The physiotherapist Jacob removing the plaster from a young man's hand.

Tending and Attention

No matter what inner difficulty or outer suffering we may experience, in tending to the darkness with compassion we will discover this same unstoppable life force.

Jack Kornfield (1996)

The etymology of tend has within it the sense of pushing oneself, making an effort, stretching to achieve something; when this is coupled with the amplifying preposition ‘at-’ we are reminded that attending is not a passive or quiescent state, but rather requires all our skills and concentration - as shown here on the face of the physiotherapist. But there is a more fundamental idea beneath this surface, when we attend closely to what is happening around us, as opposed to what is happening in our heads, we often encounter a remarkable affection within ourselves; an affection for our surroundings, and for its creatures. While compassion may let us tend others, it might also be that by tending others we discover compassion within us.


The image shows Jacob, a physiotherapist at the Leprosy Mission Hospital in Naini, Uttar Pradesh, cutting the plaster cast from a young man’s finger - part of the reconstruction needed following the damage caused by the disease. I am not sure myself about 'inner forces', but wish to echo the idea that as we attend, and in particular tend, we discover within ourselves a compassion found amongst people everywhere. The quote is from Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit + the Heart, published by HarperCollins. Here Jack Kornfield and Christiana Feldman tell stories which richly illustrate such a fundamental compassion.


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