance is the key as with so manythings. Managing one's time is also crucial as is handlingstress in a positive way. We hear a lot about the needto budget our money, but I think budgeting time is alsovaluable. That way, we get the essentials done and stillensure adequate leisure for ourselves.
Surely the ultimate nourishment. Love is the only commoditythat increases with consumption. As we love others,so our self love increases and the reflections of lovewe get from others. Loving those we like and who valueand praise us is easy and rewarding in its own way,but far more nourishing is the kind of blanket lovethat true Christianity espouses and all religions teach.It's what I call Universal or spiritual love, the typethat doesn't discriminate or favour or judge. It seesno division, colour, race or borders. To live with lovelike that is ultimately nourishing because it liftsus to a place of bliss where there is only harmony andacceptance. It all begins with self love, not the materialgrasping, selfish kind, but the type that engenderspeace within, from which all goodness comes. Love isas natural as breathing. It doesn't have to be learned,though, as the poet Kahlil Gibran says, "its waysare hard and steep". This is because we are humanand in our very imperfection is the challenge of relationship.Relationships are hard work, love never is. Personallove can also be very nourishing, along with the joysof sex, family, friendship.
Love yourself enough to want to nourish yourself constantlywith the best that life has to offer, ranging from thematerial to the metaphysical. Read, laugh, make love,talk, share, dance, sing, run in the sunshine, walkin the rain. Do it all, even the less healthy thingsin moderation. There is endless nutrition surroundingus if we seek it, allow it, enjoy it.