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August 2, 2015 / Karen R Adams

you are not who you used to be

We have all of us at some time or another thought ‘I didn’t used to be like this.  I was more flexible/had less pain/had a better memory/could multi-task/[insert whatever you were here]’.  Certainly I do this, and I hear a variation on this theme from just about every patient I see, no matter the age.


First of all, what we remember of how we were is a story.  We can call it true, we can believe it is true, but since it’s in the past, we cannot know it is true.  I recently had a Facebook chat with an old high school friend, and was absolutely astonished that he saw me (remembers me?) as having ‘character to spare’ and as ‘an awesome non-conformist’, where I remember myself as painfully unable to find any niche at all, awkward, clumsy, an outsider.   Over time, he has created a story of me that I now find immensely flattering (thank you, Jim!) and I have created a story wildly different.  Whatever, doesn’t matter, they are both just stories.

Second, if every. single. moment in time is full of infinite possibilities and potentials, and each choice we take  both opens and closes options, we can’t possibly be the same people we were even a nanosecond ago.   We are changing somehow, some amount every moment, and in that sense, of course we didn’t used to be like this.  We can’t stay the same unless and until we die.

Third – we can’t go backward in time, we can only go forward.  Every sci-fi reader knows that, and even if it were possible, we would change who we are now – and the endless loop of that thought might be understandable to quantum physicists, but I would just get the whole world in trouble if I could go back.

Given that those statements are true, what do we really mean, when we say ‘I didn’t used to be like this’?

We are saying ‘I am experiencing something I really don’t like, and I want to change it for something that I think I once did well.  I mean, what if this just keeps deteriorating and I die like this – or worse, or sooner.’   Bless our hearts, of course that’s what we mean, and why not?  If we don’t like where we are, we want to get better – or at least different.  And I suggest to my patients (and to you, and to myself), that wanting to return to a state that is fictional, while in circumstances completely different (that was then, this is now, you know?) hinders our ability to change where we are.   Not just hinders, but closes off those infinite possibilities.okRelax.  Everything is fine, it’s all going well.  Embracing where we are… ok, maybe we can’t quite get to ’embracing’.  How about: Accepting where we are allows the change to keep happening, life to keep flowing, new possibilities to appear.  It’s okay.  Really.


Does this speak to you?  Want to tell me about it?

July 19, 2015 / Karen R Adams

the ‘d’ word

Let me say first that I’m not dying.  Or rather I’m not dying any more than anyone else is.  I don’t have a terminal illness, other than the one we all have.  It’s just that I just finished a lovely book, The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, and it’s got me thinking about living and death and family, friends, patients… and myself, of course.

This is a vast improvement over the first time I began to think of my own death, which was around when I turned 35, and went something like ‘OMGI’m35I’mgoingtobedeadin35years!’ followed by complete change of subject.  Which is appropriate, I guess, for that age.

Now I’m 61 (and a half, but who’s counting, shit, I am), and what looked like it would last forever now has an end time to it (still unknown but closer).  Plus my mother has Alzheimer’s and is slowly fading away.  Her end time is a lot, lot closer than mine, I think; she knows it, and knows there’ll probably be a point where she won’t know it’s coming, just more evidence that life can be messy.

Anyway.  There’s lots to like in the Schwalbe book, but there’s this one section that has completely caught my attention:

I often think about the things Mom taught me.   Make your bed every morning – it doesn’t matter if you feel like it, just do it.  Write thank-you notes immediately.  Unpack your suitcase, even if you’re only somewhere for the night.  If you aren’t ten minutes early, you’re late.  Be cheerful and listen to people, even if you don’t feel like it.  Tell your spouse (children, grandchildren, parents) that you love them every day.  Use shelf liner in bureaus.  Keep a collection of presents on hand (Mom kept them in a ‘present drawer’), so that you’ll always have something to give people.  Celebrate occasions.  Be kind.

I read it and immediately wondered: What have I taught my children, that they will remember after I’m gone?  I can think of lots of things I didn’t teach them, like if you’re going to be away from home in the winter and there might be a freeze and loss of power, leave some water running so your pipes don’t freeze.  How to wear make-up or perfume.  How to walk away from toxic people in your life.  How to cook something besides mac and cheese – though thankfully they are both very smart women, and while they may not have known this when they left home, they do now.  Maybe I taught them how to figure these things out themselves?  Though again, smart women will figure out how to figure out.  Mostly I worry that what I taught them doesn’t fall so much on the positive side of the scale, but falls more in the realm of ‘mom did that, and I don’t want to do it, too’.

Then I thought: What did my mom teach me?  That a mom should be a child’s biggest fan.  That there are times (many, many times) when a mom can’t fix the hurt, but she can listen.  (That didn’t really sink in until recently.)  That there is a point in the relationship between parent and child when the parent fully steps back, and then asks, in a genuine way, if you’d like her to clean your oven.  (True story.)  That everybody hates cleaning house… but loves the order a clean house gives.  That a daughter can be whatever she wants – even when what she wants is wicked scarey to the mom.  That if you don’t know how to do something, figure it out – and really, only ask for help when you can’t figure it out.  When the baby dies, a mom drops everything to catch the next plane.  That a mom has a life beyond being a mom, and if you’re lucky, she’ll share it with you.

Really what I’m wondering is will someone remember me when I’m gone.

I loved visiting old churches when I lived in England, as well as the oldest of the old things I could find, like the stone circles.  Yet I couldn’t bear to walk in cemeteries.  Not because they’re spooky, but because they are evidence of lives that were once dearly loved that no one remembers anymore.  The poignancy of that clogs my throat.

And honestly, I don’t know why I care.  It’s not like I don’t know that there is something after we go home from play, because I do.  I’ve seen it, and I believe.   But I do care, for reasons I don’t yet understand.  Maybe I’m just looking outside myself for life’s meaning, maybe I want people who live after me to know I was here and I was special.  It’s such an odd thing, because I know what really matters is where I return when my life here is over, a place I expect is filled with the validation and love and sheer exultation in my life.  Which means the most real part of me is filled with validation and love and exultation in my life.   No outside recognition is necessary… but it sure is sweet.

PS  Did you catch the part about my daughters figuring things out, and my mom teaching her daughter, not necessarily how to figure things out, but to do it?  That’s the legacy, I guess, even if those who hand it down become nameless over time.


I amanother me an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  I have a Facebook page where I like to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things I’m learning.  You can visit me at Karen Adams Acupuncture on Facebook, or on my website:  I’m also the founder/owner of Greenfield Community Acupuncture.  It, too, has a FB page: Greenfield Community Acupuncture, and a website:  If you’d like to speak with me, use the form below.  I can’t wait to hear from you – really.  It’s a thrill to talk to people who read this page.

July 13, 2015 / Karen R Adams

you have a choice

10445943_10152602456011675_1062102836865427333_nI am continuously baffled by conversations that go like this:

‘You’re an acupuncturist?’

‘Yes, I am.’

“I always wanted to try that.  I’ve got this [insert issue here] problem.  The doctor hasn’t been able to do anything about it, and I don’t like pain medication, it messes with my head.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that.  We see things like that all the time in the clinic, and acupuncture has been really helpful, often resolving [issue again] after treatment.’



‘Wow, I’ll have to come in.’

And then I never see that person.

Or I bump into them some time down the road, and they say ‘I’ve been meaning to come in for some treatment, I could really use it.’  Same outcome.

If you’re one of these people who think they don’t have the money or the time to use for yourself, to feel better, to optimize your life, let me help you out.

You are not a machine.  Your natural genetic design does not do well with 2 hour commutes, 8 – 10 hour work days, 5 – 6 days a week,  gulping down whatever food is easiest, even if it’s only food-flavored products.   You are not designed to live in a continuous state of stress.  This is, by any measurement east or west, a fact.

Why do you accept that this is the way life is?

It is not selfish for you to carve out the time in your busy life to deal with that back pain before it becomes debilitating.  You are not selfish to budget some money to relieve that stress so you can stop snarling at your children/dog/partner/co-worker.  You are not selfish to invest in discovering the best way to eat so that you stay active and functioning until you’re ready to lay your body down.

You have a choice.  Stop pretending you don’t.


another meKaren is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learning.  You can visit her at Karen Adams Acupuncture on Facebook, or on her website:  She’s also the founder/owner of Greenfield Community Acupuncture.  It, too, has a GCA Facebook page and a website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.


July 4, 2015 / Karen R Adams

all soup, all the time

nettle soup
This is a reprint of a post from early 2014.  I got inspired to share it with you because I’m just making my first ever batch of nettle soup.  That’s right, soup made from that plant that stings and causes a rash.  Why?  Because it’s nutrient dense, and supports the Liver and Lungs which is why herbalists will recommend it for allergies.  It’s delicious (and the sting is gone in the preparation, though I advise gloves during the prep).  Now I’m trying to figure out how I can freeze enough fresh nettle to last long into the winter!

Last week, about the time I hit the 35th iteration of my dissertation on the value of soup, I thought ‘I’ve got to write this up.

Then I can just hand it out!’  Every week my patients seem to present me with a different theme, and last week’s was definitely about eating in a way that will truly – and easily – nourish.

The first principle is that, in all we do, we should try to create more Qi than we use.  We could create and use the same amount, and that’s ok, but there’s no way to move or grow from that place.  Using more than we create just doesn’t end up well.

This is most easily understood with food: if we eat food that is difficult for us to digest, we use more Qi than we get from the food, which means we are not replacing the Qi we expend to eat.  If we eat food that is easy to digest, then we get great nourishment for little outlay.

You raw food and cold drink lovers take note: at the very least, your Stomach expends extra Qi to get the food to the optimum temperature for digestion, which is close to 100 degrees.  So unless you do something to help out your Stomach (like juicing), you are actually draining your resources.

Next: in CM the Spleen is hugely involved in digestion.  The Stomach ‘rottens and ripens’ food, grinding it up until it can be used by our cells.  The Spleen ‘transforms and transports’ the Qi of the food and drink around the system.  The Spleen is also the Official that tells us when we have enough, and it is seriously abused and ignored by many of us, to the point that food doesn’t break down properly, and/or it just accumulates.  Most people I see have some form of Spleen Qi deficiency, which can lead to Blood Deficiency, internal Heat (inflammation) and Damp (fat, mostly, but also obsessive thinking).

(By the way, the Spleen doesn’t just digest the carrot and decide what parts of that carrot go where, what we keep or what we don’t.  It also digests the experiences we have and the information we are exposed to.  See where I’m going with this?  It’s a wonder – really, a wonder – that it functions at all.  If it is not functioning well, the knock-on effects on the other systems in our bodies causes them to overwork, or just give up.  The first to be so affected will be the Lungs – which is why allergy treatments nearly always place emphasis on supporting the Spleen.)

There are lots of systems put forward to help digestion.  In my opinion, they fall on the scale of truly awful not to say life-threatening like medicines like Prilosec (which puts out digestive Fire) and statins (do your own research on these), to problematic because they may ease things for one system and completely stress out another.  Fasting is an example of this.  If you don’t eat for a while, your stomach and gut do get time off, but your liver may have to deal with the die-off of certain organisms, or your Kidneys will give up Essence so that you have energy.

Back to the first principle, applied to food: eat in a way that helps you create more Qi than you use.  Eat soup.

Soup is brilliant, in that it can take just about any food and, depending on how long you cook it, give you a great leg up on the digestive process. Crock pot cooking really starts breaking down the food, so you’ve got a head start before you even start to chew it.

Chinese Medicine puts much more emphasis on meals having all Five Tastes than it does on trying to meet some little understood ideal of nutrient content.  This is because each system in the body is nourished by a specific Taste, which is shorthand for the energetic properties of food that help that system.  In soup, you can have them all:

  • Pungent (Lung/Large Intestine) from onions, garlic and the like
  • Salty (Kidney/Bladder) from the water of the stock, and from things like fish and chicken.
  • Sour (Liver/Gall Bladder) and Bitter (Heart/Small Intestine) from the green things you add to your soup, or the lemon juice.
  • Sweet (Stomach/Spleen) from the root veg, grains, beef and beans.

I’m a big fan of crock put soups and stews.  Ok, that’s partly because I’m really busy and I can make a pot on the weekend and eat all week and… oh! another benefit.  I’m currently experimenting with chicken soups of all kinds; send me a note and I’ll send you my favorite recipes.

A word about bone broth.  Bone broth is a most excellent stock for all your soups, especially if you are older, or if you live the kind of life that is full of adrenaline and so constantly drains your Kidney Essence.  It’s pretty simple.  Get some

organic animal bones of any type and roast them for about 1 hour at 250 degrees.  Put them in your handy crock pot, cover with water, add a large dash of cider vinegar, and cook on low for two days.  All the wonderful minerals stored in those bones are now in the stock, as is the gelatin.  These benefit our bones, joints, teeth and hair – all of which make up part of Kidney Essence.  You can use it as soup stock, or freeze some in ice cube trays to use when cooking your veg, pasta or rice.  If you’re vegetarian, add seaweed to your soup stock.  If the larger kinds gross you out, you can cut them into little pieces so they’re not so overwhelming.

Salad eater?  Switch to steamed veg.  Raw food in salad form is energetically Cold, and so hard to digest.  You might get away with this kind of food in the summer, but not now.  And btw: you can water fry your veg, and add a little oil after cooking.  Oil is good for us, but changes energetically if we fry with it.

All soup, all the time.  There were several folks I saw who could benefit from having soup three times a day.  Doing this would go a long way to relieving the strain on the Spleen and other digestive systems, and thereby help build  up their Blood and other resources.  Can’t face the idea of soup for breakfast?

Try congee.  Congee is grain of any kind that is cooked in a large amount of water (1 cup grain/6 cups water) for six or more hours.  It is a staple of many cultures, though it goes by different names.  Try using whole oats (that’s right, looks like what they feed horses), and you’ll end up with a wonderful, warming, easy to digest porridge to which you can add dried fruit and maple syrup or honey and cinnamon for a great, easy to digest breakfast.

another me

Karen is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learning.  You can visit her on Facebook, or on her website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.  She promises to get back to you – and expects she will really, really enjoy meeting you.

June 28, 2015 / Karen R Adams

it just keeps getting weirder

oh noA friend came to me for treatment last week.  She has struggled with health issues for as long as I’ve known her, going to doctors, getting a diagnosis, dutifully doing what they tell her, not getting better.  Repeat, and repeat again.

She’s got a new diagnosis, which seems to encompass all her symptoms, and as I listened to her tell me why this was really it, I was stunned.

My first thought was how there always seems to be a new syndrome (how does anyone keep up??), which seems to be a collection of mostly related symptoms swept together and given a name.  “The symptoms don’t quite fit those of MS?  We’ll put them together in a different way, add a few that seem to be hanging out on their own, and call it fibromyalgia.”   Or chronic fatigue syndrome.  Or lymes syndrome.  (That’s a particularly good example, something that has morphed from a disease to a syndrome as newly recognized symptoms that seem to be connected to the spirochete explode all over the place.)

I’m suspicious that this is done less for clinical reasons, but more to assign a diagnostic code, then insurance can be billed for treatment.  Which makes some sense in these chaotic medical times, since the recommended treatment for this syndrome is amazingly expensive.  Jaw-dropping, in fact.  Assuming her doctor has her very best interests in mind, and I think most of them do, he will want her – one of the 99% – to be able to have these treatments.

My second thought was connected to some of the realizations I’ve had since I started studying Chinese Medicine nutrition: every single symptom you bring through the door to your acupuncturist is a sign of an imbalance in the intricate-beyond-belief system that is you.  Some of them are connected to each other, some are kind of like random spin-offs because other things are out of whack.  Acupuncturists are trained to look for the connections, the patterns of disharmony, and address those.  (That’s why some headaches are treated with a Gall Bladder channel point on the foot.  And you thought the headache was, erm, in your head.)

It is unbelievably easy to get caught up in treating to relieve symptoms – which is a very Western med way of working (and a western way of thinking).  And I’m not altogether against that approach.  Sometimes I just gotta treat the back pain so you can go back to work, and I’m very glad to do that. And isn’t it wonderful that you can get lasting relief without pills, remain clear-headed AND get a good night’s sleep.

But if you keep coming back with the same symptoms, or you’ve added some to the original complaint, or we can’t seem to make a change in how you feel, well, that’s’ because we’re not addressing the marvelous complexity that is you.  This is the difference between treating the branch of a condition and treating the root of the condition.

What does this mean for my friend, who deeply, sincerely longs to be well?  Perhaps it’s good that she’s seeking help from complementary modalities.  Perhaps it’s good that she’s working (and has worked) to be as holistic as it is humanly possible to be to sort this out.  It’s certainly good, I think, that she’s not crazy about the idea of the expensive treatment as she knows it will be hard on her to receive it.  She’s taking her time to look at all the angles before she decides to go there or not (smart woman).  She’s not a coward, my friend, and she’s really getting tired of this.  So we’ll look for the patterns, support her body, mind, spirit whatever her decision.

This same friend said to me ‘I bet 100 years from now, we’ll look back and think how barbaric our medicine was’.  Bet she’s right.

another me


Karen is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learned (which practically makes her an old fart, she thinks with chagrin).  You can visit her on Facebook, or on her website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.  She promises to get back to you – and expects she will really, really enjoy meeting you.


April 27, 2015 / Karen R Adams

life… is like a river

11187226_560109987424970_8338615848707589861_oI got caught between two patients the other day.  This hardly ever happens, which is kind of a miracle when you work in a community clinic and people are together all the time.

The first patient was in great emotional distress and the only one present at that moment, so I was giving him my undivided attention.  I’ve known him for some time, and I see, behind the blustering and sometimes unlovely thoughts, the little boy who was terrified as a child, becoming the man who is pretty much terrified all the time.

He was really on a roll this time, and pulling in all kinds of events that supported his world view: he’s a good guy and people always betray him – or he is sure/is afraid they will always betray him.  He’s pretty much equal opportunity about this; unfortunately his comments on one incident were racist – and that’s when the next patient walked in.  Walked in, felt the charged energy, heard the racist remark and walked out.

My first patient knew this man had come and left (though not why), and in the middle of all the other stories he was telling me, he kept asking about the second.  There were only a few things I could think of to say in response.  I could tell what I thought was the truth and say the second had left because he wasn’t feeling the safety he’d come to expect because of the comments of the first, and add to his fear – and guilt.   Or I could say (as I did, several times) ‘I don’t know’, which didn’t work at all.  All the work we’d been doing to calm him down was going out the window.

Or I could make something up.  So I said I’d text the second, make sure he was ok, did that, and then told the first that the second had gotten a call he needed to take.  I let the second know I said that, figuring I’d also be handing him an alibi if he needed an excuse the next time they met.

A few days later, the second man came in and told me ‘We need to talk’.  He said I had told a lie that was attached to him, and he didn’t like it.  At all.  He was angry, and he wanted me to know why.

What could I say?  He was right.  I had lied.  Good intentions and all that, but I had lied.  I honestly couldn’t understand why that was upsetting, but when I tried to dig deeper, he wasn’t having it.  He was, I think, feeling betrayed, but I couldn’t discern if that was so and it was because I had lied – or because I hadn’t confronted and named those racist comments.  Or because of something else entirely.

I was… astonished.  At first I didn’t even know what he was talking about.  He kept talking about The Lie I’d told.  My mind was jumping around to things like ‘…but don’t you want to know the context?’  ‘I can’t tell you the whole context without violating confidentiality.’  ‘If you knew the context, you’d understand, and you wouldn’t be mad at me.’  ‘I want to explain; it’s important that you understand my point of view, too.’  I sort of fumbled around in my head, but the only thing I could come up with was ‘You’re right.  I lied’.  In the end, that was pretty much what I said, as well as ‘I’m sorry’ – which was also confused, because I knew that’s what he wanted/needed to hear, but I wasn’t sorry, really.  I wasn’t not sorry, either, but I didn’t understand why he thought that lie was wrong.

Now, I am not at all good at lying.  If I try to lie, I live in constant fear of being found out, and being hassled in some way.  I’ve gotten better at small lies over time, because that seems to smooth out social interactions.  Which seems … wrong somehow.  Maybe.  Possibly.  But I’ve spent too many years with no filter between what I think and what comes out my mouth to not value watching what I say.  Sometimes I fumble, which I had clearly done here.

The second man was telling me there were other things I could have said, which was true – especially in hind sight.  The fact, though, is I didn’t say them.  I lied instead.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since it happened, and I expect I’ll continue to do so.  I’d like to share with you what I’ve figured out so far.

  • The really good news is that I didn’t get defensive, nor did I try (very hard) to cover my ass.  I got that I’d done something to upset the second patient a lot, but I didn’t choose to feel backed into a corner.  I had messed up – all unintentionally, and yet still I messed up.  I didn’t get it, but clearly I had offended this man.  And I had lied.  So I messed up, I lied, I offended someone.  This is on my mind, and, while I didn’t react with clarity, I also didn’t get defnsive.
  • I had, right in front of me, an example of what happens when someone has been knocked off balance, feels strongly about it, tries to figure out what to do about it, and takes time to do that.  Taking time is good, because we’re less likely to do and say hurtful, hateful things.  It’s tricky, though, because it can narrow the vision, letting us see only one side and not other possibilities, confirm our world view (whatever that is) and increase the need to do something about it.  Sometimes waiting strengthens the anger or pain, and the urgent need to do something to make it feel better.  Sometimes waiting allows us to see that in the whole of life, this incident just isn’t that important.  That’s a pretty liberating idea, and a hard one to grasp.
  • I really don’t like the ‘I need to tell you…/you need to know…’ thinking.  It’s very narrow and centered on self.  It’s not conflict resolution.  It’s a kind of bullying.  It also tends to block all possible answers to the question ‘What do I want to get out of telling you this?’  Most of the time, all unconsciously, we are thinking ‘If I tell someone how angry I am because they fucked up and hurt my feelings, they will admit they are wrong and say they are sorry and I will feel better’.  Most of the time, that doesn’t happen, because the person who hurt us can get defensive and/or get tangled in wanting to tell their side of the story – which, oddly enough, is not at all satisfying to us, the injured.  ‘I need to tell you…/you need to know’ is all about me.  You are not part of the equation because you are the aggressor and I am… the victim.
  • 20/20 hindsight is amazing.  Because I was forced to go back over the incident, I could come up with a few dozen other things I could have said.  I had a lot of help from the second patient.  Was that useful?  In some ways, yes, in that I had new ideas should I ever experience this again.  In other ways not, because now I didn’t only feel like I had hurt someone I liked and had a responsibility to, but I also felt inept and like a failure because I hadn’t done the right thing.  I choose to accept the former, but not the latter.  If I accepted the latter, I would feel bullied, I would feel like a victim.
  • Perhaps the most important thing I got was this:  I am  a healer.  When I am working with someone, it is important to me to do all I can so that my patient knows that I am in his or her corner.  I recognize that there is a lot of grey here.  A lot.  There I things that I hear that I don’t agree with, some things that I feel pretty strongly about.  And my opinions and feelings have no place in the treatment because this isn’t about me.  It’s about the patient.  In this case, I felt I was caught between two conflicting needs.  I think I did well by the first patient, not so well by the second because my need to explain, to justify my actions got in the way.  When I said I was sorry I meant I was sorry I had hurt him, but not sorry for what I did.  That muddied intention just added confusion.  It wasn’t as clear as it feels now, so it didn’t feel authentic.  I failed him, because I wasn’t fully in his corner.  I was a lot in mine.

There may be a resolution to this (I hope so), but it’s not required.  One thing I have finally learned, though my grasp on it is slippery sometimes, is life is not a series of discrete events.  It’s movement and flow.  Each ‘event’ is like a drop in a river, infinite possibilities within and from it, all moving and changing.  Sometimes we allow ourselves to get snagged by an event, and then we need to discern how best to resume the flow.  Do we step up?  Do we wait?  Do we find another way from the infinite possibilities?  Whatever choice we make, the idea is to return to the flow.  We don’t want to ever get stuck in that snag for long.


me 2004 2Karen is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learned (which practically makes her an old fart, she thinks with chagrin).  You can visit her on Facebook, or on her website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.  She promises to get back to you – and expects she will really, really enjoy meeting you.

April 5, 2015 / Karen R Adams

what others think

fearof looking stupidHands up, out there, everyone who has spent time worrying about what others think – about how they look, what they do, what they have.  Yeah, I thought it would be most of you.  Me, too.

It’s not a bad thing, is it?.  After all, we have to live with others, right?  What we do or say affects the people we live and work with.  If I decided I was going to pack in my business and live out of my car, giving acupuncture for free, I imagine my kids would have stuff to say about that.  (Lots of stuff.)  The conversations would be based on their love for me, and their fear that a life like that would be unsafe and unhealthy.  I believe a part of them would also be a little proud of a mom who gave up in order to give, who tries to live her bliss and her dreams.

Whether they admitted it or not, though, a part of them would be thinking: ‘She’s going to become a bag lady.  At some point I’m going to have to rescue her, which would strain my already overcrowded life.  I mean, living out of her car?  Not making any money??  Is she crazy?  What would the neighbors think?

Before I become a traveling acupuncturist, then, I have to seriously think about what they might think.   Even though they are grown women with busy, fulfilling lives, I’m still their mom.  What they think matters to me – their opinions of me, their worries for me, their judgment of me.

So perhaps we can agree that paying attention to what others think is a good idea.  Right?  We can say that the opinions of others provide useful information for making our decisions.  And maybe it’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for the unspoken opinions: the eye rolls, the body tension when someone disapproves, stuff like that.  If we see that, we might just maybe change our plans a bit.  That’s ok, right?  Because we care about them, we love them, we value their thoughts.

Tricky, though.  If I really, really want to live out of my car, etc, if it’s a dream of mine to become a wandering healer, that might create a conflict between us.  I might see those eye rolls and start to worry about what they think.  I might even skip the checking in and just make my own story that they think I’m crazy, or they might be uncomfortable being with me.  And my grandchildren!  They’re reaching the age of being mortified by a granny who isn’t like their friends’ grannies.  That would be painful to all of us.  Then there’s my community.  I’ve worked long and hard to be a respected, valued member… what would they think?  That I lost all my money?  That I failed to make my business a success?  That I’ve lost my mind, and need an intervention?

I might get defiant.  What do they know about my life?  What right do they have to tell me what to do?  It’s my life, I can do what I want with it.  If I want to live out of my car, accept handouts instead of pay, that’s nobody’s business but mine.  I’m the one who has the right to choose that kind of life.

In either case, I’m not just evaluating what others think, I’m seeking out their opinions and I’m worrying at it.   If this is a big decision, I’m spending way too much time chewing over what others think.  This can become a chronic condition, and then I begin to spend too much time worrying at what they think about my shoes.  Or how I walk.  Are my pants too short?  What about my shirt, is it the right shirt?  What will they think if they see me snoring behind my steering wheel?  Will they like me, those strangers who casually see me from their cars and who will probably never see me again?  If I go just a little bit farther with my worrying, I’ll give up my dream of living out of my car, dispensing acupuncture.  I won’t be able to do anything because I fear what they think.

Can you feel this?  The anxiety rising, the shoulder-hunching.  The flashbacks to being a teenager, when you are terrified to step out of the pack because of what your peers would think.  Taking action that wasn’t necessarily well thought out because you thought they’d disapprove.  Actually, that stage lasted for an embarrassingly long time for me, and as a consequence, I was unhappy way into adulthood.  And depressed, crowded, twitchy.  Occasionally explosive.  Definitely afraid.  Yuck.

Here’s what I try to live now: I do what I want when I’m clear that what I want makes me happy.   I believe those who love me want me to be happy, too.  If they raise concerns, I will always listen, because I love them.  I may change my plans… or I may not.  If what they offer adds to the adventure, well, that’s great then.  If they are asking me to do things that I’m not fully on board with, probably not.  If I really listen, because I love them, I’m creative enough to adjust.

I’m not talking about just listening to my daughters, by the way.  There are lots of people in my life who have opinions about what I do, and who are happy to share them.  I’ll listen.  That’s a great way to get new ideas, after all.  And I’m trying to never again worry over what they say or think, or feel guilty because I’m not being the person that I think they think I should be.  Or that they tell me I should be.  It is my life, my darlings, and I take full responsibility for it.  But that’s another post…


another meKaren is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learned (which practically makes her an old fart, she thinks with chagrin).  You can visit her on Facebook, or on her website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.  She promises to get back to you – and expects she will really, really enjoy meeting you.



March 17, 2015 / Karen R Adams

the one thing you need to do

me 2004 2‘The one thing you need to do.’  Don’t you just love statements like that? ‘Here are the 59 things to do so you can save the world.’

Apparently, giving your information a title like that works as advertising.  I’m beginning to find it annoying – annoying, but effective.  It’s not the numbers so much as the actual subject that will draw me in.  (Although I did see one the other day that was something like the one I quoted above.  While I’d really like to be personally responsible for saving the world, ’59 things’ turned that concept into a joke.  Anybody can come up with 59 things, not going to be anything new in that list.)

Still, we seem to like bullet points, synopses, something where someone else has done the work and summed it up for us.  Which makes sense, given the enormous amount of information we have access to (whether we want it or not).  ‘The 9 signs of a deficiency in X nutrient’.  ‘The 5 signs of heart disease you must know’.  ‘The 6 things you need to do to follow your exercise plan’.   These are steps to a goal – to understanding a new idea, or achieving a desired result.  They are a map.  They are the manual I’m always looking for that helps me figure out just what the hell I’m doing, because heaven knows I’m working blind here.

When I held my babies for the first time, all the love and awe and joy I felt carried a slight overlay of panic.  Where was the operator’s manual?  Directions, I needed directions – as in Step 1: Don’t Panic.  Step 2: Here’s How Not to Panic (really needed that one).   Slight overlay?  Did I say ‘slight’?  Oh, man…

When I got married, when I got a new job, when I got divorced, when I shepherded my family through a decade of trauma and courts and trials and recovery, when I left the country to live abroad – there was never a fucking manual.   That’s sloppy, inefficient, terrifying, messy.  How was I supposed to do these things well when I had no idea what I was doing?  How could I do them so that none of us ended up in a lifetime relationship with a therapist, paying for his or her college education?  Everybody else was doing these things, did they get the manuals?  How did they know that honey on the pacifier of a one month old was risky at best?  Who told them this stuff?  If I was in charge, you would be handed an operating manual for every child, every relationship, every damn thing, and if that wasn’t enough you could find a manual on every life step and check it out of the library, or read it on Facebook.


Well.  I guess you just have to know where to look.

So here’s my one thing: Take one step at a time and relax.  Nobody knows what they’re doing, we’re all making it up.  We work hard to learn how to function in life, and many, many of us are happy to pass that knowledge on.  It’s truly wonderful how easy it is to get information through the internet (and I can guarantee there’s a Youtube video on this.  Or an app…).  Don’t forget to ask you neighbor for tips, especially the one that’s old enough to have survived teenagers.  Flying without a net (read ‘manual’) is terrifying, sure, but it is also epic, liberating, all-about-expansion – and all yours.  It’s your life, and no one will do it like you do it because no one is you.  You’ll have help any time you ask for it, so write your own manual.  (I reckon, if you distil it to bullet points, you’ll have a Facebook following in no time.)

between heaven and earth


Karen is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learned (which practically makes her an old fart, she thinks with chagrin).  You can visit her on Facebook, or on her website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.  She promises to get back to you – and expects she will really, really enjoy meeting you.

October 18, 2014 / Karen R Adams

living without fear

fearI am tired of fear.

Tired of waking in the morning, happy to be alive, eager to see the wonders of the day, only to watch that joy be overwhelmed – sometimes within minutes – by the ambiance of fear that shimmers in the people of my town, my country.

I am tired of trying to hold the center that I know is the real truth: There is far more wonder and excitement and care for our fellow travelers in the world than there is ugliness.  I know this.  I see it every day, the tender way we treat each other, the way we eagerly step forward to help someone out, the glory of fall foliage and blue skies, the satisfaction in jobs well done, big and small.

If I were to sit down each night and list the day’s good and bad events, the good list would be so long, that the bad would be infinitesimal.

We all know this, deep in our hearts.  We know that we and our world are magical, wondrous, glorious.  So why do we allow fear to overwhelm this knowledge?  Why don’t we turn away from the bombardment of fear from our media, from our government, from our friends and co-workers?  Why do we use it to sell things like medicines and fashion and ‘bad’ food and guns and no guns and hatred of what we don’t understand?   If people around us feel frightened, we pick up on that emotion and make it ours – which makes it bigger, more pervasive, more powerful… just more.  Why do we let fear dominate us?  Are we all crazy?

People say to me, ‘But, Karen, people are dying – of torture, and war wounds, and disease, and starvation, and despair.  It makes me sick at heart to see the suffering of others.  We have to be aware of this so we can do something about it’.

That depends on what you do, doesn’t it?  Because from where I’m standing, it seems that everything that anyone has tried to ‘do’ to correct something they perceive is wrong involves resistance to that thing, has involved trying to make others believe the way they do, and has always created something else to be fought against in the future.  Worse, the motives behind the action have always been fear-based.  Oh, some may call it righteousness, or outrage, or morality, but underneath is fear.  Fear leads to resistance and resistance always leads to a rebound.  Swing that pendulum wildly enough, and we’ll live in a constant state of fear and violence.  Oh, wait.

I want to learn to live without fear.  I know that things may happen that scare me, and in those times I want to recover my balance as quickly as I can.  I also know that you can choose to live however you want, and it’s not my job, my right or my obligation to change how you live.  At the moment, I am tired, tired of resisting fear.  I don’t believe the alternative is to join in and be fearful.  What I have to do, what I want to do, is get back to the part of me that knows the wonder and the beauty of this moment that is part of the wonder, the beauty, the joy of what is greater than this moment.  I’ll be able to do it for a while, and each time I choose wonder over fear means I will be able to do that more easily the next time.


me 2005I’d love to hear what you think about this, and you can contact me here.  I’ll get back to you.


August 28, 2014 / Karen R Adams

thinking on the unthinkable

me 2004 2I don’t usually write about ‘world events’. The things that I hear or read in the media distress me – a lot, and I know from past experience that they can suck me down until being angry and bitter becomes my default setting. That way of being serves no one, least of all me. I can do little to influence global tragedies and I hate feeling powerless, hate feeling like who I am and what I do means less than nothing. Or worse, that who I am and what I do contrast so enormously with the experiences of others that I have a moral imperative to take to the streets to make things right. I spent much of my life protesting this and fighting against that and raging against the other until I just couldn’t do it any more. I made myself sick.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m a great believer in finding ways, in any situation, of choosing to feel more positive, happier, more expansive. I love that I’m learning to do that, and that living it means I can help others find some relief, some ease in themselves when they are struggling.

Recent events in Ferguson and in the Middle East have reminded me that I am lucky to be who I am, to live where I do, to be able to do what I love unhindered. I have great privilege, and I am grateful (so, so grateful) for that, and yet I also feel torn in my heart because others are suffering simply because of where they live or the color of their skin or the body that houses their souls. I do not have answers, I don’t know how to make it right, I (again) feel powerless and constrained. I grieve.

I find some comfort in knowing that this is the way it is supposed to be for me. Within great joy is the seed of pain and sorrow, within great grief and suffering is the seed of joy. Like Yin and Yang, there is constant movement, times when the joy grows and declines, times when the sorrow does the same. The discomfort of the now always holds the potential to change to the comfort of the now.

Understand that while I do not live in Iraq or Palestine or Missouri, I have experienced pain and trauma. I have my chops. I know what terror and agony feel like. I know the despair of fearing that life will always be suffering. Within privilege is the seed of disenfranchisement, within despair is the seed of power. The potential, if not the imperative, is movement, however (apparently) small. All else is death, and I’m not ready for that yet.

And while I yearn to smooth the suffering of many, I have to learn to be content with helping those immediately around me ease their sorrows.

As I sit at my desk in my wonderful home, overlooking my small town that looks glorious on this sunny late summer day, I am painfully aware of the contrast. There is no ‘resolution’ to the place I am right now. There is only acknowledgement that it serves no one if my home is also rubble. I’m choosing not to be on the extreme of a polarity: have or have not, safe or wildly unsafe. I’m choosing instead to know that my life is fluid, ever-moving somewhere on the spectrum between extremes, and that I am privileged to have all this. I can welcome the beauty of the day with sorrow and gratitude, and know it is enough.

Andrew Miles, DOM & Xuelan Qiu, PhD

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