IN OUR fast-paced lives, it is difficult to place a priority on nurturing ourselves. Women are particularly prone to ignoring their own needs and neglecting themselves as they give much of their time and energy to others
Women are natural caretakers who instinctively focus on the well-being of other people. We tend to think that nurturing ourselves will not complete a project, care for a loved one, make money, or get dinner on the table. With work, home, and other responsibilities, nurturing ourselves often moves to the bottom of the to-do list, if it makes it to the list at all.
The Meaning of Nurture
Nurture means to take care of self, to give time to self, to nourish, to cherish and cultivate. Just as we nourish and feed our physical body, we also need to nourish other aspects of ourselves. Just as we cherish others, we need to cherish ourselves. The opposite would be to disregard, ignore, or neglect the self. Nurturance and nourishment of self are important for various reasons.
Why is it Important to Nurture Ourselves?
The following story says it all:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ you ask. ‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’ ‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim. ‘How long have you been at it?’ ‘Over five hours,’ he replies, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’ ‘Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a lot faster.’ ‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,’ the man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’”
We are too busy working and taking care of others to nurture ourselves. Over time, this leads to depletion of our energy, patience, creativity, and relationship skills. Over time, our saws become dull because we are too busy sawing away to take a break. We find that we have little to give to others because we have not taken the time to take care of ourselves.
The solution is to learn how to nurture ourselves so that we can refill the depleted energy, compassion, and kindness. Nurturing ourselves increases our chances of success in all of our relationships. It makes us happier, more fulfilled, and more effective in our lives.
Areas of Nurturing
As humans, we need to nurture ourselves in the following regards: 1) Physical, 2) Psychological/Emotional, 3) Social, and 4) Spiritual. This means that we need to find ways to fulfill ourselves in each of these aspects. Of course, these elements are interrelated and impact upon each other.
Islam is a religion of balance, wholeness, and moderation. If we balance our lives in such a way as to take care of each of our needs, we will experience wholeness and serenity. We must also do this in a way that is moderate and conscientious.
To get an idea of what all of this means, read through the following cases and try to determine which area of nurturance is most needed in each case. In other words, in which aspect is there imbalance or lack of fulfillment? Focus on the weakest aspect in each case since more than one may be represented.
Case 1: Maysoon
Maysoon is a young mother of a 4-month-old infant. She and her husband recently moved to the United Arab Emirates from America. The baby was born in the UAE. Maysoon’s husband works from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm each day and Maysoon is alone in the house during that time with the baby. She has no social contact and misses her family back home. She comes from a large family of six siblings.
Lately, she has been feeling more and more depressed due to her situation. She cries often and feels that she has no desire to take care of the baby. She is not able to sleep at night and has no appetite. She wishes that they had never come to this country.
Case 2: Maryam
Maryam is the mother of three small children—Zakariyyah, age 4; Salma, age 2; and Sumayyah, age 9 months. Since the birth of her first baby, Maryam has been concerned about her weight and figure. She gained 20 kilos with Zakariyyah, and although she lost some kilos over time, some remained. With each pregnancy, her weight only seemed to increase.
She feels tired and sluggish much of the time and does not feel that she is able to fully give what she needs to her children. Her husband has also commented on her weight and tells her that she needs to get slim again like she was when she first married.
Case 3: Zainab
Zainab is a 35-year-old woman with four children and a full-time job as a teacher. Her work and home responsibilities take much of her time, but she somehow manages. Lately, Zainab has felt a distancing from Allah. She does not feel that she has the time to strengthen her relationship with Him. Her salah is often completed hurriedly and she struggles to find some time to read the Qur’an each day.
Her desire is to study more about Islam so that she can acquire more knowledge. This would enable her to teach her children as well as the sisters in her community. She wishes to come closer to Allah, but the demands of daily life seem to be in the way.
Case 4: Reema
Reema is an energetic, educated, and intelligent woman. She works full-time in a company as an accountant, but does not really enjoy her work. She has been with the company for almost five years. She also has a husband and two children—Yacoub, age 7 and Zainab, age 5.
Although Reema is very resourceful, she struggles with balancing the demands of both work and home. Her time is spent going back and forth between these two demands. By the end of the day, she feels emotionally drained and unfulfilled due to the stresses of her job. She feels that she has no emotional energy left to give to her family. She is concerned about how this will impact her children.
How Do We Nurture Ourselves?
There is no right way or one perfect solution for everyone to nurturing the self. Nurturing is specific to each person and each season of life. It is personal and intimate. The ways that we are nurtured reflect our deepest wants and needs.
We begin by asking ourselves, “What feels nurturing to me?” You can try to remember times in which you felt nurtured and loved and create a list of those times (or places or people). Spend time writing in a journal about what feels nurturing to you. To gather more ideas, ask friends what they do to nurture themselves. Gradually, accumulate a list of events, people, and things that feel nurturing.
To get some practice, go through each of the scenarios above and try to come up with ways that each of the women can nurture themselves. It may be a good idea to do this with a friend or group of friends. The outcome may surprise you.
The Importance of Spirituality
At the foundation of the human experience is spirituality. While all elements are important and we attempt to balance them, the aspect that cannot be eliminated or ignored is one’s relationship with the Creator. This will impact a person’s life more than any other aspect. The soul is at the center of the human being. Allah says,
Then He proportioned him and breathed into him from His (created) soul and made for you hearing and vision and hearts (i.e., intellect); little are you grateful. [Sûrat al-Sajdah,32:9].
We also understand that our purpose in life is to worship Allah. Allah says,
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. [Sûrat Al-Dhârîyât, 51:56].
It is through this worship that we obtain the greatest fulfillment and nourishment because it brings us closer to our Source. We find peace and contentment simply in the remembrance of Allah. Allah says,
Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:28]
When we focus on nourishing our spirituality it will flow into the other areas of our life. The guidelines that are provided by the Din will become methods of nurturance themselves.
Maintaining the ties of family is an example of nurturing the social aspect. Eating healthy food is part of taking care of the physical self. When we understand that the concept of worship in Islam is broad and includes any actions that are acceptable to Allah and done for His sake, the matter becomes clear. In the end, we begin to realize that nurturance can be found in the hugs and care given to a child, in the completion of a project for work, or even in the cooking of a dinner meal. Remembrance of Allah in all that we do will bring much of the nurturance that we need in this life.