I think that the art of nurturing is one of the most vital, rewarding and under celebrated things a person could set out to do. All of our lives will afford opportunities to develop this as a conscious, deliberate art, and by doing so we enable. A person who loves creativity but does not, for whatever reason, feel moved to create, can adopt nurturing as their art, and through that make the most stunning contributions. Most arts do not happen in isolation. Time, money, resources, space, publicity, feedback are all essential and rare is the aspiring creative person who doesn’t need some of that to come from outside.
Nurturing as an art form is not just about propping up creative people though. Gardening and tree planting are forms of nurturing the land, so is litter picking. Rescuing and healing animals is a nurturing art. Caring for the sick is a nurturing art. So is teaching, running events, library work. Raising children should be held up as an art that requires considerable dedication. No one is ‘just a parent’, if they are making any kind of effort, they are a practitioner of a most complex and demanding art form. Anything that we do that enables others to flourish, is part of the art of nurturing.
Making it more deliberate is not difficult. The easiest place to start is with praise or encouragement for whatever good stuff you see people doing. Be that a cleaning job, a fundraiser or a painting. Just saying ‘that’s brilliant, well done’ will help to sustain someone else in their work. Yoo don’t need pompoms and a tiny skirt to be a cheerleader, but most people need someone to cheer them on, to keep them believing that what they do is worth doing, and is valued. Being a good audience is a skill to nurture, knowing how to listen, how to ask good questions, when to applaud, both in a literal sense and a more metaphorical way.
Without people who create spaces and opportunities, far fewer people can grow or flourish. That might mean an after school club, adult education, running a poetry slam, or an open mike. It takes time, energy and skill to make an event, a class or some other nurturing space go well. One of the measures of having got it right is that people won’t even think about it. They’ll just be noticing all the stuff you’ve put centre stage. Often, to practice nurturing as an art, you need to be willing to stand back stage.
The other important consideration with nurturing in any form, is that you do not dictate the shape. It’s not about creating twenty clones of yourself, or one special person who can actually do what you wanted to do. If you mean to nurture, then those you enable have to be free to be what they are. No point planting potatoes and complaining to them when they do not produce rose flowers. It can be very tempting, with this kind of work, to go too far with the supporting so that it turns into directing, then ordering and demanding. When we nurture, we facilitate. The only thing you can want for yourself is the pleasure of seeing someone else take off, and maybe a little bit of kudos. But if you want to turn them into something specific, the most likely outcomes involves crushing them, destroying their potential or making them hate you. Even the people who turn up and say ‘teach me to do what you do’ will at some point need to take off in their own direction.
This is an art that calls for a lot of letting go, relinquishing desires to be reinforced or propped up by others. And if we do make a safe and nurturing nest for those who come to us, then we have to accept that one day they will need to leave it and strike out for themselves. The whole point of the nest is to get you ready for flying. It can hurt, watching them leave. It can feel like rejection. If they’re truly focused on taking the thing forward, whatever it is, it can feel like being left behind, abandoned. The person who takes up nurturing as their art knows not to cling at this moment. It’s all about taking pride in knowing that you aren’t needed now, and that’s as true for a parent as it is for a spiritual teacher, or someone providing a space to work in.
Nurturing as an art can very readily be practiced alongside other life arts, or the bardic arts, or just as a dedication to encouraging others and being generous with words. It can be a powerful calling in its own right, one that becomes the whole of your life and purpose. Someone who is good at it may make themselves almost invisible, but these are people too, and if you spot them, in the wings, behind the desk, holding it all together and making no fuss, remember that they could use some nurturing too and that this art is as worthy of your celebration as any other you encounter.