dancing with delight: a new way to build your inner nurturer

The barista expertly threaded our tea bags on wooden sticks and balanced them carefully over the cups of steaming hot water.

Then she turned to my friend and told her that her green tea would be ready after three minutes of steeping. My chamomile, on the other hand, would take seven minutes to reach perfection.

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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16 thoughts on “dancing with delight: a new way to build your inner nurturer

  1. Oh, how I love this. I plan to let my inner nurturer guide me all week. Its interesting because I have noted lately how well I have been receiving. (This has been something I have worked on since childhood!) and I am thrilled at my progress. I have a feeling this goes hand-in-heart-in-soul with that newfound awareness.

    Happy, grateful hugs!~!

  2. Interestingly, this has been a point of interest for me in the past few weeks. I’ve realized how little nurturing I allow myself. And that brings up an interesting point. Although I agree about the wonderful feeling of being nurtured, and we should notice it more, I also wonder if some people just don’t get much of it. Especially people who have been hurt in the past and therefore isolate themselves. Or people who come across very strong and capable and who never seem to need much. One of the things I’ve realized lately (this AEDM thing has been incredible) is how much I need and miss community in my life. Both locally and online. Just having a body of people who are in a position to nurture me is sorely missed. So that’s something I’ve decided to address. What an interesting thing to realize, really.

    • Great insight, Ginger. Sounds like aedm has really reminded you of some things that are important for you. And I think you’re right that lots of people don’t get much caring because they’re either “strong” or “isolated.” The amazing thing about this process has been seeing that even for people who feel uncared for, they can quickly begin to internalize caring by noticing the smallest, seemingly unremarkable things: the wave from their neighbor, the smile from a passerby, the “good morning” from a co-worker. To begin to internalize these things as caring requires a shift in interpretation for a lot of people, especially those who don’t trust easily.

  3. I love what Ginger said too in the comments- this was great- I am at a point in my life where I have moved away from many who nurture my spirits and so having AEDM has been great just to hear and see other artist working.

  4. Patty, this blog is a warm and wonderful gift! Thank you! Indeed taking the time to soak in all the Universe offers us is a splendid way to remain ever-grateful!

  5. Hi Patty, yes, I like what you say about the importance of having our nurturing part “mirrored” back to us by others, so that we can recognize and engage it when needed. I’m grateful to be a part of a group of people who practice sharing and listening to each other, which I think is a simple and great way to cultivate that part.

  6. Hi Patty,

    Important subject.

    Inner Nurturer is so important! Ugh. You must know what I’m going to say. We raise the next generation with a strong inner critic rather than a strong inner nurturer. Am reading lots of books on ways to nurture community in the young instead of what we’re doing.

    I swear we are creating prisons everywhere in the name of safety. And prisons are not safe at all! Yet, we are all supposedly free, right?

    Let’s talk more about this … so much of our angst grows from the inability to be good to ourselves, to see ourselves as lights of wonder, to give ourselves permission to do what makes us feel good.


    p.s. I get the 7-minute, whipped up chamomile, too!


    • Hi G – So interesting you mention this. I recently read an article that most millenials actually got a lot of validation and support so their self-esteem is high, but still they’re kind of lost and confused about how to take action and move forward in their lives. The author thought it might be because their boomer parents did too much for them. I can’t say, but one thing I do know: the clients I see who range in age from about 30ish to 60ish certainly benefit from building their inner nurturers.

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