Comfort and support.
These are gifts we offer one another, as human beings. You can offer these gifts at any time because you already have them. They are rooted in your anatomy - in the depths of your body and your memory. You have a wealth of gifts to offer precisely because they are rooted in your anatomy.
You don’t always notice your depths because you tend to live on the surface, concerned as you are with the daily details of living your life. That’s normal.
But when you are moved to offer comfort or support, you know how to do that. You draw these gifts up from a place you typically forget even exists. Once you tap into your gifts, you offer reassurance or consolation in any number of ways. Comfort has many faces. You soothe, calm, hearten, and encourage. You extend compassion.
In addition to their anatomical roots, the gifts of comfort and support are remarkable because they share this unusual quality – they benefit the giver as well as the receiver. Think about it: normally when you give something to someone else, you have less of that thing for yourself. You have a necklace and you give it away as a gift. You have fewer necklaces.
But reassurance and consolation share this extraordinary quality: the more you give, the more you have.
You know this from your own experience. When you have offered encouragement or support to someone, you feel encouraged or supported yourself. It’s reciprocal and expansive. You know this in your body. Deeply.
You know this in your body because it is the case even as your body forms. So it’s deeply familiar to you. From conception, your life depends on the life of another, literally, for life-support. That doesn’t change when you enter the world.
You still depend on others for your nourishment - for your very existence.
Your dependence lasts for a very long time. Because you’re vulnerable for many years of your early life, you recognize both physically and mentally the great value of these gifts of comfort and support. You know, from the inside out, how deeply you appreciate them.
Your appreciation for compassion and encouragement grows out of an anatomical necessity - and blossoms into a human gift.
The Secret of Comfort
There are many ways to provide yourself and others with support and comfort because there are many anatomical experiences from which they naturally arise. Your anatomical experiences are the rich soil giving life to the comfort you offer and receive.
All of the ways of comforting have one thing in common – they require your full, attentive Presence to the wonders of your anatomy in order to draw them forth. Presence is something we have greater difficulty with than ever before. It’s becoming less and less something we expect from other human beings.
This is why people derive great comfort from being with their pets. Companion animals are content simply to be present with you. They enjoy being physically near you. Most importantly, their attention is not divided. They attend to you. If you want to be quiet, they are quiet with you. If you want to play, they play with you. They are not waiting for a text. They don’t jump up and turn their attention to their phone or tablet. They aren’t distracted by what’s on a nearby screen.
You can’t count on the same being true with people.
And yet, ironically, being present is what provides reassurance and consolation. How so?
Presence is grounded in your anatomy - in your physical memory. Your body is endowed with the gifts of your senses. You know yourself, others, and the world through your senses - by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Each time you encounter something through your senses, it leaves an impression – in your body and in your mind. This impression becomes part of your memory and therefore available to you for comfort and encouragement. This gives you a wide range of ways to be present to yourself and others, because you have engraved sensory impressions on which to draw.
This is why comfort food is comfort food. Your favorite comfort food is one that you know, from memory and sensory experience. It is delicious and makes you feel better when you eat it. This is partly because of the memory of appetizing flavor, but it is also because of your memories of what you have eaten, with whom, and how the company and circumstances as well as the flavor increased your sense of well being. You were paying attention.
Comfort food is real. Serving yourself or someone you care for their favorite dish is a way of being Present. And when you do you can increase the effect by savoring each bite, eating slowly and enjoying the flavors.
The sound of human voices creates powerful impressions. The sound of your voice can soothe and comfort another – whether in conversation or speaking soft words of reassurance. It is comforting to be read to or to hear someone tell you about their day. What matters is that when you are speaking you are giving your listener your full attention, speaking to them and listening to them, responding to them.
This is also true for music. Beautiful music leaves strong impressions. A melody may instantly recall you to a time, place, or person. When you need soothing or heartening, listening to music that you love, giving your full attention to the music gives you the support – not only of the music itself, but of all of its associations.
The sight of something beautiful or beloved cheers you. Whether it is the face of a loved one or a beautiful view, beloved and beautiful sights leave deep impressions in us. Even if you cannot be physically in a place where you can see a beloved sight, you can call this sight to your mind’s eye. Fill your mind with your beloved sight. Your whole body will respond. You will feel comforted.
If you are caring for someone else you can describe a shared experience, recalling the details, the colors, the light, the features and then sit in the silence of the recollection in shared silent presence.
Yes, there are comforting smells. Recall opening the door to a house or kitchen and smelling the scent of the cinnamon and nutmeg as a pumpkin pie is baking, or as apple cider is mulling. Spices are often the most memorable – cardamon, cumin, coriander, thyme or rosemary. Or the smell of baking bread. It may be the smell of autumn leaves, or the smell of the air just before it rains.
Thanks to essential oils you can comfort yourself or someone else with scents that are heartening or scents that are calming.
Perhaps the most powerful reassurance comes to us through the gift of touch. Whether it’s the touch of a human hand or the touch of a soft, familiar and comfortable article of clothing, blanket, or throw. It may be the silky touch of your pet’s fur.
You are rarely more present than when you are touching and being touched. Touch requires presence. Your touch communicates directly your gentle, loving presence. And because it requires your hands, it’s hard to be distracted by a device and touching someone at the same time.
Deepening Comfort and Support
Your sensory gifts do not exist in isolation from one another. When you prepare and enjoy comfort food, you touch it, you see it, you smell it, you taste it, you may hear it as you take it from the dish or as you chew.
When you are present to yourself and others you notice that almost all of these comforting experiences and memories come in a combination of sensory impressions. That simply increases the effect.
Presence, our attention, is the most gracious gift we can give to ourselves or another. And you have many ways to give because you have five senses and a lifetime of memory.
In one of the ancient renditions of the story of the Grail, it is said that the Grail belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralyzed by painful wounds, “What are you going through?”
You have to be present to ask that question - present to yourself and to another as only human beings can be. When you give your attention to the answer, you discover you also have the gift of responding from those depths of understanding that you already have.
What will your response be?