Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal.

Rachel Naomi Remen, M. D.

I have had this book on my desk for months, reading only a few pages at a time. The book is a collection of stories, each only a few pages long, about the author’s life and her experiences counselling patients with cancer. Rachel Remen started her career as a pediatrician. Realizing that more than medical care is necessary for people to heal, and frustrated by medicine’s goal of profession’s separation between patients and doctors, she changed her goal to filling this gap. A review cannot do this book justice. It must be experienced. Its power is in how you feel and think when you read it and how those thoughts stay with you. As a flimsy substitute, I offer the following, which risk sounding trite out of context.

The foreword to the book was written by Dr. Dean Ornish who borrows a quote from Dr. Denis Burkit: “Not everything that counts can be counted.” Medicine focuses on facts, but facts do not provide meaning. Stories provide value and meaning and show how we are similar and connected.

“Many of us do not know our own story. A story about who we are, not what we have done. All stories mix fact with meaning. Facts bring us knowledge, but stories lead to wisdom.”

“I am no longer inspired by expertise as I once was. Perhaps the worth of any lifetime is measured more in kindness than in competency.”

“A belief is more than just an idea. It seems to shift the way in which we actually experience ourselves and our lives. According to Talmudic teaching, ‘We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.’”

“Objectivity is not whole. Life is the ultimate teacher, but its usually through experience and not scientific research that we discover its deepest lessons.”

“I suspect that 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. And especially if it is given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important then understanding it. Most of us don’t value ourselves or our love enough to know this. When we interrupt what someone is saying to let them know that we understand, we move the focus of attention to ourselves. When we listen, they know we care.”

“The power of a personal sense of meaning to change the experience of work, of relationship, or even of life cannot be overstated.”

“Sometimes the messages we convey unawares may be even more coherent and relevant to the needs of others than the messages we consciously devise.”            

“Healing requires a certain willingness to hear and respond to life’s needs.”

For More:

The Rights of the Reader

The Enchanted Hour

Visual Perception and Who We Are

Stumbling on Happiness

Oliver Sacks-Reflections on Change: How Can We Adapt and Not Alter the Essence of Who We Are?

Oliver Sacks died in 2015, but an article that he wrote just before he died is in the February 11, 2019, issue of The New Yorker. It is a treat to read new reflections from this exceptional thinker from a stage of his life that we can only imagine. Dr. Sacks was a remarkable observer with an unparalleled ability to tell people’s stories. The importance of these stories is not how strange they are, but how they help us understand how we function normally and how precious and precarious the balance is which enables most of us to be “normal.”

light sunset people water

Photo by Negative Space on

We cannot stop change. Change is, change has been, and change will continue. Pronouncements about change can be valuable by bringing it to our attention so we make conscious decisions about what we will do. How can we and society adapt to change without changing that which is essential to our humanity? Change started to accelerate a few hundred years ago with the advent of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The essence of who we are has been a topic for religion and philosophers for thousands of years. We can refer to what they have said, but the answer to this question is very personal.

Read the article here:

The Machine Stops-Oliver Sacks


More posts including Oliver Sacks:

Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

Narrative Medicine

Memory Book

The River of Consciousness

The Mind’s Eye: Oliver Sacks


Superforecasting The Art and Science of Prediction

Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner

We cannot avoid forecasting. Everything that we do is based on what we expect the outcome to be. Some forecasting is short-term and primarily preconscious such as planning a movement while taking into consideration the positions and movements of others around you. We have been making these kinds of predictions for millions of years and we apply the same processes to skills for which we have not evolved such as driving. Continue reading

Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions

Gerd Gigenerzer


We make many decisions every day. There is no data for most of the decisions that we make and when there is, there is a good chance that we interpret them incorrectly. Because important decisions about health and healthcare are made based on statistics, it is important to understand relative and absolute risks and what the numbers really mean. Here is what the author has to say…. Continue reading


A Dizzying Journey Through the Science

Of Our Most Delicate Sense

Carol Svec

Balance usually works so well that people don’t think about it until we get older. After over eighteen months of research, interviews, being an experimental subject, and writing, Carol Svec concludes, “We don’t have a sense of balance. We are balance. Balance gives us our place and space in the world, but it also contributes to our sense of self.”pensioners-2399602_960_720 Continue reading