Written by Anna-Marie Swan
Like explorers of old who sail for the edge of their maps, and find there a rich landscape that’s teaming with life and colours as well as things that appear alien and very scary, in my exploration into what true nourishment really is, how nourishment feels, and what impact it may have on all areas of my life, I have discovered a richness that invites a deeper and deeper exploration; and, through moving into and noticing what opens up for me with each new depth, the possibility to live in a way that is both beautiful and bursting with life, and undeniably confronting and consistently challenging.
What true nourishment is has been at the core of my self-enquiry for the last few years. More so, the question of what is true nourishment specifically for me: for my body, and the difficulties and strengths it has; for the way my brain works, and the many lenses I see it the world through; for my often tired, often hopeful heart; and for my soul.
What I’ve discovered is that past a certain point there is no well-trodden path. Instead, we have to forge our own way, one uncertain step to the next, one layer of understanding to another. And with each understanding – of what true nourishment is - a new question arises. Which leads to another. And from that, another.
This is an immensely personal journey. And the enquiry is as distinctive as each of us.
You’d almost think that we would instinctively know how to best take care of ourselves. Animals mostly do. Through what seems like some kind of deep knowledge or gene memory that they have access to when injured or in danger, whether it’s through refusing food and water and curling up into a corner, or seeking help from their human friends, they seem to intuitively know what they need to give themselves – or deny themselves – for their health and well-being.
Have we lost this ability, to instinctively know what’s important for our health and well-being? That is, as a human being, should we have access to deep knowledge that guides our decisions about what’s good for us? If we should, where is it? Have we become so exhausted, living through the challenges today’s world, that we’ve buried our instincts deep beneath levels of trauma and stress? Or is it simply that we have more interesting experiences pulling at our often-divided attention and our over-stimulated senses? Experiences that, although they are often short-lived and can leave us in the long-term feeling empty and unsatisfied with life, make what we know is actually good for us seem boring in comparison? Or too difficult?
There has been a shift recently. We get that any wealth is pointless without health. That family, relationships, and community depend upon each of us being here to be a part of it. We are seeing that mental health and physical health are important to every aspect of life as a human being. And we’re understanding that they are very much interdependent. Symbiotic even. And equally needing our energy and attention. We can now turn to a million blogs teaching us basic self-care. But is this level of self-care true nourishment?
What I am finding is that the self-care we read about - of hot baths and deep breaths - is just skimming the surface. Deep nourishment isn’t something that you can make space for in your life while keeping the rest unchanged. It isn’t like a weight you can place in one scale pan to balance what you place in the other. When you dive into what nourishment really is, it has the capacity to upend everything in your life. It requires you to look into every corner of your life, especially the rooms left unattended, and asks you to clean them out. True nourishment is born only of introspection, and it demands a level of self-awareness that most of us are terrified of, asking us to truly look at how we impact and interact with the world around us; how our thought processes work; what belief systems we hold; how we respond to life and our inner world; and what we’ve been ignoring because we have been too afraid to face it.
Or at least that’s what I’ve found. For me, nourishment has encompassed so much more than reducing stress levels or focusing on immediate well-being. Real nourishment has not been about doing yoga, or eating comfort food watching a film from my childhood when feeling sad, or taking long hot baths with essential oils. Deep nourishment has not been taking regular walks in the woods or curling up on the sofa with a good book. It’s not even been seeking out the company of people that I feel good or inspired around (although I do all these things, and they are delicious and important).
Instead, real nourishment - of my body, of my heart, of my mind, and of my soul – has been taking good long hard looks at who I am, how I think, how I respond to things, and where I’m taking and not taking responsibility or living in alignment with what I know to be right for me. And this hasn’t always been easy or felt good at all. There are moments every day when I have the choice to do something, believe something, or say something that I know isn’t in my best interest, and it’s really, really tempting to do the thing that would feel much easier or be more satisfying right then.
Like not being truthful because I’m scared that will hurt someone’s feelings. Or eating something I know my body doesn’t tolerate because it tastes so good. Or allowing myself to blame someone else entirely for something when I know I was responsible too. Or to strike out when I’m frustrated or hurt because I want them to feel the pain I’m feeling too.
I’m learning that deep nourishment starts with awareness, honesty, and acceptance - of myself and of other people. It comes from learning to be responsible for myself, through practising taking ownership of how I respond to my external and internal world. It comes from being willing to explore my strongest-held beliefs and being truthful with myself if they are not serving me, even if it means a 180-degree about turn. It’s meant investigating what real acceptance of ‘what is happening right now’ looks and feels like, an acceptance that is not about giving up but about embracing it whole-heartedly, all the while still knowing that things can change radically in a short period of time. It’s included learning really strong boundaries and personal sovereignty, honing my ability to know who or what I keep out of my life and who or what I invite in. And it’s also meant letting go of some deeply ingrained habits that are not helping me move into being and living how I want to.
It’s been accepting that I cannot and I will not just be able to eat what I like. That I have to be extremely careful with the choices I make. And its been letting go of being really, really pissed about that.
It’s constantly – and I mean, constantly – looking at where I’m not grounded financially. At when I’m ignoring the voice that says I know I shouldn’t be buying this because I have made a promise to myself and I’m making excuses for myself. It’s meant repeatedly letting go of the belief that the world owes me something, and that other people should look after me, and sacrificing many things I used to think of as treats that I gave myself because I wanted them.
It’s meant facing up to the fact that, despite an adulthood swearing that meat is murder, my body needs it; a belief that has felt so right and natural that I used to swear I would rather go through my entire life unwell than be the cause of another creature’s suffering. And, as someone who empathetically feels into other’s physical suffering as though it is my own, facing the reality of my situation, that my body needs meat and therefore that I need to eat it, has been one of the most excruciating internal processes I can imagine. More challenging still has been going from being repulsed at the idea of eating meat to finding (and then admitting to myself) I enjoy meat, and it makes me feel really good physically. Admitting to myself and others that I was wrong all that time when I argued that not eating meat had anything to do with my health issues.
It’s been getting up early and doing yoga even though my belly hurts throughout my practice. And it’s been learning that it feels very differently when I’m in pain and it’s a good thing, and when I’m in pain and it’s a message to stop. It’s meant letting go again and again of the desire to push and push myself until I collapse, but instead teaching myself to focus on regularity and continuity, and finding the sweet spot between overexertion and giving up entirely.
Deep nourishment has asked me to constantly let go of what gets in the way of building important relationships. It’s again and again choosing to see that, when it comes to disagreements, I think I am always in the right and they are always wrong. It’s been owning up to where I’m holding on to prejudices and superiority and arrogance, and consciously dropping these to give space to love and compassion and understanding, even though every fibre of my being is shouting at me that I am right and being right feels good.
It’s also been facing up to difficult decisions that I want to hide from and not deal with. It’s been handing my notice in at jobs because I know I’m not living in alignment with my purpose, and acknowledging that, for me, living purposefully is key to my deep nourishment (even when I’m not sure what that purpose is).
Nourishment for me is all about my creativity, often coming from working really hard at something that I’m ridiculously and joyfully passionate about. And it’s also about putting the work in each day even if on the projects that I don’t give a flying monkey about it because it’s in service to the kind of life I want to live: one where I do every job that I have promised to do to my best ability, because that is honourable to me, and it earns money, because that makes the life my partner and I want to live possible.
And today, it’s been crying my eyes out to my coach because I’ve had a really fucking awful few days physically and emotionally, and things have been coming up to the surface that need to be examined, and it really, really, really hurts to examine them. And accepting that some days I’m just tired of how challenging life can feel and I crave an easy life.
I feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what true nourishment is for me and how it feels. I see very few examples of it being lived by others, and so it often feels a lonely path, one that I’m certain has no end, and many, many challenges along the way. The questions keep on appearing and I’m somewhat like a blind woman feeling her way; no sight; much fear; and having to trust my gut on how and where to take the next step.
But despite all that (and embracing all that) discovering the many layers that true nourishment can open up before me is an exquisite experience, like standing on the edge of a magnificent vista and feeling that mixture of awe and excitement that comes when we know something life-changing is about to happen. I wouldn’t change this journey for one moment off the path, however easier that might feel, and I wouldn’t go back to the person I was before.
I don’t know what true nourishment is or what it feels like in its entirety. I hope that one day I will. It calls to me in a way that nothing that has come before has done. And I believe that it is something that is available to all of us. If we choose to follow its invitation.