A Story For People Who Want To Change The World

–by Rachel Naomi Remen, syndicated from rachelremen.com, Jun 30, 2013

Like most of us I am a passionate change agent. After all, who would spend a third of their life accumulating all that knowledge and skill if not for the hope of making a difference?  So it is surprising how long it has taken me to recognize the power of a simple story to make change.

I have always been a story teller. In the past this tendency was viewed by my medical colleagues as, to say the least, dubious. In Medicine a story is often dismissed as  “anecdotal evidence”, a sort of second class data far less relevant to a physician’s work than the outcome of a well designed scientific study.  “You only have the one example?” my colleagues would ask me when I told them a story.  “What you’re describing only happened to one person?  How important is that?” But over time I have learned that a story about just one person can change everything. Easter only happened to one person.

One of the most skilled social activists I know is a genius of change, a woman who can enter a room of people who have held opposing positions for years and in a matter of a few hours enable them to work together as colleagues.  I asked her how she manages to do this. “Simple, “ she said. “You just change the story they are holding about themselves and each other.”

A new story is a place of greater freedom and possibility.  This is as true of the stories that we hold in common as an organization, an institution or a nation, as it is about the stories we carry about ourselves.

We all have stories about ourselves that diminish us, stories we sometimes believe for years which are not true.  Often these stories rob us of our strength and our potential.  When I was 15, the doctor who told me that I had Crohn’s disease also told me a story. “Rachel,” he said “You have an incurable disease. You cannot expect to live a full life.”  But my story has been far different than that.

As a writer, I have learned not to rush to fill a blank page with words. I have learned the patience to sit before a blank page and wait. A blank page is a place of revelation. I have learned to trust that something will happen there over time that has never been seen before. A diagnosis is like that too. A place of discovery. An encounter with the Unknown. The wisdom may lie in labeling only the disease process; and then accompanying people as they write their story and its possibility.

As change agents our stories empower or diminish us too. Our change agentry is only as good as our personal cosmology, our story about the nature of the world. The closer our personal cosmology comes to the nature of reality, the more effective we are in making a difference. I come from a medical family, so when I was young it seemed obvious to me that the world was broken and people were broken too. Change was simply a function of acquiring the knowledge, the technique, the science to fix things. I no longer see things in quite that way. One of the oldest Wisdom stories about change, a story from the 14th century, offers a somewhat different viewpoint. This story tells us that in the Beginning the world was whole, but that at some point in the history of things there was a great accident which scattered the wholeness of the world into an infinite number of tiny sparks of wholeness. These sparks fell into all events, all organizations and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day. The story goes on to say that the whole human race is a response to this accident. We have been born because we can discover and uncover the hidden spark of wholeness in all events, all organizations and all people…we can lift it up and strengthen it and make it visible once again … and by doing so we can heal the world back into its original wholeness. So restoring the wholeness of the world is not only a function of our expertise, it is also a part of our birthright as human beings. We have the power to further the wholeness of things just as we are, with our listening, our belief, our encouragement and our love.

So perhaps change is less about fixing a broken world and more about uncovering hidden wholeness in all events, all organizations and all people and remembering our personal power to make a difference. This old story has greatly changed the way that I am a physician and also a teacher. It has given me new eyes. Everyone and everything has in it a seed of a greater wholeness, a dream of possibility. Perhaps what I once saw as “broken” or “lacking” might just as easily be seen as the growing edge of things … a place to be valued and nurtured in our patients, our students and in ourselves.



Rachel Naomi Remen, MD is the best-selling author of the books Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings, and a nationally recognized medical reformer and educator who considers the practice of medicine to be a spiritual path and a path of service. Her nationwide training programs remind physicians and students that the practice of  medicine is essentially an act of love.
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The Art of Bouncing Back

If there’s one simple lesson I could download into hearts and minds of people everywhere, it’s this: Happiness and success depend on our ability to bounce back from set-backs, quickly and efficiently.

There are a few givens in life–we all will be tested, both by forces outside our control and by internal forces that break us before putting us back together. We all have to upgrade our mental operating systems now and then, just like computer software.

Trust that every breakdown will lead you to a breakthrough.

Ups & Downs are Inevitable

Whether your challenges are emotional or physical, life takes us all on a big roller coaster–it’s all part of the ride. The key to inner peace, is learning how to bounce back faster and more thoroughly each time you’re challenged.

Letting go of guilt, shame, worry, blame and judgments is a process that will set you free.  It can also speed up your recovery when life decides you’re ready for another upgrade.

Every emotional state we experience is a passing phase, but the state-dependent nature of our memory tells us otherwise. No matter how real state-dependent memory feels, it’s just a trick of the mind. When you feel great, it’s hard to remember what the stomach flu is like. When you’re fighting with your spouse, it’s hard to remember all the love you feel for one another.

Instead of picturing your emotional body full of triggers for negative states, why not focus your attention on learning how to deliberately trigger positive states when you need them?

Identifying the limiting beliefs that keep you stuck in negative patterns is a big step to breaking free from them.

Life Pushes Us All Outside of Our Comfort Zone

Life challenges everyone on a regular basis. We all eventually have to face perfect storms of circumstances we didn’t think we would be strong enough to handle. Sometimes it’s like the emotional equivalent of working with a personal trainer. They’ll kick your butt, you will curse them, and then one day you’ll find yourself affectionately referring to them as the one who helped you master the “impossible.”

Here is the blessing in disguise: that which does not kill us makes us stronger. We are literally forced by our struggles to adapt and keep on getting better–stronger, faster, more adaptable to change. In nature, it’s called evolution. As seen through the filter of our daily lives however, it’s a total pain in the ass. We avoid intense growth experiences like death itself, when we forget that it’s about the rebirth.

Despite the human tendency to cling to familiar comforts, survival of the fittest means survival of those who are able to let go. In the pressure cooker of  daily life, we either shift to fit our new reality, or else we die a little bit inside. It is always a choice, and we can shift again each time we need to.

Go With the Flow

You have to let go of what you most want, for it to happen on its own. Being too attached to a particular scenario puts you directly in your own way—not in the driver’s seat.

Living gracefully is about accepting even uncomfortable challenges as your next great learning experience. Be open to the lessons.

Always ask, when things feel like too much to bear, how you could use this to expand your capacity for joy.

Thank You, I Forgive You

Part of forgiveness is saying “Thank You” to a person or situation that hurt you. It may not be safe (or appropriate) to thank them personally, but letting go of grudges frees your soul.

What did you learn because of the situation? What were they trying to teach you?

When you say “Thank You, I forgive you” to old wounds and resentments, you instantly release their strangle-hold on you.  Recognize them as teachings, not punishments. We are all in this big mystery together. Thanking life for growth experiences keeps you growing, more gracefully than ever.

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Making Happiness Last

7 Steps to Make Happiness Last

The experience of happiness simply doesn’t last. It can’t, given the very nature of the brain. But that fact by no means suggests that happiness is not a worthy pursuit. The key  is to pursue happiness in a dedicated way that actually works. And the fact that this path to happiness is proven to work says everything about who we are deep down, and what we truly aspire to.

1.  Keep a journal of blessings. Every day write down three items in your life for which you are grateful. Write as much as you can about each one.

2.  Perform three acts of random kindness before noon and three more before sundown. Make sure you get no credit for them and that no one else will ever know about them.

3.  Write testimonials of gratitude to three individuals who meant a great deal to you in your life. If they are still alive, hand deliver them in person. If they have passed away, deliver them in person to their next of kin.

4.  Fill out three thank you cards each morning.

5.  Buy three books for three friends and send them anonymously to their attention.

6.  Make three apologies for three wrongs you have committed.

7.  Give three days of earnings anonymously to a charity in the name of three individuals who have wronged you.

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Maslow’s Basic Hierarchy of Needs

In graduate school, every psychology student learns about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is essentially a “map” for the development and maturation of consciousness. This new take on the hierarchy of needs made me laugh:

Turn off the computer and GO OUTSIDE. It will do you a world of good.

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Gandhi’s 10 Rules for Changing the World

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.”

Mahatma Gandhi needs no long introduction. Everyone knows about the man who led the Indian people to independence from British rule in 1947. So let’s just move on to some of my favourite tips from Mahatma Gandhi.

1. Change yourself.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

If you change yourself you will change your world. If you change how you think then you will change how you feel and what actions you take. And so the world around you will change. Not only because you are now viewing your environment through new lenses of thoughts and emotions but also because the change within can allow you to take action in ways you wouldn’t have – or maybe even have thought about – while stuck in your old thought patterns.

And the problem with changing your outer world without changing yourself is thatyou will still be you when you reach that change you have strived for. You will still have your flaws, anger, negativity, self-sabotaging tendencies etc. intact.

And so in this new situation you will still not find what you hoped for since your mind is still seeping with that negative stuff. And if you get more without having some insight into and distance from your ego it may grow more powerful. Since your ego loves to divide things, to find enemies and to create separation it may start to try to create even more problems and conflicts in your life and world.

2. You are in control.

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

What you feel and how you react to something is always up to you. There may be a “normal” or a common way to react to different things. But that’s mostly just all it is.

You can choose your own thoughts, reactions and emotions to pretty much everything. You don’t have to freak out, overreact of even react in a negative way. Perhaps not every time or instantly. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction just goes off. Or an old thought habit kicks in.

And as you realize that no-one outside of yourself can actually control how you feel you can start to incorporate this thinking into your daily life and develop it as a thought habit. A habit that you can grow stronger and stronger over time. Doing this makes life a whole lot easier and more pleasurable.

3. Forgive and let it go.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Fighting evil with evil won’t help anyone. And as said in the previous tip, you always choose how to react to something. When you can incorporate such a thought habit more and more into your life then you can react in a way that is more useful to you and others.

You realize that forgiving and letting go of the past will do you and the people in your world a great service. And spending your time in some negative memory won’t help you after you have learned the lessons you can learn from that experience. You’ll probably just cause yourself more suffering and paralyze yourself from taking action in this present moment.

If you don’t forgive then you let the past and another person to control how you feel. By forgiving you release yourself from those bonds. And then you can focus totally on, for instance, the next point.

4. Without action you aren’t going anywhere.

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

Without taking action very little will be done. However, taking action can be hard and difficult. There can be much inner resistance.

And so you may resort to preaching, as Gandhi says. Or reading and studying endlessly. And feeling like you are moving forward. But getting little or no practical results in real life.

So, to really get where you want to go and to really understand yourself and your world you need to practice. Books can mostly just bring you knowledge. You have to take action and translate that knowledge into results and understanding.

You can check out a few effective tips to overcome this problem in How to Take More Action: 9 Powerful Tips. Or you can move on to the next point for more on the best tip for taking more action that I have found so far.

5. Take care of this moment.

“I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.”

The best way that I have found to overcome the inner resistance that often stops us from taking action is to stay in the present as much as possible and to be accepting.

Why? Well, when you are in the present moment you don’t worry about the next moment that you can’t control anyway. And the resistance to action that comes from you imagining negative future consequences – or reflecting on past failures – of your actions loses its power. And so it becomes easier to both take action and to keep your focus on this moment and perform better.

Have a look at 8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment for tips on how quickly step into the now. And remember that reconnecting with and staying in the now is a mental habit – a sort of muscle – that you grow. Over time it becomes more powerful and makes it easier to slip into the present moment.

6. Everyone is human.

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”

When you start to make myths out of people – even though they may have produced extraordinary results – you run the risk of becoming disconnected from them. You can start to feel like you could never achieve similar things that they did because they are so very different. So it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is just a human being no matter who they are.

And I think it’s important to remember that we are all human and prone to make mistakes. Holding people to unreasonable standards will only create more unnecessary conflicts in your world and negativity within you.

It’s also important to remember this to avoid falling into the pretty useless habit of beating yourself up over mistakes that you have made. And instead be able to see with clarity where you went wrong and what you can learn from your mistake. And then try again.

7. Persist.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Be persistent. In time the opposition around you will fade and fall away. And your inner resistance and self-sabotaging tendencies that want to hold you back and keep you like you have always been will grow weaker.

Find what you really like to do. Then you’ll find the inner motivation to keep going, going and going. You can also find a lot of useful tips on how keep your motivation up in How to Get Out of a Motivational Slump and 25 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself.

One reason Gandhi was so successful with his method of non-violence was because he and his followers were so persistent. They just didn’t give up.

Success or victory will seldom come as quickly as you would have liked it to. I think one of the reasons people don’t get what they want is simply because they give up too soon. The time they think an achievement will require isn’t the same amount of time it usually takes to achieve that goal. This faulty belief partly comes from the world we live in. A world full of magic pill solutions where advertising continually promises us that we can lose a lot of weight or earn a ton of money in just 30 days. You can read more about this in One Big Mistake a Whole Lot of People Make.

Finally, one useful tip to keep your persistence going is to listen to Gandhi’s third quote in this article and keep a sense of humor. It can lighten things up at the toughest of times.

8. See the good in people and help them.

“I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”

“Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.”

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

There is pretty much always something good in people. And things that may not be so good. But you can choose what things to focus on. And if you want improvement then focusing on the good in people is a useful choice. It also makes life easier for you as your world and relationships become more pleasant and positive.

And when you see the good in people it becomes easier to motivate yourself to be of service to them. By being of service to other people, by giving them value you not only make their lives better. Over time you tend to get what you give. And the people you help may feel more inclined to help other people. And so you, together, create an upward spiral of positive change that grows and becomes stronger.

By strengthening your social skills you can become a more influential person and make this upward spiral even stronger. A few articles that may provide you with useful advice in that department are Do You Make These 10 Mistakes in a Conversation? and Dale Carnegie’s Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Social Skills. Or you can just move on to the next tip.

9. Be congruent, be authentic, be your true self.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”

I think that one of the best tips for improving your social skills is to behave in a congruent manner and communicate in an authentic way. People seem to really like authentic communication. And there is much inner enjoyment to be found when your thoughts, words and actions are aligned. You feel powerful and good about yourself.

When words and thoughts are aligned then that shows through in your communication. Because now you have your voice tonality and body language – some say they are over 90 percent of communication – in alignment with your words.

With these channels in alignment people tend to really listen to what you’re saying. You are communicating without incongruency, mixed messages or perhaps a sort of phoniness.

Also, if your actions aren’t in alignment with what you’re communicating then you start to hurt your own belief in what you can do. And other people’s belief in you too.

10. Continue to grow and evolve.

”Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”

You can pretty much always improve your skills, habits or re-evaluate your evaluations. You can gain deeper understanding of yourself and the world.

Sure, you may look inconsistent or like you don’t know what you are doing from time to time. You may have trouble to act congruently or to communicate authentically. But if you don’t then you will, as Gandhi says, drive yourself into a false position. A place where you try to uphold or cling to your old views to appear consistent while you realise within that something is wrong. It’s not a fun place to be. To choose to grow and evolve is a happier and more useful path to take.

This article is reprinted here with permission. Henrik Edberg is a writer who lives on the east coast of Sweden. He is passionate about happiness and personal development and writes about it every week on The Positivity Blog and in his free newsletter.

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Resilience Thinking

I have been thinking a great deal about resilience–it is the nexus point between my two most salient studies: healing and ecology. Both psychotherapy and ecology talk about resilience as our capacity to bounce back, to recover after change, shock or trauma. This happens for people, and this happens for the earth, in lots of different ways.

Spider web against sky September 28 03

Photo credit: Martin LaBar

While certain people appear to have more “resilience” than others, it turns out that there are skills in resilience thinking and resilience practice that everyone can gain. This is good news, as change is the name of the game, and coming to balance and center amidst all the changes we cannot control is part of living a fulfilled, happy life.

Here are some strategies for resilience thinking:

Recognizing and honoring change for what it is: perpetual, enlivening, an opportunity for growth

Feeling gratitude for what we have: gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving — the more you feel it, the more grateful you are for what you have.

Strategic thinking — within the problem lies the solution. How can we turn this experience to best advantage? What can we learn from the experience?

Acceptance of what is — when we are in difficult circumstances, one of the best ways to deal with it is to accept it as it is, and not fight against it.

Like all new skills, these take some practice. Gratitude is something you can commit to practicing every day — at the end of the day, do a little inventory of what you were grateful for. Even better — share it with someone else, especially if they are part of your gratitude circle. This will deepen your relationship and your experience of how gratitude works.

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Growing A Wellness Paradigm from the Ground Up

From a speech delivered to Boulder, CO Master Gardeners, September 2012, on the miraculously twined practices of healing and homesteading:

Growing a Wellness Paradigm from the Ground Up

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution

Is there such a thing as land-based healing? How do we cultivate change? How has the garden healed me? How does it matter that people learn to grow their own food, or create a bond with the plants and soil where they live? How does that confer health? Are gardening and homesteading part of a larger healing paradigm? How do we express our fidelity to the life force? What’s the connection between healing in the body and healing of the land? I probably won’t fully answer all of these questions, but I mean to gesture towards them, and open the dialogue.

For more, please head to http://urban-homesteading.org/growing-a-wellness-paradigm-from-the-ground-up/

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