A Square-Peg People Book Review
Kitchen Table Wisdom
by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
My daughter has a number of those cook-and-tell books on her shelves. The kind that go beyond recipes - include personal essays. I've enjoyed a few that my daughter has shared with me. But these are not the kinds of books I normally seek out.
Kitchen Table Wisdom was on the "Good Books You May Have Missed" shelf at our local library. It was there that I finally noticed the subtitle: Stories that Heal. And saw that Rachel Naomi Remen was an M.D. - oooooh, stories of people's lives are my favorite thing to read.
I haven't been so thrilled with a book for quite awhile. I usually pick up books with catchy titles, read a bit and say: "Yes, same old, same old." I guess that's because I've been gathering life purpose books in such numbers - and for so long, that I have enough books to build myself a good sized house if the need ever arises.
This book is different. It's a book with stories about life, about healing, about all of us being healers, about connection. Connection to self, to others, to the great spiritual Mystery. Remen self-discloses - you come away from this book knowing some of her life - heart and spirit, not just her mind.
I feel affirmed by Remen's writing - even surer, after reading her book, that we are all ok - we are given many chances to grow - that something bigger than us directs our path - leads us to growth, to love.
She is not cynical or syrupy - she's just "real". She speaks with both mind and heart and discloses her self, her wounds, her pain, her failures, and her imperfections. She doesn't present herself as "the authority", she just tells stories - hers, of course, and stories of people she has cared for and about.
This book supported many of my beliefs about how we heal, how we help each other heal, how important connection is. Reading it felt like having somene lay their hands on my head to bless me.
Some of my prime Square-Peg moments have come while working as a therapist in medical-model mental health agencies. What I learned in classes - and believed - is that diagnoses and facts don't explain the whole--there is SO much more to each person. I was also taught - and believe - that both parties in a healing relationship are equal.
Unfortunately, this is rare in much of the "real world" of therapy. But Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. shares my beliefs! And that gives me courage. She quotes a patient of hers who came up with this definition of a healer: "...someone who can see the movement toward wholeness in you more clearly than you can at any given moment." Isn't that beautiful?
Remen's way of working with people often involves a standing beside - a being with. Not "fixing" them. There are several stories where she describes supporting people by just being with them as they experience their emotions - being a witness to their struggle. She talks about the connection between listening and profound change.
Remen is not afraid of "dark" emotions, she says that: "Darkness has suffered bad press for millennia." And she encourages people to experience dark emotions - to go into the darkness to see what it holds.
This is hard-won wisdom. Remen has lived through her own serious medical problems, involving numerous operations and on-going problems. She has gone through the work of challenging her own beliefs and the beliefs and wisdom handed down from her family, as well as challenging many of the traditions of the medical establishment. And from this she has gained a new way of working - a compassion that you can feel as you read the book.
The stories in the book give a close look at how Remen grew from a perfectionist whose heart was shut down to an open, head-and-heart person. We see her allowing intuition and spiritual life in, allowing herself to receive, accepting her own fears, and acknowledging worth in parts of herself that she had judged as bad or wrong. We see her accepting death - which is not easy for a doctor to do - they are trained to fight death as the enemy.
I resonated with her statement: "I spent a lifetime trying to make myself perfect...what was needed was simply to be human. I was human. All my life I had feared being found out." This resonated because I've been there - I know that feeling.
Oh, I may as well say it: This is a love story. It is! Not a person/person love story - but a person/life love story. This Kitchen Table Wisdom can help you to appreciate your self, your life, and your world.
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