The barista expertly threaded our tea bags on wooden sticks and balanced them carefully over the cups of steaming hot water.
Finally, she wrapped and tied napkins around our cups to keep our hands from burning, thanked us, and merrily sent us on our way.
Can you guess how I felt at that moment?
I felt great. But I bet you already knew that. When people take the time to do nice things for us we glow inside. It’s wonderful. And recently I learned that there’s even more goodness here, because experiences like these are critical to building our inner nurturers.
I’m sure you already know about the inner critic. Today, let me introduce the inner nurturer.
First, a refresher: the inner critic is the part of us that attempts to keep us safe by avoiding risk, comparing ourselves to others, telling us it’s no use to try because we’d only fail, and sometimes berating us by calling us names like stupid or ugly or untalented. Inner critics almost always have their beginnings in protective childhood coping mechanisms that no longer work in adulthood.
Calling all inner nurturers to the rescue.
That’s the part of us that brings self-acceptance, comfort and personal cheerleading when we need it. If we let them, inner nurturers are pretty good at dialoguing with inner critics too, helping them see reason and back off.
But the thing is, we’ve had years to build our inner critics. They’ve staked out a lot of internal territory, and the inner nurturer often has to play catch-up. And usually we rely mostly on our own actions to build up the inner nurturer. You know, practicing stuff like self-compassion, gratitude, empathy for others, acts of kindness. All good things, mind you, but sometimes difficult to remember and actually do.
So I was over the moon recently when I learned that simply noticing the actions of others-the things they do that make us feel cared about-is maybe even a better way to build the inner nurturer.
Which brings me back to the barista story I started out with. I had a choice at that moment: go on with my day or stop and notice that I felt cared about. It actually wasn’t too hard because I’ve been practicing for the last two weeks.
And wow! I’ve discovered opportunities to notice being cared about around every corner.
Like when my husband left me a funny, interactive note with boxes to check. Or the call I got from the university offering me a teaching position next semester. (I don’t want to teach but I loved the feeling of being asked, which actually made it easier to turn it down.)
Then there were the emails from two friends asking how I was doing. A check-in from my brother to bring me up-to-date on some family affairs. The grocery store clerk who asked if I wanted my chicken bagged separately. The gift of succulent mandarins from the tree of a thoughtful client. And of course I mustn’t forget all you lovely people who’ve come to visit here or leave comments through Art Every Day Month.
Okay. I’ll stop now. But can you see how internalizing these experiences of being cared about is making my inner nurturer dance with delight?
I’d actually like to shout this to the world and get everyone doing it. It’s such an easy but brilliant practice, and you bet I’m sharing it with my clients. Every single time I ask a client to unearth a simple moment of being cared about by someone else, her shoulders relax and a light beams inside. She smiles. She can’t help but smile.
During this week of thanksgiving here in the USA, I wish for all of you many opportunities to smile deeply with moments of noticing when you have been cared about.
And before I forget, I must give credit where it’s due. I learned this practice from Rick Hanson, a speaker at a teleseminar that I attended last month. He suggested it’s a good idea to actually create a list of things that others do to make us feel cared about, because having the list ahead of time makes it easier to notice in the present moment. Here’s what I came up with for myself: I feel cared about when I’m asked, valued, included, invited, accepted, heard, seen, loved, acknowledged, appreciated, visited, remembered.
What makes you feel cared about, my friend?
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