Nourishing Ourselves and Others in Relationships (The Zen Way)
Article By Dr Brenda Shoshanna
To care for things makes the whole world come to life.
It’s delicious to feel well nourished in relationships. There’s a hunger we have for all kinds of relationship food: warmth, kindness, appreciation, time spent together. However, when this is not forthcoming some will do anything to get fed. In order to understand the true workings of relationships, we must understand the real process of nourishment - of cooking and being fed. Right from the moment we are born, we connect being fed with being loved. When we cry, mother feeds us and we feel safe and cared for. If the food we need is withheld for too long, we believe she doesn’t love us, or that we are being punished.
This pattern can continue throughout an entire life. In some cases one person consistently plays the role of the feeder and other the role of the one being fed. Some withhold love so their partner will do what they want of them. Others feed their partners on demand. Sex is often used in this fashion, providing a sense of being loved, wanted, cared for and nourished. When it is withheld or rationed out, the hungry partner feels deprived and hurt.
Most are not aware of the many kinds of food the universe abundantly provides. As in childhood, they become fixated on one person, who they see as their sole source of well being. The first thing to notice here is our intense orientation towards receiving. We feel that in order to feel full and nourished we must be fed. This is the idea of the infant - feed me and all will be well. Lester, a man in his sixties joined a dating service, and due to his age, buoyant demeanour and big, yellow Cadillac, received one introduction after the next. After each date, he was asked to report back about how the evening went. Finally, the service received a glowing report. “What an evening,” reported Lester. “She’s everything I ever wanted. I went to her house for a home cooked dinner, and what did I see? A freezer full of steaks.” This was a match made in heaven for Lester. He envisioned a lifetime of being fed.
We must be aware of all kinds of food, emotional, mental and spiritual, that are needed in a complete relationship. It is necessary to stop a moment and recognize exactly what kind of food we are consuming in the relationship, is it healthy, is it food our system can digest? Although fast food may taste good and initially fill us up, it can have bad side effects. The same is true in relationships. Although what we get from our partner is initially hot and spicy it can cause heartburn later on. We can eat all day, but if we do not taste and digest what we are eating, we will never receive the nourishment we need.
Clea spent all her time wanting to change Arnold. “There’s so much that’s wonderful about him,” she said, “but what I’m hungering for, I don’t get. I need more excitement.” It was as though Arnold were an apple tree who was giving her fabulous apples, while she was all the time longing for pears. Rather than walk down the street to the pear tree and take one, she railed against this fine apple tree, which could not produce a pear, no matter how hard it tried.
Some of us are simply addicted to being dissatisfied. But in order to live a life of being in love, we must learn to take what is given and offer thanks in return. If we spend all our time wanting to change the person, rejecting their essential qualities, not wanting or valuing what they basically give, this is a sure fire recipe for nausea. In order to be well nourished in relationships we must be able to absorb what is useful and discard the rest.
We must learn to take in the beauty and value offered, and by-pass that which is not valuable. It is a mistake to expect all of our needs to be met by one person. Honour and be grateful for that which you receive. Don’t become bitter and spend all your time focussing on that which the person is not able to provide.
Feeding Others We Are Fed.
In order to receive the full nourishment we need in relationships, it is necessary to do more than take, we must learn how to become the cook – how to nourish and feed others. In Zen practice the cook is called the tenzo. During retreats the meals must be cooked with great mindfulness and care, with not a drop of food wasted. The meals have to be ready exactly the moment. The very cooking itself becomes a training in offering, not only the food, but one’s entire self. When one is in this state of being, it is impossible to be hungry or discontent.
Most have no idea what it really meant to give fully – to truly care for another person. Most of our life orientation is what we can get for ourselves. “When you’re cooking up there with total concentration, you can actually feel the effort of others sitting downstairs. You can also feel their hunger and appreciation when the food is served at the right moment,” Samantha said.
Being the cook means learning how to appreciate the needs of others, and being willing to completely fill them, on time. Rather than compulsively focus on our own hunger, we become naturally aware of the needs of others. As we do this a strange thing happens, our own hunger completely fades away. Feeding others, we are fed ourselves. We are able to taste life (and people) as they are given. Our relationships turn around 180 degrees. It no longer becomes a question of what the other is or isn’t giving. It’s a question of what can be offered to him or to her.
As we place our attention upon the needs of others and find ways of giving to them, not only does our hunger subside, but we begin to feel full. As this process continues, there is a deeper lesson to learn, that a never ending source of all kinds nourishment exists within us. We need never feel empty or hungry again. As we get to this place, we develop parental mind.
Parental mind is the state of mind that wants to care for and nourish others. It is the mind of the mother with a newborn child. A state of unconditional regard for the world we live in. It is not a mind which keeps accounts or continually needs to be filled up and attended to.
Exercises: 1) Favourite Food.
What is your favourite food in relationships? What is it you hunger for daily? How do you get fed? Does someone else feed you? Do you feed yourself? Is there some other way you could get this particular nourishment? Take a little while and find out. 2) Emotional Indigestion.
What kinds of food are you now absorbing in your relationships that you cannot digest? Why do you keep eating it? What do you want from it? Is there some other food that could substitute? 3) Offerings.
What are the offerings you bring to life? What are you willing to give unconditionally? Are you receiving joy for doing this? If not, it is not your true offering. Spend time considering what it is that you can truly offer that will nourish and gladden others and you as well. When a large part of our lives consist in making these kinds of offerings , we fall in love with life itself.