Back to Basics – Insights for Women Healers

American women in medicine

This is a powerful and touching story from Rachel Naomi Remen, taken from when she talked with a group of American women doctors about treating cancer patients.

” In the discussion after the talk, an internist commented that she would find this work difficult. She had avoided caring for people with cancer because a certain percentage of them would die and she found it upsetting to care for dying patients. “I hate it when I’ve run out of treatments, when there is nothing more I can do,” she confessed.
Others in the group nodded their agreement.

I asked them when they first became uncomfortable in these situations. The women were surprised to notice that they had not been as uncomfortable before medical school. As the discussion went on, it became clearer that we were more uncomfortable in these situations as doctors than as women.

As women, we knew there was something simple and natural in just being there, together. Slowly some insights emerged.

Women have always been present at these times, at death and birth and in many of the other transitions in life. Women have gathered at the transitions, as comforters and companions, as witnesses, to mark the importance of the moment.

One of the physicians talked about caring for her dying mother when she was nineteen years old. She had expected a great deal less of herself then. At first she had driven her mother to her doctor’s appointments, shopped for food, and run errands. As her mother grew weaker, she had prepared tempting meals and cleaned the house. When her mother stopped eating, she had listened to her and read to her for hours. When her mother slipped into coma, she had changed her sheets, bathed her, and rubbed her back with lotion. There always seemed to be something more to do. A way to care. These ways became simpler and simpler. “In the end,” she told us, “I just held her and sang.”

There was a long, thoughtful silence. Then one of the older women said that she too had tended to avoid situations when there were no treatments left. She had felt powerless.

But she saw now that even when there was nothing left to do medically, there were still other things she could say or do that might matter. Kind things. Ways she could still be of help. She had simply forgotten. Her voice wavered slightly. I looked at her more closely. This tough and competent sixty-year-old surgeon had tears in her eyes. It was quite amazing.”*

May we never forget the heart and soul we share with others, no matter where they are on their life journey. Be there and care.


*Remen, Rachel Naomi. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal, 10th Anniversary Edition (pp. 43-45). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Judgment, Approval and Growing into Yourself

person holding a green plant

Photo by Akil Mazumder on

The following is a story from Rachel Naomi Remen about how we judge, seek approval, hide our true selves – like spores. At some point, when the time is right, we grow by accepting all parts of ourselves and finding our way to become all that we can be.

I was in my forties when the light started to touch the spore in me. I was drawn to become a certified coach and to take up yoga. And then everything started to turn upside down, especially in my relationships with my husband and family.
Growth never happens in the comfortable. But I was lucky to have mentors to support me through this mid life confusion and into the transformation that followed.

Who would have thought that I would uncover such a big part of myself that was hidden. Or would now be calling myself a yoga teacher, coach, mentor and blogger! I am honored to be on this journey with you.


“The life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than by disease. Our own self-judgment or the judgment of other people can stifle our life force, its spontaneity and natural expression. Unfortunately, judgment is commonplace. It is as rare to find someone who loves us as we are as it is to find someone who loves themselves whole.

Judgment does not only take the form of criticism. Approval is also a form of judgment. When we approve of people, we sit in judgment of them as surely as when we criticize them. Positive judgment hurts less acutely than criticism, but it is judgment all the same and we are harmed by it in far more subtle ways.
To seek approval is to have no resting place, no sanctuary. Like all judgment, approval encourages a constant striving. It makes us uncertain of who we are and of our true value. This is as true of the approval we give ourselves as it is of the approval we offer others. Approval can’t be trusted. It can be withdrawn at any time no matter what our track record has been. It is as nourishing of real growth as cotton candy. Yet many of us spend our lives pursuing it.

Some people spend enormous amounts of time considering the impression that their words and behaviors create, checking how their performance will affect their audience, playing always for approval. Others make a tiny gap between their thoughts and their words which allows them to say only that which they feel will please others. A great deal of energy goes into this process of fixing and editing ourselves.

We may have even come to admire in ourselves what is admired, expect what is expected, and value what is valued by others. We have changed ourselves into someone that the people who matter to us can love. Sometimes we no longer know what is true for us, in which direction our own integrity lies.

We surrender our wholeness for a variety of reasons. Among the most compelling are our ideas of what being a good person is all about. Sometimes it is not the approval of other people but the approval of a spiritual school or teacher which dictates which parts of us we keep and which we hide.
The natural self, a complex living interchange of seemingly opposite characteristics, gets whittled down against some acquired standard of social and spiritual acceptability. Few of us are able to love ourselves as we are. We may even have become ashamed of our wholeness.

Parts of ourselves which we may have hidden all of our lives out of shame are often the source of our healing. We have all been taught that certain of our ways don’t fit into the common viewpoint and values of the society or the family into which we have been born. Every culture, every family has its Shadow. When we’re told that “big boys don’t cry,” and “ladies never disagree with anyone,” we learn to avoid judgment by disowning our feelings and our perspectives. We make ourselves less whole. It is only human to trade wholeness for approval. Yet parts we disown are not lost, they are just forgotten. We can remember our wholeness at any time. In hiding it, we have kept it safe.

One of the most dramatic manifestations of the life force is seen in the plant kingdom. When times are harsh and what is needed to bloom cannot be found, certain plants become spores. These plants dampen down and wall off their life force in order to survive. It is an effective strategy. Spores found in mummies, spores thousands of years old, have unfolded into plants when given the opportunity of nurture.

When no one listens, children form spores. In an environment hostile to their uniqueness, when they are judged, criticized, and reshaped through approval into what is wanted rather than supported and allowed to develop naturally into who they are, children wall the unloved parts of themselves away. People may become spores young and stay that way throughout most of their lives. But a spore is a survival strategy, not a way of life. Spores do not grow. They endure. What you needed to do to survive may be very different from what you need to do to live.

Plant spores are opportunists. The life force waits in them, scanning the environment, looking for the first opportunity to bloom. But people may forget that becoming a spore is only a temporary strategy. Few check the environment, as plant spores do, to see if conditions have changed and they can find what they need to bloom and reclaim their wholeness. Many of us still hide the parts of ourselves that were unacceptable to our parents and teachers although our parents are long gone and their world with them. In the world of my childhood, boys never cried. Those that did were sissies. Of course, all girls were supposed to be sissies. The world we live in now offers far greater opportunities for expression, but we may still live in it as if it were the hostile terrain of our childhood. The saddest part is that we may have forgotten what it is like to be whole. What it is like to feel and to cry, what it is like to take initiative and have a viewpoint.

Reclaiming ourselves usually means coming to recognize and accept that we have in us both sides of everything. We are capable of fear and courage, generosity and selfishness, vulnerability and strength. These things do not cancel each other out but offer us a full range of power and response to life. Life is as complex as we are. Sometimes our vulnerability is our strength, our fear develops our courage, and our woundedness is the road to our integrity. It is not an either/or world. It is a real world. In calling ourselves “heads” or “tails,” we may never own and spend our human currency, the pure gold of which our coin is made.

But judgment may heal over time. One of the blessings of growing older is the discovery that many of the things I once believed to be my shortcomings have turned out in the long run to be my strengths, and other things of which I was unduly proud have revealed themselves in the end to be among my shortcomings. Things that I have hidden from others for years turn out to be the anchor and enrichment of my middle age. What a blessing it is to outlive your self-judgments and harvest your failures.

~ Rachel Naomi Remen*


*Remen, Rachel Naomi. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal, 10th Anniversary Edition (pp. 35-38). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* Inspiration – Life lessons

life lessons

Life offers its wisdom generously

Everything teaches

Not everyone learns

~ Rachel Naomi Remen

It is all there for us, yet we continue to be blind.

We find sparks of wisdom in conversations, walks, places of worship and classes

And then forget once again when we leave that space.

Be open to learn from the wisdom that surrounds you every day.

The answer lies within you as you connect with the wonder of it all.

Open your eyes and live your best life.

* Want to Feel More Connected? Listen to this…

Thank you Amy for sharing this inspiring quote today from Rachel Naomi Remen. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention …. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”listen with your heart Awesome!

While “active listening” is a skill that many of us have been trained on at work,  this quote reminded me of a different kind of listening I learned at Kripalu that is passive yet powerful.

In active listening, we engage the other person in conversation so they feel heard.  With our posture, prompts, nods and “uhuhs”, we support and encourage. We learn to reflect back what the other is saying in order to understand. We ask open questions to explore more. Its a great leadership skill that taps into our own intuition as well as empathy.

At Kripalu I experienced “Co-Listening”. It is simple yet profound.  Here, there are no words of encouragement or questions,  the listener is simply being with the other person in loving silence  as the speaker shares what they are aware of. It is a mindful listening practice.

Co-listeningIn co-listening one person listens while the other person speaks. They may be touching each other, but not directly looking at each other. Rather than the speaker telling their interpretation of events or their story, we were asked when being the speaker to begin each sentence with “I am aware of….”

During this process the listener practices listening without reply or response and being present with their attention fully on the speaker. The listener practices non-judgmental awareness, witness consciousness, for the speaker and self. There is no processing, interpreting, problem solving, analyzing, helping, or discussing during or after the co-listening process by either partner. The speaker notices what it is like to be listened to from someone listening from witness consciousness. When the designated time is up for the speaker, the partners reverse roles.

Its remarkably simple, yet profound. Being in empathy with an other person in that present moment touched me deeply, as the listener and the speaker.

It opened up a deeper connection with the other person …without any conversation at all. It is a real gift.

Please try it and see how heart opening  it can be.