Updated: Dec 12, 2022
By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder
What poisons you? And conversely, what nourishes you?
Our answers to these deceptively simple questions can offer tremendous insight into how we can improve the quality of our lives. And as we move into whatever are the new societal and personal normals, the need for creating a thoughtful and nourishing environment is becoming more important for almost everyone I know. That environment includes our family relationships, our work environment, our communities, and Mother Earth.
Most importantly, these two questions are about the relationship we create with ourselves. I’ve watched these two queries stump many seasoned women. We’re so used to being there and doing for everyone else, whether our family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I’ve seen women turn themselves upside down and inside out to help others. But if you ask these women what they personally need or want, they are befuddled.
Picking (Out) Your Poison
The idea of knowing what poisons us comes from Martha Beck’s amazing book, Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening. The main character, Diana (modeled after the Roman goddess), is stranded in the backwoods of California and must learn to discern which plant life is poison. To achieve this daunting task, Diana learns to tune into her body’s inner wisdom, which tells her which plants and berries to select.
Sometimes we don’t listen to that wisdom. Case in point—a very unhappy happy hour when my body rebelled against the fried food and margaritas I had “enjoyed” with some girlfriends. That experience was a wake-up call to really listen to my body’s responses to food.
But the concept of poison goes much further than what we put in our mouths. It encompasses our reality. Poison can include relationships, jobs, and other situations and choices, such as what we do socially, what movies we watch and what books we read. Women’s tendency to always be nice and go along to get along can be so detrimental to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
I’ve learned that the hard way, through continuing to remain in hostile work environments and avoiding voicing my feelings in increasingly difficult relationships that created a poisonous environment. These situations resulted in toxic poisons such as anger, frustration, and distrust flowing through my veins, taking a toll on my psyche and my being.
Like Diana, our bodies offer guidance as these situations emerge. I once had pain in my shoulder blade—and suddenly realized that my body was telling me that I was being stabbed in the back by a co-worker; that feeling ended when I left that job. In another situation, I felt my abdomen bracing and my heels literally digging in as if I was trying to slow the forward movement of one project that I felt was going in the wrong direction. Ultimately, I stepped out of the situation and focused on learning to create and keep boundaries —and eventually, my body let down its guard.
However, if we stay too long in these situations and don’t truly pay attention, we can find that life loses its luster. Poison infiltrates your system and continually influences your decision-making. Eventually, your life can make you feel like the cartoon character who always had a dark cloud following overhead.
Choosing Life’s Nourishment
Determining what nourishes us takes time. I appreciate that Martha Beck compares this quest to play the childhood game, “Hotter/Colder.” With a blindfold on, you try to find someone or something as the other kids call out “you’re getting hotter!” or “you’re getting colder!” as you move around the yard.
Life can be like that—a series of progressive moves that take us on the path to what really nourishes us.
How can you feel nourished at work? Look to your strengths and follow those instead of focusing on your weaknesses. I’ve learned that I truly enjoy interviewing inspiring individuals and trying to capture their essence in a story. In comparison, technical writing leaves me cold.
What did you miss during the pandemic? The answer to this might clue you into what nourishes you—or as Marie Kondo says, “What sparks joy!” For many, there’s been a recommitment to family time after forced separations due to the lockdown. For others, it’s rediscovering key friends who we haven’t seen or experiences that we weren’t able to have. Personally, I realized how much I have missed being at live cultural events after attending an outdoor chamber music concert in the late summer. That spurred me to purchase tickets to see the touring companies of major Broadway shows.
What are the messages that your body is sending you? Our bodies react to what is nourishing through relaxing and effortless movement. We may feel a warmth in our hearts and find ourselves smiling more. We literally can feel our body saying, “More, please!”
We are moving toward a new year, which is a great time to be introspective about our life choices. But no matter when you see this column, I’d invite you to really ponder your life’s decision points—whether that’s an appointment with someone on your calendar, a book sitting on your shelf, or the color of paint you’re considering for your walls —in relation to nourishment or poison. Begin to choose what makes you feel good and avoid what feels toxic. By regularly asking whether something nourishes or poisons, you can sense how your life is unfolding – and begin to identify important areas where you want to make changes. Just keep making decisions and moving so you are getting warmer….
What are you finding nourishing in your life these days? Share what feels good to you below.