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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.

June 30, 2014 / Karen R Adams

miracle day


I picked up a magazine the other day while waiting to do a radio show (sorry, sorry, can’t remember the name of mag), and found an article on living a Miracle Day.  It wasn’t about a law of attraction thing, though why not?  It was about viewing each thing in your life as a miracle.  The author suggested walking through your day with a ‘caveman’ ancestor, and seeing your world through his eyes.

I thought that was an awesome idea, though I wanted to refine it a bit for my needs – and my ever quirky sense of humor.  (I mean, we probably wouldn’t get out of bed, since a caveman wouldn’t have seen a bed before.  Then I’d be in bed with a caveman… not going there!)

I decided I’d ask an ancestress from, oh, the early 1800s to walk with me.  Ancestress because a woman’s view would more closely match mine, and the early 1800s because the Industrial Revolution was just starting, and she might maybe have seen or heard of steam engines, or engines of any kind.  To simplify all this, I decided to call her Lydia.

So Lydia and I wake up in the morning, and the first thing that amazes us is how big and comfortable the bed is.  The sheets are clean and softer than what she’s used to – she loves this.  We have more than one pillow.  The bedroom is really big and light and… what’s this?  Isn’t it June in New England?  Isn’t it supposed to be hot?  How is our bedroom so comfortable?  Air conditioning is a miracle to her – and to me, truth be told.

She looks at the pictures on the walls and wants to know how they were made.  The paintings she understands, though she’s not used to such vivid colors, or paintings that aren’t recognizable as people or things.  But the photographs, oh my!  A ‘camera’?  What’s a ‘camera’?  Does everyone have one?  Do they cost a lot of money?  How do I get what’s inside onto paper?  I can do that more than once?  ‘Pon rep! she might say.

Notice that we haven’t even gotten out of bed yet (still in bed with an ancestor, hmmmm), nor moved from the bedroom, and already we’ve spent oodles of time with miraculous things.  Look at all the clothes I have.  I don’t have to share my bedroom – or my apartment.  I have huge windows of real glass.  Miracle, miracle, miracle!

I’m sure by now you see where I’m going with this.  Just taking this little bit of time to start my day with Lydia, to see my life through new eyes, lifts my heart, makes it sing with appreciation.  What a way to begin.  It affects my whole outlook, my whole day.

Can’t wait to hang out with Lydia some more!

June 8, 2014 / Karen R Adams

i’m an outsider here myself

outsiderI don’t know about you, but I find this kind of unsettling.  I think the point – given that this was said by Timothy Leary, who certainly celebrated living outside the box – was supposed to be that being different was actually cool.  That being normal was un-hip, stifling, constraining.

But I’ve found that many of my patients are distressed by this feeling of being an outsider.  Certainly I’ve felt that in my own life, especially in my teens.  Remember those years?  How we studied each other, trying to be like the people who were successful by whatever standards we used at the time, so we could figure out how to also be that way?  You know,  the ones making straight As, beloved by parents and teachers.  Or the ones who had tons of friends, joined every club, who weren’t too shy or too awkward, too big or too loud or too outspoken or too afraid, who were so admired by their peers?

Or how about the ones who partied all the time, who got invited to parties all the time?  Or the ones who seemed to know exactly how they were going to live their lives: graduate from high school, go to college, make a million dollars, get married and live happily ever after?  Who belonged and who knew life was a breeze?

Watching those others, the ones who we thought knew how to work life, and trying to figure out how to do that, too, was incredibly painful.

Here’s the funny thing, though.  None of them knew what they were doing.  It’s just that some of them were better at appearing to have it all down.  They looked like they knew how to work it, but they, too, had moments of panic or despair, of feeling like they wouldn’t accomplish anything, of feeling like they wouldn’t fit in.

None of this changes just because we become adults.  Oh sure, many of us get better at appearing as if we know what we’re doing – most of the time.  But most of us feel like we never figured this life gig out – especially when we are suffering.  It makes my heart ache, when I hear my patients grieving that they are not like those others, those successful ones, and because they’re different, because they have this thing going on in their lives, they are doomed to be forever outside the good life.

Here’s a truth, and I hope you find comfort here:  No one knows what they’re doing.  We’re all just making it up as we go along.  We’re all doing the best we can with the cards we’re dealt.

When you know this, your heart will open and soften.  That is compassion… directed toward yourself.


May 23, 2014 / Karen R Adams


cabbageThis is a re-post from 2012 because I’ve had a number of patients recently who either didn’t know about this, or who did know about it forgot to use it on recent injuries.  Everybody’s doing lots more outside things now, so keep a head in your refrigerator first aid kit. ~ k

If you’ve been a patient of mine for acupuncture in the last, oh, forever, you have no doubt been treated to a bunch of stories extolling the use of cabbage for pain management.  Last week I had a chance to prove to myself, yet again, how well this humble vegetable works as a healer.

I was having a truly wonderful walk, really enjoying it – nice fall day, smell of fallen leaves, body swinging along – when I encountered a fateful combination: broken pavement plus unraked leaves over same.  One minute I was grooving on my walk, the next minute I was twisting my ankle, feeling the pop of the overstretched tendon, and banging my other knee into the sidewalk.

If you’ve ever done this, you know that the shock and pain of it make you feel sick and light-headed.  So I rolled off my knees onto my back and just lay there, trying to catch my breath and not throw up, and thinking ‘thank heavens I have cabbage at home’.

I’ve sprained my ankle many, many times, and I knew if I could move my ankle (and my knee) enough to know it wasn’t broken, and get past the nausea, I could make it home.  Home, where I keep a head of cabbage in my fridge as part of my first aid kit.  Within half an hour I had wrapped ankle and knee in cabbage, and went on to work a five-hour shift in the clinic.  The next morning, the only sign that I had sprained my ankle was a slight puffiness.  No pain, no swelling, all better.

Cabbage is a home remedy that has been used for centuries as an external poultice to relieve pain.  Even the Reader’s Digest tells you how to put it to work, though they recommend Savoy cabbage, and I’ve used the plain, cheap green cabbage to great effect.  I once saw a reference to a Swiss hospital for people with rheumatoid arthritis where staff wrapped patients’ stricken joints every night before bed.

I’ve used cabbage for sprains, scalds, even once used it for a tooth abscess while waiting to see the dentist (worked great, btw).  This time I even put it on an open wound, and again, worked great.  I tell everyone about cabbage, encouraging people to wrap joints or muscles, or chop it up to make a poultice to put on sore shoulders or backs.  (Just put it between something like two thin tea towels.)  When I took my grandkids on their first camping trip this summer, I even brought some cabbage along in case of an unfortunate encounter with the campfire.

This is a beyond simple home remedy you can do for yourself.   Just take some leaves from the cabbage head (that you’ve been keeping in your refrigerator, just in case), cut out the stiff ribs if necessary, wrap them around the affected area, then wrap that with an ace bandage or something similar to hold it in place.  (I once used a sock to keep it over a scald on my palm.  The pain was gone in 15 minutes.)

It’s a bit trickier for shoulders and backs, but I expect you can figure that out – a snug shirt, lie on the poultice, something like that.  How long?  As long as it takes (won’t be long).  If it feels like it needs refreshing, throw away the – very cooked – cabbage and replace it.  You won’t have to do that too often.

The cold feels good, too, and it’s soooo much better for you than ice.  Chinese medicine practitioners know that ice simply constricts the area, which restricts healing, and can even drive the pathogens from the injury in.   I don’t know how cabbage works, must be something in the chemistry of the cabbage that draws things out and speeds recovery.  I really don’t care about the mechanics or physiology of it, I’m just thrilled that it does the job.

There, oh humble cabbage.  I’ve been promising you for months that I’d spread your word, and now I’ve done it.

March 31, 2014 / Karen R Adams

‘we didn’t ask you where you’ve been’

me 2004 2I was listening to an Abraham-Hicks CD the other day, and there was a woman who was asking Abraham for some help with an issue she had with caring for her aging mother.  Every time Abraham asked her how she was feeling, she responded by listing what she had done in the past to work on the issue.   Abraham finally interrupted her by saying ‘We didn’t ask you where you’ve been.’

I bump up against this all the time with patients, this need to explain all the possible reasons why they have arrived where they are, and everything they’ve done to fix the problem.  If the process has gone on long enough, they’ve gotten themselves into a right muddle by the time they end up in my clinic.

We live in a culture that has put a pretty high value on explaining where we are, how we feel, how that affects what we do.  We think if we can just excavate all the data of our lives, if we can just understand what brought us here, we will be able fix ourselves, get better, be more fulfilled/healthier/enjoy life more.  But I ask you: how can keeping the past alive help us live in the now?  jacob marleyWe become like Jacob Marley, the ghost from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, hauling the chains of our pasts wherever we go.  The longer we carry on this way, the more things we dig up and add to that chain, the less able we are to enjoy where we are and move from here into our futures.

I know from experience how this way of being can limit us.  I was eight years into therapy before I said – to the therapist, actually – ‘I don’t need to relive this anymore, go over it again, dig any further.  I want to know how to deal with what flashes up.  I’m tired of thinking about this all the time.  It exhausts me.’  That’s when things began to change in my life.

Please don’t get me wrong.  We all experience things that knock our feet out from under us.  When that happens, we want to get back to feeling happy and normal as fast as we possibly can.   Sometimes we can do that ourselves, sometimes we need help.  There are loads of ways for us to regain our balance, including talking about it.  It’s when we get stuck in the mind, when we put more weight on the mind and less on the body and spirit, that we can go on for years and never move forward.  It’s as if we get so attached to our stories, they’ve become so familiar, that we think they define us.  We become them.  Since those stories are of the past, it’s like being perpetually 16 or 25 or whatever.  Our lives become habituated to a way of being that we give no thought to.  All our thoughts are bound up in telling those stories, over and over.  At what point do we decide we are willing to cut those chains and leave all that stuff behind?

And besides, how do we know we aren’t doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, in this now, in this time?  Abraham says ‘you can never get it wrong, and you never get it done’.  Each now leads us to the next, even the now that has held on to those chains, although that now will not appear much different from the previous because, you know, still got those chains.

I’ll end with one more metaphor, thanks to the comic strip ‘Garfield’.  Garfield goes into a pet store, and runs around opening cages, saying ‘Be free!  Be free!’  All the animals stay in their cages, trembling.  So Garfield runs back around, closing the cage doors, saying ‘Be secure!  Be secure!’

See what I mean?


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