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Healing vs Tending

(To be clear – this piece isn’t just me subtly shilling for my upcoming group. As I prepare for us to begin I keep learning and discovering things I think would be useful and interesting for all of you, and I want to share those. If you’re interested in Tending The Endings, awesome – you can learn more about it here. Meanwhile, whether it’s your thang or not, I hope you enjoy my musings!)

I’ll be blunt – I think we’ve gotten distorted around this idea of “healing,” so I’d like to propose a different angle. I know this isn’t going to sit well with everyone and that’s OK – but try it on and see what comes up.

The root of the word “heal” is literally “whole.” The verb “healing” means “to make whole.”

Think about the implication woven right through that idea – that you are not whole.

From there, I see that we have two ways to understand injury – and we are all injured, over and over, because that is the nature of Life.

One – we are injured physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually, and therefore we need to be healed to restore us to wholeness.

Two – we are whole already, even with all our injuries, in whatever state they may be.

I’m guessing most of us respond to that second view – and yet this idea of “healing” blares at us from every direction, constantly.

Many of those voices absolutely mean well, and my guess is they would say, “Oh, of course you’re already whole, but all those things that hurt and frustrate and weigh on you – we can work on healing those!”

I appreciate these folks’ good intentions – and I know that words matter. Language is how we shape and reflect reality, and if we actually want to understand the reality we experience, we cannot be casual about language.

Well-meaning or not, there’s a built-in and very powerful framing around “healing” of something to fix, adjust, or eliminate in order to return (note that!) to a desired state, the state of “wholeness.”

We have two facets operating under the surface here – that idea of not being whole, and therefore needing to fix, adjust or eliminate in order to become whole again, AND the further implication of a “conclusion” to this process – that healing has an end result: wholeness. We’re always comparing where we are to that ideal end-state.

Now let’s look at tending. It’s short for “attending,” as in “giving attention to,” and the root of the term is literally to stretch towards. It’s how we go to meet whatever is present, how we “give attention to” whatever is there with us, and in so doing we see what needs to be “done” (if anything) in that moment.

It’s an endless process. There is no “destination” to tending – it’s not something we’re ever done with. That ongoing quality is inherent in the very term, the way the “end state” is inherent in “healing.”

I always go to gardening to understand this most deeply.

Can you “heal” a garden? I suppose we might say that about a badly neglected or damaged garden – but what is it that makes it “whole?” When do we arrive at that end state of wholeness – how do we know?

In any garden things are constantly dying. Some will come back and some won’t. Some die because it’s their nature to do so, and others because they are injured or deficient of the conditions they need to thrive. If the garden can be “whole” even with this constant presence of death and loss, then what would “healing” really mean?

Tending, on the other hand, is what you do in a garden. It’s how you interact with it, how you engage with it. And for as long as you and that garden are in a relationship, that tending is ongoing. Unless you plow it under, you’re never done with a garden – you’re just in this endless dance with it.
These few rose blossoms are blown and need pruning. The rest are gorgeously happy. This annual isn’t getting quite enough sun and it’s getting leggy – let’s snip that back to the last bushy growth. This whole bank of early-flowering perennials are done with their show and have settled contentedly into greenery; they don’t need anything at all. This patch is extra dry – some hand-watering would help.

Each day different – listening, looking, feeling for what needs attention. And yet each day, the same process of tending. Some days it’s a quick 10-minute circuit and others it’s several hours of hard labor – but the only way to know which is to attend. This can’t be done on some calendrical schedule or externally-determined frequency. The garden itself knows what it needs, and it will tell you.

I am discovering that tending to my life, especially the losses and endings, is creating a kind of rhythm and flow that I never knew was possible. And devoting the time and energy to fully engage with the endings, just as I would in my garden, allows me to rejoice in the new beginnings happening all around me at the same time.

I’d love to know how this strikes you, if you’ve made it this far. Do you resonate with tending? Do you find a different perception of healing? How do you understand what it is we do with this constant process of ends and beginnings? I’d love to hear about it!