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My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging by Rachel Naomi Remen
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“Most of us lead far more meaningful lives than we know. Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways. ”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“Our purpose in life is to grow in wisdom and in love.”
Rachel Naomi Remen MD, My Grandfather's Blessings - Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging
“How strange to think that great pain may be impermanent. Something in us all seems to want to carve it in granite, as if only this would do full honor to its terrible significance. But even pain is blessed with impermanence...
p 259”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“It has been said that sometimes we need a story more than food in order to live.
p 374”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“Life wastes nothing. Over and over again every molecule that has ever been is gathered up by the hand of life to be reshaped into yet another form.
p 259”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“The marks life leaves on everything it touches transform perfection into wholeness. Older, wiser cultures choose to claim this wholeness in the things that they create. In Japan, Zen gardeners purposefully leave a fat dandelion in the midst of the exquisite, ritually precise patterns of the meditation garden. In Iran, even the most skilled of rug weavers includes an intentional error, the “Persian Flaw,” in the magnificence of a Tabriz or Qashqai carpet…and Native Americans wove a broken bead, the “spirit bead,” into every beaded masterpiece. Nothing that has a soul is perfect. When life weaves a spirit bead into your very fabric, you may stumble upon a wholeness greater than you had dreamed possible before.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“A colleague told me that he thinks of his life as an orchestra. Reclaiming his integrity reminds him of that moment before the concert when the concertmaster asks the oboist to sound an A. 'At first there is chaos and noise as all parts of the orchestra try to align themselves with that note. But as each instrument moves closer and closer to it, the noise diminishes and when they all finally sound it together, there is a moment of rest, of homecoming.'

'That is how it feels to me,' he told me. 'I am always tuning my orchestra. Somewhere deep inside there is a sound that is mine alone, and I struggle daily to hear it and tune my life to it. Sometimes there are people and situations that help me to hear my note more clearly; other times, people and situations make it harder for me to hear. A lot depends on my commitment to listening and my intention to stay coherent with this note. It is only when my life is tuned to my note that I can play life's mysterious and holy music without tainting it with my own discordance, my own bitterness, resentment, agenda, and fears.'

Deep inside, our integrity sings to us whether we are listening or not. It is a note that only we can hear.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“I recall vividly the night before one of my own early surgeries, an eight-hour affair that would alter my body permanently. I was twenty-seven and unmarried at the time. Late in the evening a pleasant elderly woman, a technical aide, had come to my hospital room to shave my abdomen in preparation for the procedure. As she went about this humble task with great skill, she had asked me about the next day's surgery. Filled with resentment, self-pity, and a sense of victimhood, I told her what was planned and burst into tears. She had seemed quite surprised. "How would YOU feel if they were going to do this to YOU tomorrow?" I asked her angrily. she had taken my question literally and had thought it over. Then, patting me gently, she had said, "If I needed it to live, I would be glad for the help." Her answer had changed everything.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“: Whether we are aware of it or not, we will refine the quality of our humanity throughout the course of our lives. More and more, people seek spiritual techniques to help them do this. But joy and suffering will do this for you, too. Every lifetime offers countless opportunities to become more whole.
Life offers its wisdom generously. Everything teaches. Not everyone learns. Life asks of us the same thing we have been asked in every class: "Stay awake." "Pay attention." But paying attention is no simple matter. It requires us not to be distracted by expectations, past experiences, labels, and masks. It asks that we not jump to early conclusions and that we remain open to surprise. Wisdom comes most easily to those who have the courage to embrace life without judgment and are willing to not know, sometimes for a long time. It requires us to be more fully and simply alive than we have been taught to be. It may require us to suffer. But ultimately we will be more than we were when we began.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“All life has in it the dimension of the Unknown; it is a thing forever unfolding. It seems important to consider the possibility that science may have defined life too small. If we define life too small, we will define ourselves too small as well.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“Sometimes just being in someone's presence is strong medicine.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“No matter what means we use, service is always a work of the heart. There are times when the power of science is so seductive that we may come to feel that all that is required to serve others is to get our science right, our diagnosis, our treatment. But science can never serve unless it is first translated by people into a work of the heart.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“REMEMBERING COMPASSION TAKES time, and sometimes the most profound learnings are not a part of a curriculum but are come upon by chance or even grace, the way that Glory found the pinecone. She brought it with her to the afternoon class; a large cone, split down the middle and attached to a Y-shaped branch. I stared at it in fascination, resting there in her lap, and hoped that she would say something about it. If you squinted your eyes, it was exactly the size and shape of a human heart. Glory is a young family practitioner who practices in a small rural town. Her patients range from the newborn to the very old, and her practice has afforded her a profound window on life. I met her at one of the physicians’ retreats I teach on detoxifying death. During the first evening’s discussion, she had said that she would find her own death a relief; in fact, life being as it is, she couldn’t imagine why anyone would struggle to live if there was a way to leave with honor. She had felt this way for as long as she could remember. It was an unusual thing for a physician to say, and the group who listened were surprised. She did not seem suicidal or even depressed, merely matter-of-fact. As she spoke, I found myself wondering what lay behind her words. I had some ideas, but, as it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When she began to talk about the pinecone, all this became clearer. In a voice that we could barely hear, she told us that she had found it on the path as she was coming in to lunch and had known instantly that it was hers. She looked at it lying there in her lap. “It’s my heart,” she told us. “It’s broken. Split in half.” She began to tell us about a vast sadness that she had experienced all her life, a personal sense of the suffering in the world that goes on and on. She had felt this suffering even as a child. It had broken her heart, made her unwilling to live any longer than she had to. Yet brokenhearted though she was,”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“people seemed to seek her out at times of pain and despair. It was hard for her to understand why this was. As a young person and later as a doctor, she had been there for them, had comforted and stood with them. They had thought her heart was whole, had trusted in it. She touched the pinecone in her lap. “I have hidden this all of my life, Rachel,” she said, speaking to me from across the room. We all sat in silence for a few minutes: there was nothing anyone could say. Our retreat center has a labyrinth exactly the dimensions of the one in the cathedral at Chartres in France. The Chartres labyrinth is a walking meditation that has roots in the fourteenth century, a path enclosed in a circle inscribed on the floor. The path inside the circle is long and convoluted and eventually leads into the center; it is more than a third of a mile into the center of the circle and out again. The following afternoon, during the period of meditation, Glory decided to walk this path alone. At the beginning, she had clasped her hands behind her back and started walking slowly and deliberately, looking down, trying to keep her balance on the narrow path. She had been walking step by step by step for about ten minutes or so and was becoming a little bored when she began to experience an urge to hold her hands out, palms up. She fought this impulse for a while, telling herself it was irrational. Finally, she had surrendered to it, and walked on with her hands held out before her. Within a minute or two she had the distinct impression that her pinecone was resting on her upturned palms. She knew she had left it on the bed in her room, but with her eyes on the floor she could feel the weight of it quite clearly in her hands. She felt as if she was being told to offer it to others, just as it was. It was a strange and puzzling thought, but it somehow seemed the right thing to do. She walked on in this way for several more minutes and at last came to a place in the labyrinth close to the circumference of the circle where the path unexpectedly turns sharply to the right. As you turn, you discover that you have reached the end of the path and a few more steps will take you to the center of the circle. Turning to the right, Glory suddenly felt the”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“pinecone in her hands move as if it had become her own living heart. Deeply shaken, she looked up for the first time and found an unmistakable Presence in the center of the labyrinth, waiting for her. For just the briefest moment she could see Him quite clearly. His heart was open, a place of refuge for all who suffer. It had been broken open by the suffering in the world in the same way hers had been. Suddenly she understood why others had come to her for refuge since her childhood. The suffering she was able to feel had made her trustworthy. She stumbled the last few steps into the center of the labyrinth, knelt down, and for the first time since she was a child, she wept. In a talk about compassion, a former teacher of mine once said that practice prepares the mind, but suffering prepares the heart. Perhaps the final step in the healing of all wounds is the discovery of the capacity for compassion, an intuitive knowing that no one is singled out in their suffering, that all living beings are vulnerable to loss, attachment, and limitation. It is only in the presence of compassion that we can show our wounds without diminishing our wholeness. The Dalai Lama has said that “compassion occurs only between equals.” For those who have compassion, woundedness is not a place of judgment but a place of genuine meeting.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“not”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“She walked on in this way for several more minutes and at last came to a place in the labyrinth close to the circumference of the circle where the path unexpectedly turns sharply to the right. As you turn, you discover that you have reached the end of the path and a few more steps will take you to the center of the circle. Turning to the right, Glory suddenly felt the pinecone in her hands move as if it had become her own living heart. Deeply shaken, she looked up for the first time and found an unmistakable Presence in the center of the labyrinth, waiting for her. For just the briefest moment she could see Him quite clearly. His heart was open, a place of refuge for all who suffer. It had been broken open by the suffering in the world in the same way hers had been. Suddenly she understood why others had come to her for refuge since her childhood. The suffering she was able to feel had made her trustworthy. She stumbled the last few steps into the center of the labyrinth, knelt down, and for the first time since she was a child, she wept. In a talk about compassion, a former teacher of mine once said that practice prepares the mind, but suffering prepares the heart. Perhaps the final step in the healing of all wounds is the discovery of the capacity for compassion, an intuitive knowing that no one is singled out in their suffering, that all living beings are vulnerable to loss, attachment, and limitation. It is only in the presence of compassion that we can show our wounds without diminishing our wholeness. The Dalai Lama has said that “compassion occurs only between equals.” For those who have compassion, woundedness is not a place of judgment but a place of genuine meeting.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“Sand is a way of life for an oyster. If you are soft and tender and must live on the sandy floor of the ocean, making pearls becomes a necessity if you are to live well.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging