It’s funny how things come together.
The last few days I couldn’t decide what to write about on my blog. It wasn’t a lack of ideas, more a lack of focus. I blame it on the weather with rain, dull gray skies and still needing to wear a flannelette nightgown for sleeping. It doesn’t help that this is the end of May, not the beginning of November. It’s true that we did have a sunny warm week-end. In fact too hot for the runners at Sunday’s Marathon. It all goes to show that the weather is out of our control and we may as well “dress accordingly,” as my sensible friend declares and get on with living.
As I was walking home, after dropping my grandson off at school, I noticed the apple blossoms bursting forth on the lone tree pictured here. And suddenly I was pulled into the beauty right in front of my nose. As well as into childhood and the joy I experienced gazing at apple orchards in the Annapolis Valley in the spring. Childhood memories conjure up all kinds of stories and Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen popped into my mind like a joyful surprise.
Rachel Remen is a brilliant storyteller and her unique perspective on healing comes from her role as physician, professor of medicine, and longterm survivor of chronic illness herself. Her first book of true stories, called Kitchen Table Wisdom, is well worth putting on your nightstand, and reading a story everyday. It is medicine for the soul.
So, in these rainy spring days as trees and flowers still bloom and blossom even without weeks of sunshine, and the world has suffering galore, my heart turns to Dr. Remen. She is our faithful reminder and cheerleader, from the trenches, of how lives do have beautiful, heartfelt and meaningful moments even on dark days.
Over the years I have seen the power of taking an unconditional relationship to life. I am surprised to have found a sort of willingness to show up for whatever life may offer and meet with it rather than wishing to edit and change the inevitable…When people begin to take such an attitude, they seem to become intensely alive, intensely present. Their losses and suffering have not caused them to reject life, have not cast them into a place of resentment, victimization, or bitterness.
From such people, I have learned a new definition of the word ‘joy.’ I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning or losing.
The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than happiness.
The strength that I notice developing in many of my patients and in myself after all these years could almost be called a form of curiosity. What one of my colleagues calls fearlessness. At one level, of course, I fear outcome as much as anyone. But more and more I am able to move in and out of that and to experience a place beyond preference for outcome, a life beyond life and death. It is a place of freedom, even anticipation. Decisions made from this perspective are life-affirming and not fear-driven. It is a grace.
Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal
Note 1:) Kitchen Table wisdom was first published in 1994. It is probably available in a second hand bookstore for a good price. It is only available in my library as an ebook but I think this is a book to read in print. In 2006 they republished a tenth anniversary edition with new content, which I haven’t read.
Note 2:) I have always found solace from words. Especially a well told true story. I think as humans we relate to stories. I believe Rachel’s stories are so profound because she identifies with the suffering and challenges of her patients. A shared humanity, filled with learning, comfort, laughter and the richness of what cannot be measured. As Jon-Kabat Zinn, Ph.D, proclaims: “an extraordinary outpouring of human wisdom.”
Note 3:) Thank you so much for continuing to stop by. There are so many wonderful things in the world to claim your attention, so I appreciate you spending a little time here. See you next week, Trudy