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Life Lessons: The Importance of Mistakes

by Michael Finkelstein, MD

There are certain times throughout the year when we sense that we have a chance at a fresh start. Some people feel the opportunity to "begin again" comes with the New Year, a new season, holidays like the upcoming Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, or for many, their own birthday.

In our culture, the end of summer also brings us to the time we often refer to as "back to school," and while not all of us are returning to classrooms for a new school year, it is ingrained in each of us raised and educated in the Northern Hemisphere that this time to shift gears and recommit to our learning. After all, our education shouldn't stop with the end of our school years; we should never stop growing and learning from life.

In fact, it can be argued that the most critical learning is the kind we achieve outside of classrooms, through our life experiences. In Emmanuel's Book: A Guide for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos, it says, "The purpose of life is exploration. Adventure. Learning. Pleasure. And another step towards home."

What are we to make of our lives? What should we do during our brief time on this planet? We could live out our years in a trance, biding time and aiming nowhere. Or, we can identify with beauty and grace, enrich our lives with experiences, never stop growing and seeking to fulfill a higher purpose, and return home with the lessons we have learned along the way.

The lessons we learn by actively engaging with our experiences constitute an invaluable education that we should pursue throughout our lives. Just imagine a surgeon who has read a book about how to do an appendectomy, but has never actually touched an instrument. This is far from the ideal situation.

And the opposite is also true -- experience alone does not constitute learning. We need to meet out experiences with presence of mind and consciousness to fully integrate what we are exposed to into a true understanding; one marked by the ability to teach others what we have learned or to reach out and help others with our "knowledge" directly. It is only then, with this practical appreciation for life and the development of a skill to make a difference in the world, that we have truly learned.

But to be clear, this is not always an easy process, nor a straight road. Inevitably some of what we learn comes from things that do not work out. To that end, we should not fear making "mistakes," because those experiences can also lead to learning if one stays primarily focused on the lesson and not the outcome. This is not to say that mistakes should be intentionally sought. Rather, if one is committed to learning, than one can cultivate an attitude of better awareness and creatively use "mistakes" so that they transform into something positive.

When one grows from their mistakes they become a positive force for change and influence. Ultimately, this is about being conscious at every turn and maintaining deep awareness. In addition, it means maintaining faith that there are lessons from every situation that fulfill our lives and enrich our destiny. With this in mind, in the end, these mistakes really can be viewed in an entirely new context -- not a mistake at all. Indeed, this is about finding new eyes.

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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