Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen talks about the art of living

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 4.26.51 PM

I have been a fan of Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen since I first read her book,Kitchen Table Wisdom. It is a collection of stories about what she has learned from her patients. Most of whom are in the last stages of cancer.

Remen herself has lived with Crohn’s disease since she was in her twenties, yet her writing and her speaking is predominantly about the blessings in life that all too often most of us only see when we are at the end of it. The power of sharing our “stories,” living with a sense of wonder and honoring each other.

I was reminded of Remen by a recent contact I made, a woman who once we started talking, immediately asked me if I’d read Remen’s books?

So now I am taking up Remen again. Reading one of her books I had not, My Grandfather’s Blessings. Already this morning only reading the introduction, I was in tears reflecting on all the blessings I have in my own life – my husband, family, friends, work; all the kindnesses and all the heart that is webbed and woven around me. 

Remen embodies bravery, speaking to doctors about how medical training is like a disease that may be necessary for health care providers to recovery from. Here she was giving an address last year to women in medicine. 

How uncomfortable she notes doctors are made by their own professional culture taught to dishonor the things that truly provide healing, like connection, hope, awe and authenticity. Medical school Remen said, “does not train us to be fellow human beings.”

Her stories are amazing and uplifting. They will make you see your life differently. Thank you Rachel Naomi Remen.

More “After The Diagnosis”

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.19.01 PM

My last post was about the book I’m reading by kidney specialist, Dr. Julian Seifter, After the Diagnosis.

Last night I read two other thoughts Seifter expresses that I thought worth posting. He talks of the human spirit being able to find possibility and joy even in the face of devastating illness:

“Illness represents a hard limit – an unyielding reality that closes off possibility, compromises freedom, undermines desire and hope. At the same time, being sick opens up unexpected opportunities for creativity and growth. By taking away the ”taken-for-granted,” illness invites, even forces, new awareness and new learning. 

By exploring parts of the self that were once hidden by everyday routine, a sick person can find his way to creative expression, personal transformation, emotional enrichment. And though being sick is hard, very hard, it’s not the end of playfulness and joy. All of us who suddenly face an illness can discover within ourselves these capacities.

Facing up to adversity is less a matter of deciding to be strong than of letting go and seeing what comes next. What is most required “after the diagnosis” is the capacity to stay open to experience. By letting life happen and time go forward, we can hold onto future hopes and present meanings. 

What I take away is that there is still hope and love and joy even when life turns upside down and things look their darkest. What I know, from personal experience, is that you can let go and feel a kind of freedom even while living with chronic illness, when you know you know enough to manage your illness well. 



Kitchen Table Wisdom

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.42.33 PMPhysicians learning to be human

I’ve just finished a book of stories I learned so much from. Particularly how medical training wipes the humanity out of our health care providers. You may not be surprised, except for how strategic and intentional it is.


Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen is full of small stories that include her own experiences as a physician for more than 30 years and observations of fellow physicians, and, as a patient suffering with Crohn’s disease since her teenage years. 


Her stories illustrate how most medical training depletes physicians of their humanity by actually outlawing any show of emotion or authentic aspect of themselves. Physicians are judged weak to by these standards and strong if they share nothing but their medical expertise; no heart, no humanity. Her stories also reflect the courage and grace as patients find their courage to live, and often die, with illness. 


You cannot come away from these stories without having a new understanding of our medical system. And the healing power of being with patients in a sacred space that does not judge, but allows frailties to just be. You will better understand why most doctors treat us like interchangeable parts and how far we have to go till this changes. Especially treating chronic illness.


Today, though, maybe there is a movement afoot. I just read Amy’s post over on DiabetesMine about a new ideal for treating the whole patient with a dedicated team. Perhaps it is happening, somewhere. Perhaps it will happen, someday.


In the meantime, pick up a copy of Kitchen Table Wisdom. Your soul will thank you.