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A last brief thought before next weekend’s Hospice workshop

Often hospice work has a different and highly personal meaning for each one of us. Yet in our culture whose deep and hidden wound is loneliness, the meaning of our work to those who die may be far less individual. One of my favorite poems is Last Fragment, written by Raymond Carver in the days before his premature death……

And did you get what wanted from this life even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved. To feel myself
beloved on the earth…….
Looking forward to seeing you next weekend. Bring your heart……….


P.S. Are you considering attending the workshop? There are still a few spaces available.

To Register Click Here

The post A last brief thought before next weekend’s Hospice workshop appeared first on Rachel Naomi Remen.

Even more thoughts on Hospice Work

Dear All,

This week I am sending out a letter for those of you who be attending the Hospice Resiliency workshop in Mill Valley,  California on October 21- 23, asking you to bring with you a small object that represents for you the meaning of death.  This reminded me about one of the most beautiful poems I know about the mystery of death which was written by Vivekan Don Flint, the former Coordinator of The Institute of Health and Illness, who died far far too young. We miss you still, Vivekan. Here is your gift for us all……

( A poem about incarnation)

-Vivekan Flint

Is it
a simple rock
tumbling down the
slopes of gravity?

A fireball
vaulting through
the midnight sky?

A shiny needle
drawn through
black velvet?

Or none of these
but only a perceptual trick

in which the solution to
a simple math problem –
given velocity, mass
and direction –

is displayed in the sky
in such a way
that even smart people
wonder what it could
possibly mean?

All I know for sure
Is the belief
I hold about it in secret.

That, and the fact
the very last thing
it did in this world
was to turn into light.


Dr. Rachel Remen

P.S. There are still a few spaces available. Is one of them for you?

To Register Click Here

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Even more thoughts on Hospice Work

Entrances to Mystery are everywhere.
The possibility is all the time.
Even at unlikely times and through unlikely places.
Nothing is beneath the dignity of becoming an entrance.

Exodus 3:2

How long must someone look at a burning bush to know whether or not it is being consumed? Longer than most people look at anything. More than just to see it. Or to use it. Long enough to know if it will be for them an entrance. Such a man was Moses. And likewise anyone who is able to gaze on a place long enough without being distracted.

You do not need to go anywhere to witness Mystery. You do not have to become anyone other than yourself to find entrances. You are already there. You are already everything that you need to be. Entrances are everywhere and all the time.

Adapted from HONEY FROM THE ROCK, Rabbi L. Kushner
Jewish Lights Pub.1990

We have all encountered far more Mystery than we have noticed, more Mystery than we have allowed to nurture us, inspire us and transform us…. More Mystery than we have allowed to strengthen us. In the familiar setting of scientific expertise and cognitive explanation it is easy to trade mystery for mastery and allow “I don’t know” to become a statement of inadequacy and even shame. In such settings Mystery may even be considered unreal.

As a professional I was trained to view the unknown as a sort of emergency, like a hemorrhage and to respond with immediate action. But Mystery does not require action, Mystery requires our attention. It requires us to listen, to talk with one another, to wonder.

I first came to Hospice in 1981. At that time it was common for Hospice teams to set aside time each week for telling our stories, for wondering together about the things we could not explain and sharing a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to witness them. But that was 35 years ago. Over time the commitment to wonder together about the deep meaning of our work has gradually been replaced by more mundane concerns. We still meet weekly but now we discuss cost containment and compliance with Medicare regulations.

But what if sharing experiences of the Mystery in our work is a source of personal strength and a protection against compassion fatigue?
What if people who wonder together do not burn out?
What if the pursuit of knowledge and competence that dominates our culture has impoverished our lives?

In the presence of Mystery we grow not only in knowledge but also in wisdom. In my experience the questions I have found along the way and carry with me have enriched my life far more than any answers. Even the most profound answers have often turned out to be provisional, a temporary stopping place in an ongoing and infinitely mysterious journey

Stories are the ancient container for meaning. Recently educators have become aware that storytelling allows the deepening of personal meaning, calling and professional satisfaction and is a potent antidote to spiritual and emotional exhaustion. This upcoming workshop will be an opportunity to share our stories again, to wonder together at the things that are beyond explanation, to draw inspiration from them and from each other and to remember that witnessing and experiencing things that cannot be measured may be a doorway into what is most real and most enduring.

Looking forward to seeing you at the workshop. Still some places left!



More info and register here.

The post Even more thoughts on Hospice Work appeared first on Rachel Naomi Remen.

More thoughts on Hospice Work

Dear Ones,

As a western trained physician, I was taught that the most important if not the only thing I had to offer to people was my expertise and my bag of techniques. I believed that I could easily be replaced in all of my patient relationships by any other physician well trained in my specialty and that my absence would have the same effect as drawing my finger from a bucket of water. For many years I believed that this was true.

But, what is real is often seen most clearly on the edges of things, in the places where our tools are no longer relevant and our book learning no longer matters. In the places beyond cure. In 1981 when I first began hospice work it was like stepping from an operating room into a church. The deep relational values and art of the healer, long buried by years of technical training slowly revealed themselves in all of their power and mystery until at last I recognized that medicine itself was not a work of science but a work of love.

To work in Hospice is to know yourself to be one of a kind, discover that your presence is the greatest gift you offer and that you can heal by touch and witness far more powerfully than by intellect alone.

The power to heal is a human birthright. This beautiful poem captures the coming home to ourselves and our birthright of healing that many of us have experienced in hospice work:

What I Learned From My Mother
-Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the seeds with a knife point.
I learned how to attend viewings even when I didn’t know
the deceased, to press moist hands
and offer sympathy, as though I understood loss, even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned I had the power
to ease pain, like an angel.
I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness,
and once you know how to do this,
to every house you enter, you offer healing:
a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your touch.

Copyright 1992 by Julia Kasdorf

Hope to see you at the workshop…..

More info and register here.

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