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Skillful Common Sense: Connecting with Our Instincts

by Michael Finkelstein, MD


In our culture, we are taught to over-analyze everything. We prize intellect above all other means of obtaining information, and as a result we often lose connection with our inherent, natural source of knowledge. This imbalance compels us to go crazy trying to "figure out" how to live, when the reality is that not everything can be understood with the intellect. One can't possibly do enough research and collect enough information to solve all of life's problems by rational means.

When we realize that we can't control everything with our intellect, we become filled with fear. And yet we continue to seek more information, convinced that the “answer” is out there somewhere. As bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, “We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information … as possible.” But in our addiction to information, we may have lost touch with something much more important: our instincts and our common sense. Too much information can lead to a kind of paralysis and obscure our ability to find our way forward. The problem is that in our society, we are overly dependent on factual knowledge to the point that we don't consider the importance of developing the skills we need to navigate the uncertainty that is so inevitably a part of life. Ironically, those skills are something we're born with - we only need to listen to them.

Our instincts are our natural tools for understanding the world; they are how we are hard-wired for survival. Indeed, surviving is not contingent on technology; humans didn't survive for thousands of years because we knew calculus, had batteries, could drill for oil or perform an operation. We survived by listening to our instincts. If we get back in touch with our instincts and feelings, we will find we have much less to fear.

The enlightened state of perceptual knowledge that Buddhists describe as "knowing which is also a seeing" is achieved only by stripping down to our barest essence and getting rid of all the junk cluttering our mind and affecting our decisions. When we are able to do so, we can listen to our instincts, get out of our heads and begin to truly live. We are finally able to navigate life with a clear mind and the genuine value of all of our senses. This is what I believe "common sense" refers to.

The wisdom here is that we need information but we also need to remain attuned to our environment in every sense of the word to make the decisions necessary to be successful and live well. Within this construct is the knowing that helps us to see things for what they are, unencumbered by our preconceived ideas, thoughts and beliefs or those thrust upon on us by society. Indeed, a scientist can tell us all we want to know about the color, weight, size and life cycle of a mango. But without tasting it, do we really understand its nature?

MICHAEL FINKELSTEIN, M.D., is the former Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Chief of the Departments of Medicine and Integrative Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York. After 20 years in the allopathic medical community, he left these positions to pursue a more intuitive and holistic approach to his work, as the founder and director of SunRaven, a wellness center in Bedford, NY. He is also a nationally recognized radio show host, inspirational speaker and blogger whose concept of “Skillful Living” applies his holistic approach to overall health and well-being: the business of living must be developed, like a skill, with mindful, dedicated attention. Please visit www.SunRaven.org for more information or to sign up for Dr. Finkelstein’s bi-monthly “Moon News” newsletter.


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