Category Archives: personal growth

Reflections on a Past Doctor’s Visit

Greetings – the following is an article I wrote in 2007, but its message is still relevant.  I’m open to hearing your thoughts.


It’s only February, but it’s already been an interesting couple of months. Among other things, for the second time this year, I find myself battling the symptoms of cold and flu. While I suppose many people would not find that news-worthy, this is a situation to which I’m quite unaccustomed. Usually when I get sick, it hits me hard for a day or so and pretty much all I can do is sleep and try to drink water or juice to stay hydrated. After that, there’s some lingering congestion or a cough that lasts another day or so, but then it’s over for the rest of the year. So for me, two bouts of illness (each lasting a full week or more) in the span of six weeks is quite unfamiliar, and leaves me wondering if my body might be trying to send me a “deeper” message.

Perhaps because my past bouts of cold or flu have been so predictable, I don’t usually go to the doctor or take medication. But ironically my annual checkup happened to be scheduled the week after my first cold, so I mentioned it to my doctor in case there was anything she thought I should be aware of. Not really expecting a response, I was quite surprised at how quickly she began recommending different medications to address my symptoms – take this for aches, take that for congestion. Part of me knew she just wanted to help me feel better fast, but for me as a holistic practitioner, I’m always surprised when recommendations are given with very little knowledge or attention to the wider context of the patient/client’s life.

For instance, what if my congestion symptoms were actually an allergic or biochemical reaction to all the sugar, dairy, and fatty foods I’d consumed during the holidays? Or what if the aches were simply a result of having been sick in bed for two days? What if my flu-like symptoms overall were actually signaling hormonal or chemical changes going on in my body? None of that could be discovered if the focus was on solely on removing the discomfort of the symptoms; I’d miss the chance to listen to whatever messages my body might be sending me.

Another thing about my checkup appointment: my doctor has been urging me to get a mammogram since my 39th birthday, and this year I finally conceded. I have many reasons why I’ve opted against having this test over the years, but part of me theorized that perhaps I shouldn’t judge something until I’ve actually tried it, and it has been a useful tool to many women in the past. So with as much an open mind as I could manage, I set off to radiology to join ranks with so many women taking that responsibility for their health care.

But as the exam started, I kept hearing thoughts running through my head: “Are you kidding me? Is this for real? People do this every year? There’s no way I’m doing this ever again!”

It wasn’t that the experience was bad – the technician was as understanding as she could be, and while it was uncomfortable it was not excruciatingly painful or shaming. Yet I noticed my mind telling me that I should detach my attention and essence enough from my body to just let the technician move and push and squish and stretch my breasts and belly and shoulders and arms to make for the best picture.  But I realized that was just the point: I do not want to detach myself from my body’s experience. I strive for myself (and I encourage my clients) to stay present in the body, to be aware, attuned, and attentive to what’s happening in the body. So it presented me with quite a dilemma: part of me felt “in order to get though this, I need to mentally check out”, but more of me wanted to be present and not check out but wasn’t sure how to process this experience.

I found that I had to allow both of those parts to co-exist for a long time after the appointment in order to understand my process. On the one hand, I kept thinking, “oh I should just stop thinking about it – after all, it’s over now, right? And yea, it was weird and somewhat degrading to have a stranger kind of pawing and handling my body like that, but if I stop thinking about it I’ll stop feeling bad.”

But the truth was I had to honor the part of me that did feel degraded, and did feel like someone was pawing at me, because in honoring those parts of me, I got to let myself see that, no matter what the technician’s best intent may have been, this was my experience and it was valid simply because it was my experience.

As I let those different parts of myself have their say, I came to realize that much of my emotional reaction to the exam was related to touch. As a Somatic Therapist, touch is an essential quality to my healing work, but it can only be healing when accompanied with patience, presence, trust, kindness, respect, and grace. I realized that my body did not feel these qualities in my physical exam from my doctor, in the blood tests, or in the mammogram. Even though each practitioner had wonderful “bedside manners,” I noticed that in my experience, I still felt poked, prodded, pawed, and unseen. I draw that distinction deliberately to emphasize that my experience was not “their fault” — it was no one’s fault — yet it was still valid, and it was important that I acknowledge my experience simply because it was how I truly felt.

Now I know that if (or maybe when 🙂 I have my next mammogram, I’ll know that “checking out” and leaving my body in the hands of a stranger does not give me the experience of feeling touched with kindness and respect. Instead, no matter how the other person is acting, I now know that it’s most important that I treat myself with kindness and respect by staying present in my experience — speaking up for myself, expressing what’s uncomfortable and saying what I need to feel more comfortable, getting my questions answered, and so on. It’s not enough to say “my doctor doesn’t take time for me” — I need to believe that I am valuable enough to deserve feeling well-treated, and respond to my body’s needs appropriately. It may not make my physical examinations any more pleasant per se, but at least I’ll know that I didn’t leave “me” on a stranger’s exam table being poked and pawed and unseen.

Thanks for reading.  I welcome your comments. Feel free to contact me directly at


How to Reduce Stress in a Minute or Less!

We all know we should take more steps to reduce stress and increase relaxation.  But do you notice that you compound your stress by trying to find time to reduce your stress?  Here’s an idea that will likely more time to read than to actually do!

Woman with Arms in the Air

Relaxed, Rejuvenated, & Ready to Go!

The next time you’re sitting in your car waiting for a red light, here’s a quick stress relief technique that you can do for yourself in just that amount of time.

Before beginning, set the parking brake. (While this isn’t really a relaxation technique per se, it does help reduce the stress of worrying that your car may roll away!) You can also choose to turn off your radio or cell phone so as not to be interrupted in this time you’re gifting to yourself.

First, take your hands off of the steering wheel and rub them together vigorously for five to 10 seconds; this helps re-energize circulation and starts to soften tension. Then, let your hands rest in your lap, and notice your arms, shoulders, and upper back start to relax.

Let your eyes softly focus, perhaps on the signal light or on the hood of your car. Notice how nice it feels to give your eyes, forehead, jaw, and hands a break — this is when it’s great to have your phone turned off.

Now, take three to five easy breaths. These needn’t be big breaths; it’s just helpful to bring your attention to your breath. Notice how nice it feels to take air into your body.

Now, assuming you’ve set the parking brake, wiggle all your the toes and rotate both of your ankles. Really focus on feeling each individual toe move; this again helps bring warmth and circulation to your feet and lower legs.

Finally, rock your hips from side to side.  This is not a big move – imagine you’re doing a tiny hula dance while still locked in your seatbelt.  But nonetheless, this movement helps relax your spine and lower back, and also brings circulation into those areas. You can certainly play with direction and tempo — if you’re comfortable, you can do your Elvis impression or a bit of salsa dance right there in the driver’s seat!

Now feeling refreshed all over your body, you can disengage the parking brake and prepare for the green light to “go” on feeling less stress in your body … and it only took a minute!

Thank you for reading – and please let me know if you find this information useful!

Tips for Better Customer Service

cropped-news.jpgWhen we are aware of our internal experience, we can respond appropriately to whatever is happening around us. I find this reminder most useful in stressful situations: when I’m most able to notice what’s happening inside me in the moment, I’m best able to respond to the situation or person I’m dealing with in the most efficient or productive way.

I recently had the opportunity to practice Self-awareness and response when I was on the phone with my telephone service provider.  I’d had on-going intermittent but unreproducible issues with my phone line, and I’d called Customer Service repeatedly to find a resolution to the problems. After being transferred for the countless time and once again being asked by the busy service rep to explain the situation, I began to really pay attention to my internal experience.

I noticed a surge of energy building in my abdomen. I noticed my throat constricting and heating up. I noticed dryness in my mouth and perspiration above my lips.  It was as if a rage were building inside me, preparing for explosion.

But in addition to these sensations in my physical body, I also became aware of my emotional and energetic experience. As I explored the feelings further, I realized I was not angry per se.  More accurately, I was feeling unheard and unseen, powerless and dismissed, unimportant and insignificant.

I knew I could easily let the rage explode and just start yelling at this Customer Service woman … or I could implode and meekly skulk away from the interaction. But what I really wanted was to regain my sense of personal power and control, and to feel heard.

Ironically, simply becoming aware of my sense of powerlessness helped me regain my sense of personal power. The Customer Service people were not responsible for my feelings — they didn’t reach through the phone and take my personal power. The control was always within me, and as I acknowledged my feelings and reconnected with my internal experience of personal power, I realized that how I responded (vs. reacted) to my feelings of helplessness and powerlessness were really my choice. Sure, I could yell and slam the phone down and maybe I’d feel better for a moment. But I also was unlikely to get my problems resolved any faster, so I’d probably actually end up feeling much worse.

So instead of yelling at or withdrawing from the Customer Service person, I took several deep breaths and said to her that, while I understood she was just trying to fix my problems as fast as possible, I also felt she wasn’t actually hearing what I was saying. It also seemed that connecting with her as a person rather than just as a faceless representative of a monolithic company further helped me feel empowered to explain my experience.

In the end, she admitted that she didn’t know what the answer was and would have to research it further. I shared with her that, even though I knew my problems would remain for the time being, I felt this communication had been the most efficient and productive of all so far. But somehow, I felt that even if she hadn’t changed her position or presentation, my choice to respond appropriately to my internal experience made the difference in how I experienced my interaction with her.

So I’ll invite you: the next time you find yourself frustated with Customer Service, ask your Self, have I given up my personal power? Am I feeling victimized? Have I somehow allowed myself to believe that this person (or this company, or this situation) has “taken control over me”? You may be surprised at what you notice … And if you do find you’ve abdicated your personal power and control, ask your Self how you can reclaim it!

I welcome hearing your questions, comments, and experiences.

“On This Day, Seek Joy”

This is another article I wrote some years ago.  I still find the message relevant, so I’m sharing it again here.  I am open to hearing your thoughts.



31 July 2007

I went to a funeral today. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to hear that. Most adults have been to at least one funeral in their lives, and know that it’s one of the more difficult events we’re called to do. The pastor opened the service by saying “we’re all having mixed feelings of sadness, anger, and loss” but he prayed that we would also be able to feel joy as we remembered our loved one’s life.

I’ve been to six funerals in the past seven years, and each time it’s been a challenge to feel joy. I know cognitively through my own spiritual work that the joy is in me, but when the loss and sadness are still so fresh, joy feels very far away. After the service I said to a friend, “knowing that I’m going to feel acceptance and joy tomorrow doesn’t make my anger and sadness any easier today”. She responded, “knowing that we are spirits having a human experience doesn’t make it easier to be human”. I think I really needed to hear that. It also reminded me that every loss we experience brings up the grief of every other loss, and that helped make it OK for me to not only grieve the loss of my friend today, but to say another set of goodbyes for those I knew and those I didn’t know as well (including Tammy Faye Messner, Pete Wilson, Albert Ellis, and Coach Bill Walsh who all passed away in the last few days).

I don’t have a lesson that I’m looking to impart today, but I am reminded of the proverbial sayings “whatever you’re feeling now is OK”, and “our feelings are part of being human”. One feeling (or perhaps just an awareness) that I had was how distant we can become from each other. Sitting at my friend’s service, I realized I didn’t know how long it’d been since I’d last seen her. I know that type of realization can bring guilt, but I didn’t feel that. Instead, I’d say I felt more perturbed at how we live our busy lives distant and disconnected from each other, often giving empty promises to keep in touch. We send each other chain-letter emails and text messages, we go to movies, we tell each other we’re “fine” – but do we feel connected? As I looked around the service at the faces of dozens of grieving strangers, I wondered, when we leave here, will we go back into our separate, distant lives? Will we go back to being road-ragers, red-light-runners, line-jumpers, sidewalk-rushers, elevator-elbowers, crowd-pushers? Or can our loss serve to change how we see ourselves in the world? I think my sense of perturb got tweaked because I’m afraid that after the initial sting of the loss has softened, our lives will pretty much go back to “normal”. I remember hours after the September 11 tragedy, hearing the President encouraging us to go back to “normal”, to keep flying and shopping and living our American lives, to be “fine”. I realized then and again now, I don’t want to go back to being “fine”. I don’t want to only celebrate the lives and hearts and dreams and joy of my friends and family members at their funerals. When I came home after the service, my first thought was I’d like to call or write everyone I know and say, “I went to a funeral today, and I wanted to let you know, now, that you’re important to me and that I’m glad I’ve known you.”

“Death is just another part of life” is a phrase I’ve heard many times, but each time I hear it, I notice it doesn’t relate to anything my human experience can understand. But there’s a line from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” that does have meaning for me, especially today: “Get busy living, or get busy dying”. Not busy doing, not busy achieving, not busy getting, not busy “fine” and “normal”. But living, even if only a small part of each day; being in the present moment, taking a moment to reflect on the joy of being alive, taking a moment in gratitude for the people in our lives, taking a moment to breathe, taking a moment to be. Then maybe running one less red light, letting one person in line ahead of you, smiling to one homeless person … and telling someone you haven’t talked to in a long time why you’re glad to have known them. I think that’s living, and I think living is where we find the joy the pastor prayed for.

May you find and spread joy today.

Be not intolerant of the intolerant

Balance Scales - the image for fairness

Balance Scales - the image for fairness

I’ve wanted to share this quote for a long time, as I find it one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard:  “Be not intolerant of the intolerant.”

With the speed and simplicity at which we can blast our judgments and assumptions to the world (in tweets, in texts, even in blogs 🙂 it’s easy to forget that our words can have a powerful impact on others.  We seem to have become accustomed to the Court of Public Opinion over the court of law, the Jury of the Majority over the jury of our peers, Guilty Before Trial over innocent until proven guilty.

One of the greatest ironies I see in human behavior is the action taken based on the belief that it’s OK to be intolerant of the intolerant.  “Because I’m right and they’re wrong” is so easily the justification of demonizing others whose views are radically different than ours.  But notice how quickly we feel martyred and wronged when “they” use the same rationalization to justify their intolerant beliefs and subsequent behavior toward us.  Here’s an example:

Many years ago, I walked into my college psychology class and overheard a fellow student saying something like, “Oh, they’re just crazy – they’re a menace to society, and it’s too bad we can’t just lock them all up.”  Another student agreed, “Yeah, anyone who’d kill themselves and innocent bystanders in the name of religion should be kicked off the planet.”

Listening for a while longer, I realized they were speaking of religious zealots, specifically foreign terrorists.  What struck me — and what I finally couldn’t resist saying — was that the same description could be said by other cultures about Westerners.  I reminded them of the Crusaders from Western Europe, the “Manifest Destiny” creed of the American settlers, and today’s anti-abortionists who believe that “killing doctors is ‘right’ because killing babies is ‘wrong’.”  I ended by reminding them that, in all of those cases, the Western Christians are the “terrorists” who’ve agreed that their cause is worth killing others and dying for.  Shouldn’t “we” be locked up and kicked off the planet, too?

The response was basically “well, we’re civilized and they’re not.”  Again I had to disagree: If I were a citizen of a country and one day government authorities came to my house saying, “You look like someone who’s a threat to us, and if you resist us, we’re going to arrest you or torture you or kill you,” I’d have to wonder if my government had lost some marbles.

Or think of it this way:  If I were a native person going about my daily business and one day some strangers came to my home saying, “Your way of life isn’t productive or ‘civilized,’ so God told us to kill you, take your homes, and make profits off of your land,” I’m sure I’d call those strangers “crazy terrorists.”  And yet they are we.

There’s a fantastic “TED” video that illustrates this beautifully, set against the backdrop of post-911 United States – if you are interested, check out

In sum, I try to remember that my intolerance of the intolerant can easily cycle around to me.  If I want others to understand me, my integrity and due diligence say I need to try to understand others as well.  Obviously that’s easy when I agree with them, so my challenge is to see beyond my agreement and connect instead with their humanity.

I’m open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705

If I knew I was successful, I would not have baked a cake

Woman with Arms in the Air

Gratitude and Grace

It’s been a few weeks since I posted a blog, and I really wanted to write today.  But as sometimes happens, “writer’s block” seems to have set in.  My ideas are sketchy, my thoughts are jumbled and malformed, and the prose will not flow.  I am noticing how easy it would be to stop, get up from my desk — and go bake a cake instead.  As I recall, that idea has a specific history.

During the months I spent studying for my cumulative final exams in graduate school, I  began to realize that when I would become frustrated, tired, bored, or otherwise distracted, I’d go to the kitchen.  I’d snack or get some juice, or even cook or bake a dish for later.  But one day I received the most clarity and the biggest lesson.  I was deeply focused on frosting a chocolate cake I’d just baked when I suddenly heard the thought: “Good, now I’m successful at something today.”

I froze, spatula in mid-air, still dripping the cool icing over the cake platter.  I saw that baking, frosting, and decorating that cake served as a reassuring reminder that even though I had “failed” in one pursuit, I could create another satisfying accomplishment.

I also realized that I’d connected my experience and self-identity of success with doing.  If I were successful in doing something (studying or baking the cake), I felt wonderful, worthy, like a good person.  Otherwise I did not.  And it was the pain of feeling like a failure as a person that had unconsciously propelled me to the kitchen, the place of my easiest and most familiar achievements.

As I recall that day, I remember now that “success” and “failure” are not simply results of action but results of perception.  I exist, therefore I am…a success.  I am successful in feeling air in my lungs.  I am successful in expressing gratitude for a new day.  I am successful in choosing to be a wonderful, worthy, good person.  I do not earn worth through doing; I am worthy because of being.

I invite you to celebrate your successes, “big” and “small”, and to recognize and demonstrate the value and importance of your contribution — not just in what you do, but always in who you are.  Congratulations!  You are a success, as am I.

I am open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705

Getting comfortable with “No.”

Here are some teachings I’ve heard and read about the word “No.”

“‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean Yes and your ‘No’ mean No.”

“To say ‘No’ to you is a most loving act.  It is me teaching you about me, letting you know what I am capable of, what I am willing to do, what my boundaries are.  It is because I care about you that I am telling you my truth [by saying ‘No.’]”

Like conflict, anger and other difficult conversations in which we have the opportunity to share our truth, ‘No’ can be a path to bringing our relationship closer.  This is especially true when we’re open to understanding the person more deeply by our willingness to accept their ‘No.’

It intrigues me that we don’t question ‘Yes’ responses the way we question a ‘No.’  If we hear a ‘Yes’ response, that tends to be the end of the interchange.  We assume they agree so we’re pretty much done.

I think there’s more at work, however.  For instance, we (perhaps unconsciously) assume that if they are saying ‘Yes’ to our question, they are saying ‘Yes’ to us.  It’s as if we hear them implicitly saying that they are like us, that they like us, and that we can feel safe and comfortable with them.  We feel they’re telling us that we’re on the same team, that we’re cut from the same cloth, that we are “the same.”

But notice the marked difference when we hear a ‘No.’  What’s your first reaction when you hear ‘No’?  I imagine that it’s ‘Why?’ And what’s behind the ‘Why?’ Perhaps we feel slightly defensive, or devalued, or somehow pushed away from the person.  It’s as if ‘Yes’ brings a subtle feeling of same and safety and closeness, but “No” brings a feeling of different and distant, and maybe even dangerous.

I asked two psychotherapist friends about this, and they confirmed this idea.  If I hear ‘Yes,’ it feels like you and I are in agreement, we’re compatible, we think and feel alike, we have the same attention, intention, focus, and belief about the situation.  But when I hear ‘No,’ I unconsciously hear you saying you don’t like me.

Wow, imagine the strain on our relationships if each time we hear a ‘No’ we feel the relationship is under threat?  What if the truth might simply be “I can’t right now,” or “I don’t want any,” or “I don’t agree with that.”  Notice that none of those simple explanations mean anything about our relationship, yet so often we interpret the single word as an unspoken message about us.

This brings me back to the idea of asking ‘Why?’ when we hear ‘No’ or ‘Yes.’  Getting clarity on the other person’s response is always be important because we can only know the other person’s truth when we ask.  Otherwise we are only left with our assumptions and the (unconscious and conscious) stories we make up to explain their answer.

So here’s a radical experiment.  Next time you ask someone a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question, notice what you feel when they say their answer.  Then, regardless if it’s ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’  say to them, “I’m wanting to understand you better.   Can you help me understand why you said [Yes or No]?”

They may wonder why you’re asking, and you can simply reiterate that you could assume to know what they meant.  But you really would like to know and understand them better, so you’d prefer they tell you.  And then be prepared to listen without judgment, without presumption, without your own filters.  Just listen and learn.  And be sure to thank them for teaching you about them.  Then see if you feel differently, even after you’ve heard ‘No.’

I’m open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705

It’s not them, it’s me

Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, USA

Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, USA

The first (and so far only) time I went to Maui, Hawaii, I was sure I wanted to live there.  One deterrent, though, was the fact that I don’t know anyone who lives there, and I might start to feel isolated and lonely.

But OTOH, I thought, once the word started getting around that I lived in Hawaii, I’d probably have a steady stream of friends and extended family who’d want to come and visit me.  So I really wouldn’t ever be alone, and that would make it easier to decide to go.

Watching our cold and dreary weather lately, the idea of moving to Maui and having people visit came up again, but this time with the thought, what if I start to feel taken advantage of?  I mean, what if all of a sudden, all these people who I may not have seen regularly on the mainland suddenly wanted to visit me for a week or a month or a year?  Wouldn’t it start to feel like I’m just the convenient (meaning free) hotel for a bunch of phony BFF’s?  Wouldn’t it start to feel like they don’t really care about seeing me — they just care about getting to Hawaii on the cheap???

Yes, my higher wisdom replied, you will feel resentful and taken advantage of — if you forget either of two things.

First, if you forget that you have an investment in saying “Yes” that has more to do with you than with them.  Remember how we started this conversation:  you don’t want to be lonely.  You said, “I won’t be lonely because I’ll have a steady stream of visitors.”  So remember that you have reasons for people coming to see you that are really more about you than about them.  If you’re feeling resentful, perhaps one reason is that you’re not feeling isolated and lonely, or you’re just wanting some alone time, and visitors might feel like an intrusion.

And of course there’s always the very subtle but powerful, “They didn’t visit me when I lived on the mainland – how come all of a sudden now they want to be my friend?”  That’s a really important and necessary question to ask of yourself and of the other person(s) in order for you to feel good about them coming to your home.  What really is the nature of this relationship?  Are they (literally) fair-weather friends who only want this relationship for what they get out of it?  Or is it possible that, given the structure of their lives, clearing their calendar for a week or two is their best way of giving the relationship what they can offer.  Or perhaps their “sudden” availability is an indication of their realization that, “Hey, wow, Adele isn’t always going to be in my life, and I need to make an effort to keep this relationship nurtured and healthy.”

And, my higher wisdom gently chided, what about you, my dear?  Might you be the friend who only wants the relationship for what you get out of it?  Are you wanting just anyone to visit you to prevent your feelings of loneliness and isolation, or are you prepared to clearly discern who comes to your home and who does not, even if it might mean some lonely times?

That leads right to the second point:   you might feel resentful if you forget that you can – and sometimes should – say “No.”  For one thing, regardless of where you live on the planet, if you don’t want visitors in your home, it’s your responsibility to tell them that.  Resentment is a wonderful signal that a boundary has been crossed within you.  Perhaps you’ve created an obligation in you that says, since I’ve said “please come and visit me,” I don’t have the right or the privilege to say “No.”  That’s an illusion often created from fear and scarcity, ala, “If I say no to them one time, they’ll never ask again.”  Honestly, if that is the truth of your relationship, perhaps that’s a good thing to know!  Remember, if you say “Yes” when you really mean “No,” you’re doing a disservice and dishonor to yourself, to them, and to the relationship.  They may be disappointed, that’s true — we’re frequently disappointed when we hear “No.”  But, as a person who’s choosing to be in integrity, you would need to speak your truth to them, and trust that the relationship can tolerate their disappointment and your truth.

Remember, dear one, when you forget that you can say “No” or that you have a personal investment in them saying “Yes,” you will also forget that you have a part to play in feeling “taken advantage of.”

And now, my higher wisdom concluded, go live in Maui – enjoy your visitors, enjoy your solitude, and enjoy your truth.

I am open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705

If you can’t say something nice …

I heard a radio commercial the other day sponsored by the Department of Public Health.  In it, two neighbors who live in an apartment complex meet at their mailboxes; the conversation starts something like this:

Neighbor 1: “Oh, hi, how’s it going?”

Neighbor 2: “Not bad, except for that couple that just moved in next door to us.  They smoke a lot, and ever since they moved in my son keeps coughing.”

Neighbor 1: “Do they know your son has asthma?  Have you talked to them?”

Neighbor 2: “Oh, no, I just keep hoping they’ll hear him coughing and stop.”

At this point I literally stopped and turned to look at the radio.  I felt shocked and quite annoyed at these two neighbors.  I thought, You have a problem with your neighbors, a situation that you believe is directly affecting your child’s health, and yet all you’re willing to do is “keep hoping they’ll change”?  Why won’t you talk to them?

I then imagined the scenario from the smoking neighbors’ point of view.  Perhaps I don’t hear your son coughing.  Perhaps I hear the coughing but I think it’s due to an allergy within your apartment.  Perhaps I even find the noise annoying, and wonder why those parents don’t give that poor child some medicine to make it stop?  In any event, perhaps it never occurs to me that the coughing has anything to do with me.

It seems to me that when we’re just going through life, we often don’t realize that our words and actions can have an adverse impact on other people.  Conversely, when someone’s words and actions negatively impact us, do we tell the person directly?  Many people choose instead to grouse to friends and family about “those people,” or silently stew, feeling wronged, offended, hurt, angered, invalidated, etc.

So when I heard this commercial, I felt shocked and annoyed to see this pattern not just repeated, but seemingly endorsed.  It reminded me of the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  But I wonder if this way of thinking has been taken to an unhealthy extreme.  It may seem easier to suffer in silence or hope they’ll stop, but what is the cost to you, your family, your relationship with your neighbor, your quality of life at home, etc.?

OK, yes, it’s just a commercial.  Yes, I’m reading in much more than the Department of Health ever imagined.  Yes, these aren’t real people.  But these types of scenarios are certainly real.  Almost everyone has been the “victim” or the “perpetrator” of words or behaviors with a negative impact.  But the situation will most likely not be satisfactorily resolved for everyone until someone decides to talk about it.

I’ve found the easiest way to open such a conversation is with the truth:  “I don’t know if you realize, but [the action] is having a difficult impact on me.  Can we talk about this?”

I also keep a few “ground rules” in my mind:

1) I expect that I will treat them with respect.

2) I expect that they aren’t aware of the impact of their words or actions, and that there is no malicious intent.

3) I do not expect them to agree with me.  I do not expect this conversation to be a subtle form of “You need to stop doing/saying that.”  (They probably don’t see their actions as “a problem,” and will likely become defensive if my intent is that they “just stop.”)

4) I’m not making my discomfort their problem or their fault; I’m treating it more as a situation that we can both work on.

5) I’m open to suggestions of changes I can make which can help improve the situation.

When I’m ready to work within this frame, I can feel confident to open the difficult conversation with my neighbor without fault, blame or shame.  In return, most often I find that my neighbors have been apologetic and more than willing to change their behavior.  I believe, more often than not, that our neighbors are just glad we had the courage to say something “not nice.”

That courage and willingness to broach an uncomfortable subject has repeatedly lead to stronger, more open relationships with friends, family, neighbors, people – which is so much nicer than the alternative of endless resentment, fear, and tension.  It may not be easy, and it may not be “nice,” but it’s almost always a conversation worth having.

I’m open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705

Is it OK to not “let it go?” (part 2)

In a previous post, I shared some of my thoughts on the adage “just let it go.”  In this post, I explore another aspect of the mind-over-problem approach to self-healing:  “instant” pain relief.

I notice I feel really irritated when I’d hear prayers and requests that say, “I just want this pain gone – please just take it out of (or away from) me.”

I’ve always resisted therapies like EFT, CBT, EMDR, and other modalities which use some form of desensitization.  It seems you don’t necessarily discover the true source of your pain or find a resolution to the issue – you just don’t feel the impact of it anymore.  (When I was younger, we used to call that getting drunk.  It also goes by the monikers “vegging out” and “web surfing.”)

Now, with impishness aside and with all due respect to the power and success that people have using these modalities, my visceral reaction to them comes from a place of, “If you just take my problem away, or if you dampen down my sensitivity so I no longer feel the feelings associated with the problem, I haven’t learned the lesson that the problem has emerged to teach me.”

I liken it to the “gift” of dealing with a difficult person.  If I didn’t have that person in my life, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see this wounded area in me that’s calling for healing.  If difficult people were simply removed from my path, I wouldn’t have to learn anything about myself – I could just simply wish them away.  Yes, the symptoms of my pain are gone.  But is my wound really healed?  Did I really learn anything? What happens the next time I’m gifted with another difficult person?  If I just mask the symptoms by tapping away my discomfort, the wound is still there, I just don’t feel it. For me personally, I’d rather attend to the wound.

I believe it was Iyanla Van Zant who said, “Developing a thick skin means I don’t feel.  Instead, I’d rather feel it so I can heal it.”

That sentiment summarizes my choice for healing.  I know I can have freedom from the pain by desensitization, or by going through it and completing it.  Yes, desensitization brings immediate gratification by dialing down the pain of the wound.  I think of it as applying anesthesia to an open cut:  while the pain is temporarily numbed, the actual wound remains.

On the other hand, I believe if I move closer to the wound, attend to it, clean it, and bandage it, it will heal and I can learn more about myself throughout the healing process.  It may take some time and intention, and scar may even remain.  But the process, the scar, and my lessons all become an integrated part of my history and my humanness.  I am not defined by the wound, but it is a valid and valuable part of me, worth more to me than just tapping it away.

I’m open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705