My Grandfather's Blessings
Rachel Naomi Remen

There's not enough I can say about Rachel Remen's beautifully sensitive perspective, about the way that she looks at the world and other people and sees treasures in them, and the way she shares so many incidents from her life to help us to see very clearly ways that we can make our lives more fulfilling, more purposeful, and even happier.  Remen is a doctor who had dealt with Crohn's disease her entire life, and that dynamic has been part of the reason she explores the medical profession with such compassion and understanding.  Sometimes, her stories reflect her own compassion; other stories show the compassionate side of patients and colleagues she has known through the years.

This review will be identical to the one for Kitchen Table Wisdom, for there isn't a whole lot more to say about them.  The bottom line is this:  if you like a book that's full of real-life stories that warm your heart and can help you to heal your own issues, stories that range from two pages to ten, then you'll like either of these books.  I give them as gifts pretty constantly, and I have never had anyone not like them--some people have read them over and over, as I have.  These are two books that I would say come close to being perfect for what they're trying to accomplish, which is helping us all to see the richness of life and love.
Our rating:  A+  (both books)
Amazon rating (July, 2012):  4.9 stars of five

Embracing Life
from Kitchen Table Wisdom

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.  Many of my patients also seem to have found their way to this viewpoint on life.

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.  As a friend with HIV/AIDS puts it, "I have let go of my preferences and am living with an intense awareness of the miracle of the moment."  Or in the words of another patient, "When you are walking on thin ice, you might as well dance."

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 a 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 towards 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 to 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.

To the degree that we can relinquish personal preference, we free ourselves from win/lose thinking and the fear that feeds on it.  It is that freedom which helps a team to go to the Super Bowl.  An adversarial position may not be the strongest position in life.  Freedom may be a stronger position than control.  It is certainly a stronger and far wiser position than fear.

There is a fundamental paradox here.  The less we are attached to life, the more alive we can become.  The less we have preferences about life, the more deeply we can experience and participate in life.  This is not to say that I don't prefer raisin toast to blueberry muffins.  It is to say that I don't prefer raisin toast so much that I am unwilling to get out of bed unless I can have raisin toast, or that the absence of raisin toast ruins the whole day.  Embracing life may be more about tasting than it is about either raisin toast or blueberry muffins.  More about trusting one's ability to take joy in the newness of the day and what it may bring.  More about adventure than having your own way.