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Excerpt from "77 Questions For Skillful Living: A New Path to Extraordinary Health"

The 77 Skillful Questions

by Michael Finkelstein, M.D.


My prescription, if you will, is called Skillful Living, a commonsense approach to the practical day-to-day way we conduct our lives. Living skillfully reflects a wiser orientation that will help propel your health forward. It will help you filter all the other advice you receive and test it for its compatibility with your goals, without compromising the integrity of your life along the way.

A foundation of my philosophy is that we should live our lives more skillfully. What does “skillful” mean in this context?

Sure, we all want our headaches and toe fungus to go away—but what if we could make more sense of our lives to boot? What if we could learn to overcome our most pernicious challenges in and out of the health arena? What if we could be healthier and happier at the same time? What if we finally realized how interconnected those two seemingly disparate states are? What if we could make our lives worth living, even when we must experience pain and loss and frustration? What if all our friends and the world were aligned in support of this ideal? It’s not just a dream. We can achieve this, if we ask the right questions, and follow through. The most important step in Skillful Living is that we learn to ask the best questions that we can of ourselves. Better questions make for better answers. And the first questions in the Skillful Living survey ask us to reflect on the question of health itself: What is health for us, and how can we find it? If health is defined by “benchmark” numbers – such as the ideal blood sugar and blood pressure – then, sure, we will pursue them. These are often valuable frames of reference, especially if we aim for optimal rather than acceptable numbers. Yet, we‘ll soon find out that sometimes, “normal” numbers often don’t make for normal, balanced or particularly “healthy” lives when we consider life’s entirety, inclusive of our true well-being, the feeling state that inhabits our mind all the time and determines the quality of our experience while alive. Again, your level of happiness, balance, peace, and control matter a lot more to your overall health than the difference between a 100/65 and a 130/90 blood pressure reading.

Asking the right questions, and taking an honest look at ourselves, is critical to revealing our current and true state of health in this expanded definition, and to determining the unique ideal we’ve set for ourselves. In developing the 77 Skillful Questions, I relied heavily on the Wellness Self Test, which was designed by my friend Dr. Robert Ivker and his colleagues at the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine for exactly the same purpose as mine. I adopted, adapted, expanded, and fine-tuned these questions, using a number of other influences, including extensive trial and error in my practice; surveying of patients and doctors; collaboration from wise friends and colleagues; and incorporating other traditions, such as Native American and Taoist. What I’ve come up with is the most extensive and comprehensive list out there.

Simply by asking yourself these questions, you can begin to become more in touch with your own innate intelligence and get reacquainted with your intuitive sense of what you really need. In so doing, you will restore your confidence in your ability to see things clearly, including the best path to actually getting the health you want.

However, to reiterate, the 77 Skillful Questions don’t call for us to reject science. They include conventional medicine, then transcend it—making the best use of the science, but placing it into a broader frame of reference. For example, what if I asked you, right now, the following questions:

· Are you aware of and able to safely express anger?

· Do you believe it is possible to change on a fundamental level?

· Are creative activities a part of your work or leisure time?

Would you believe that these things have anything to do with your current and future states of health? What if I told you they’re as important as your blood pressure or your weight—in fact, they’re so intimately tied up with your physical health that they cannot be extricated from it? I’m sure your doctor has never asked you these kinds of questions before. But I’m equally certain that if he or she did ask – and if you both considered your answers to these questions – he or she would be far better prepared to help you heal yourself of many of your physical problems. And I know that if your doctor helped guide you through a series of questions like these, that process alone would dramatically improve the quality of your health, even without any other treatment.

As we move through all the questions, keep in mind both your current health condition and your health goals and objectives. We’ll return to these as our work together progresses. You might find, as our exploration moves forward, that your questions and goals change. My role, as a skillful doctor, is not to simply give you “right” answers, but to help you ask the right questions and learn to find the answers for yourself.

Dr. Michael Finkelstein has gained acclaim for his pioneering approach to integrative medicine since beginning his private practice more than twenty years ago. He is board certified in both internal medicine and integrative-holistic medicine, a fellow of the American College of Physicians, and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and of the Associate Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. In partnership with Business TalkRadio Network and Lifestyle TalkRadio Network, Dr. Finkelstein launched The Skillful Living Room, a nationally syndicated healthy-living discussion. He has also been featured in national media, including the New York Times, CNN, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and ABC News. He lectures widely, holding regular seminars throughout the New York tri-state area on the full spectrum of health issues and concerns. He lives and works in Bedford, New York, at SunRaven, a center for holistic and skillful living, with his partner, Robin Queen, on their bucolic farm.

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