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When we slow down to intentionally take special care of something or someone, we “tend” to it. Gardeners have a magic touch with their gardens—they tend to them with diligence, persistence and careful attention. A mother watches over her infant and tends to his or her every coo or cry with a kind of fierce, pervasive, ever ready presence. A daughter or son looks after an aging, fading parent and tends to their increasing frailty with tempered honesty, respect, sweetness and sadness. Tending to something involves both a passion and a resolve, a determination to keep devotion alive to something worthy of our time and attention.

To tend and befriend our health is a generous act of conscious living that will heal us

Often we do not allow our health to be placed into this primary category of devotion. Somewhere, somehow, we developed the false belief that our health shouldn’t need this kind of directed, focused attention. In fact, the more our health asked of us, the more resentful we became. As issues escalated, we did the minimum required to get by because, after all, we had more important things to do. It is often at this juncture that a “wake-up call” comes in the form of a breakdown of some kind in our functioning. And then we inflict copious amounts of guilt upon ourselves because we “should have taken care of it when we heard the first warnings.”

Yikes! There has to be another way to live other than being relentlessly bashed between the unmerciful rocks of neglect and guilt. This is where tending comes in. It’s not loud and flashy; it’s soft and grounded in practice. It’s not motivated out of external approval, but out of an internal knowing that it is important and primary, like breathing.

True Intimacy and Connection

We know what it takes to befriend another. It takes interest, time, caring, listening, delight, non-judgment, curiosity, loyalty, and affection. It requires trust, keeping our word, forgiveness, humor, and wiggle room for mistakes for all of the above. It is the opposite of being a burden. It’s an honor to focus our love in this manner. We tend and befriend, and it is this process that teaches us the definition of intimacy and true connection.

Over the many years that I have had the privilege of working with participants in the Ornish Program, I have watched this sacred process unfold. Learning to tend and befriend one’s health is not an easy task. Initially, it is full of facing loss… “If only I had…” It involves learning a new way of eating, exercising, calming and connecting, with all of the commensurate doubts: “Me, a vegetarian? A meditator? An active exerciser? Someone who shares their feelings with others? Me?!?”

For a while we are strangers in a strange new land. Luckily, Dr. Dean Ornish placed all of these evidenced based tools in the safe and sure context of community. In Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, we help each other. We struggle and laugh and cry together. We keep showing up as we learn together how to befriend our bodies, our hearts and minds, and our spirits.

When we feel better, we do better. To tend and befriend our health is a generous act of conscious living that will heal us and lift us into a world waiting for us to do our part.

Tending and befriending our health is our means to say: “Yes, I am here, in one piece, ready to do my part.” What a supreme act of purposefulness, responsibility, and generosity.

Do you consider tending your health  to be a burden, a blessing, a combination of both?



Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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