Posts tagged michael finkelstein

Advice from The Skillful Doctor: Overcoming Courage and Fear


My teenage daughter’s best friend has a learning disability that she’s quite sensitive about. My daughter is incredibly supportive, not only of the hardships her friend faces as a result of it, but in respecting her wish to not discuss it with too many people. Recently, in an effort to defend her friend from a group of classmates who were being insensitive about something that took place in school, she divulged a bit too much information, and it gave the other children ammunition to tease her friend about her disability. Her friend doesn’t know it was my daughter who shared the facts, and my daughter doesn’t want to tell her, but I think she should. The situation was created by accident, and my daughter was only trying to help. The two of them couldn’t be closer, and although I know her friend will eventually understand, my daughter wants to act like it never happened and move on.

I too have a close childhood companion whose friendship I cherish beyond compare. We’ve had tremendous ups and downs, but still remain incredibly close. Our families spend the holidays together and we even started a successful business together. We’ve made plenty of mistakes and had plenty of disagreements along the way, and it was always in the reconciliations that our bond got stronger, in the end committed to truth. I want my daughter to understand this, and I want to help her display the courage that I know she has instead of hiding behind her fear.


Thanks for writing in with this question. It’s an important one, involving three good people in a sensitive predicament.

It’s apparent to me that you certainly have your daughter’s well-being at heart. Our relationships provide an immensely important foreground for our overall health, and hers with her friend, if nurtured correctly, could be a channel for a lifetime of growth, joy and immeasurable support, as you yourself have experienced.

But even with your recognition of the factors and emotions that exist in this scenario, I still detect one very prominent variable here which, while you are acknowledging quite correctly, you might be underestimating–the issue of fear.

You say you want to help your daughter display the courage you know she has, but I’m going to ask you to entertain the notion that she isn’t quite there yet. Clearly, this friendship is incredibly meaningful to her, and the thought of it changing–or worse, going away–might be more debilitating than you may assume. Unlike you, she may not have the vision of the future and the ripple effects of concealing the truth. Her fear is what she knows best, and appropriately, she is sparing herself pain, at least for the moment.

Now, let’s look further into your question and the interesting pairing of courage and fear in your final sentence. Indeed, courage and fearlessness are two different things. In fact, without fear, courage does not exist. Fearlessness is a young child walking haphazardly into the middle of the street without looking. Having not been warned of or exposed to the consequences of such an action, there is no fear weighing on his decision. However, if a car is in fact coming, and that child’s older sibling, parent or even a stranger, boldly runs to the middle of the road to protect him from a potentially tragic fate, that’s courage. The difference is that they know better. The adult or older child understands the risks associated with selflessly stepping into harm’s way to keep someone else out of it, but they proceed anyway. In this case, it seems that your daughter’s fear, from her point of view, is justified given her limited range of experience. Here, she’s old enough that she is not “fearless”, but she is not quite ready to run in front of the car either. While it is right for you to point out that it would be a big step for her to proceed to come clean, this part of her development is not yet her paradigm as it is yours.

So, let’s talk about you for a moment. You said you’re a business owner. Surely, in your pursuit of a successful living, you risked being relegated to an unsuccessful one. Have you never been uncertain about how a big decision would affect your revenues or your marketing, or even your relationship with your own partner and friend? I’m willing to bet that you have been, but that you took your chances, and when all was said and done, reaped the appropriate rewards. Your daughter’s current circumstance is no different now. It sounds like a lesson in risk and reward, and you sound well-suited to teach it. But, experience is the best teacher. While you can talk to your daughter about using this particular opportunity, this is something she’ll have to determine on her own. In the interim, while it might hurt to watch, her choice now will put her in the best position in the future to make a better decision the next time.

Indeed, it is often hard for a parent to watch their children make these mistakes. Assuming they are minor, i.e. not life threatening, even broken or lost relationships are the lightning strikes that prune the tree to flourish in the future.

Again, speak to your daughter in this tone. Help her weigh the risk and benefit of the current situation, perhaps she will get it this time. Whatever she decides, perhaps the best role for you as her mother is to help her realize that while it’s nice to live in a state of naiveté and to avoid the confrontation with what scares us, it’s much more skillful to proceed despite it. This is the toughest part of growing up.

So, rather than focusing on helping your daughter display the courage, I suggest you arm her for a lifetime of beneficial decision-making skills by focusing instead on helping her to recognize and confront fear and to develop the ability to stay in her truth.


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The New Moon in January

Looking at the cultural names for the new moon in January, it is hard not to notice a common theme of dormancy or stillness in terms such as “Cold Moon,” “Quiet Moon” and “Winter Moon.”  In adherence with the neo pagan tradition that refers to the new moon in January as “Ice Moon,” it is interesting to think about this feeling of inactivity or suspension as it relates to the properties of water when it becomes ice.  In essence, when water freezes to its solid state, it takes on a different form and function.  Its molecules slow down as a result of the loss of heat-energy.  In this state, one of the most striking features we associate with water, its ability to flow, is limited.  Indeed, water, when it becomes ice, looks, feels and functions entirely different than it does in its pre-frozen condition. But, to the point, it is still water; once the weather warms again, it will return to its liquid, flowing state.

For good reasons, human beings can only tolerate so much of the cold. Of course, we need to stay warm to survive. However, most people I know complain bitterly about it. Still, I think we  can learn a lot from our observation of water and more graciously accept how the cold affects our flow without resisting so much. Again, I think this reflects a general tendency to seek the light and resist the dark; despite the fact that both are required in equal measure for our survival.   Perhaps there is wisdom in honoring the season by slowing down, moving less and conserving energy?

Interestingly, just as there was a lunar eclipse on last month’s full moon, on this new moon day a solar eclipse is expected to occur.  As we think about the qualities of ice, this cosmic event brings the fire element into our minds as well.  While people often try to view life through a black-or-white lens- we are either hot or cold, healthy or sick, happy or sad – this juxtaposition of such seemingly opposite elements as fire and ice reminds us that this either-or mentality does not fit with the laws of nature. Understanding and accepting this balance is essential to Skillful Living. And just like water when it becomes ice, humans don’t become less human when they respond to nature’s forces and slow down at times. Quite the opposite–when we follow this rhythm, we actually put ourselves in the best position to experience the full spectrum of life. Indeed, our health, i.e. our “wholeness,” is dependent on it.

So, as the New Year begins, let me toast to your health,


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The Wisdom of Ice

During this season, when it is very cold outside, nature gives us the opportunity to allow aspects of ourselves to become inert.  In certain ways, it is useful to let our flow become suspended like that of the frozen stream.  By modeling the behavior of water that has turned into solid, still ice, we too can slow down, and in so doing, conserve our energy.

As humans, we strive against this seasonal conservation of energy.  We use outside energy sources such as lighting and heat that give us the ability to stay at a high activity level year-round.  Even during the shortened winter days, we are able to continue working late into the night because of the electricity that lights our offices and homes.  As the temperatures outside drop, we’re still able to travel and stay active because of cars, planes and other technologies.  These modern conveniences improve our lives in many ways, but in a sense, they are not natural and help us to fall increasingly out of touch with nature’s rhythms.

While I’m not suggesting that anyone do away with modern technology and shelter in the middle of winter, we should let ourselves accept and be affected by the cold in other ways.  This is the time to stay inside where it’s warm, suspend activity and conserve our energy.  It is not practical or healthy to become completely dormant, but how can we bring a sense of hibernation into the winter months?  Doing so is not only restorative, it’s an appropriate way to connect with the rhythms of nature.  Think ahead to how active nature becomes in the spring and how much energy we will need during those months.  By doing less now and not expending energy unnecessarily, we are able to conserve our energy for the next season when we will really need it.

Indeed, think about the global consequences if more of us followed this rhythm: by staying inside, going to bed earlier, using our cars less and “plugging into” technology for fewer hours out of the day during the winter months, not only would we conserve our own energy, we would contribute significantly to the conservation of the similarly limited energy resources of our planet!

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Winter Advice from the Skillful Doctor

Question: Winter is a tough time for me. It seems like whenever anyone around me is sick, I get it. What can I do?


Answer: Obviously there are some common practical medical recommendations to follow, such as washing your hands and avoiding those who are sick if you can. However, I would offer another thought that might be especially important to you and partially explain why you are particularly susceptible. It starts with a question:  How are you spending your energy during this season? In other words, do you have enough left for your immune system?


When you’re exposed to colds and flus, your immune system requires a certain amount of energy to fight off the illness.  If you don’t let yourself slow down and properly rest during these winter months, you could be depleting your necessary reserve of that energy and therefore weakening your resistance to illness.  The fact is, that there is less energy to go around during the colder winter months and some people hover closer to their threshold than others. Thus, it might be necessary for you to consider how you spend your energy and conserve more of it, in addition to following the other practical measures you know about.

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The Long Night Moon

In Neo Pagan tradition, the new moon in December is the “Long Night Moon,” an appropriate name as the days get shorter and it becomes darker earlier in the afternoon.  It also signals the time to consider the value of darkness and its place in nature. Though many of us complain about the shorter days upon us, the onset of winter offers us an opportunity to rest, something we must do if we are to be as healthy as we want.

It makes sense that at this time of year, we take time to settle in for the night, enjoying the peace and quiet, seeking stillness amidst the chaos around us. Clearly, with so few hours of daylight, it doesn’t make sense to plan outdoor activities and start new projects.  Therefore, it is wisest and  completely natural to “come inside” and focus on resting.


Despite the fact that we live in a culture where we have to be constantly producing and moving forward or else people call us lazy, we must pay attention to this season and what it requires  During this “long night,” we should try to let go of the misconception that resting is a waste of time.  Rather, we should come inside, settle in and be still, understanding and having the faith that our growth requires it.

Mitakuye oyasin,


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The November Moon

In Dakota Sioux tradition, the new moon in November is named “The Moon When Horns Fall Off.”  While this phrase may seem strange to our culture at first glance, it makes some very interesting points about nature’s cycles and this time of the year.

One of the most regal images in the animal kingdom is that of a deer adorned proudly with the powerful branches of antlers crowning his head.  However, nature has cycles and even the majesty of the buck with his beautiful antlers falls under its reign. This time of year, after the fighting for mates has finished, deer’s antlers fall off.  A buck grows the big, strong antlers to fight with other bucks for the right to reproduce, but once that season has passed, the antlers drop and all the buck retreats from the battle and blends back in with the herd.

This de-crowning is not a death or an illness, it is a part of nature’s cycle that is just as important and powerful as any other.  Indeed, it is a rebirth of sorts; before the deer can grow new horns, he must lose the old ones.

This process reminds us that everything has its own time.  Often we see something as ending when it’s actually a beginning. Many people see winter as a time of darkness and death-like dormancy.  However, winter can be viewed as the season of early rebirth.  And some people may see a buck losing his antlers as a surrender of sorts, when it’s truly an act of transcendence.

Mitakuye oyasin,


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Skillful Surrender

With the aggression of election week wrapping up and the holiday season just beginning, you might do well to reflect for a moment on the battles you have been fighting. Much like the bucks dropping their antlers, this is a good time to put down your own weapons.

When you are caught up in an argument, you can either put tons of energy into battling it out, or you can transcend it by simply letting it drop.  Taking the latter course is not giving in, it’s about letting go. Habitually, we protect our fragile egos by pointing a finger at others. Instead, we should look at ourselves when we have a challenging relationship. Why does it take so little to push our buttons? As we search for the answer to this question, we will discover additional opportunities for maturation and growth.


deerAfter all, our relationships, like all of our life experiences, reflect our inner world. Most importantly, our outlook and interpretation of the actions of others depends on our relationship with our self. It is not unreasonable to say that enjoying a full meaningful relationship with another being hinges on our ability to come to terms with the relationship we are having with ourselves. It follows that you cannot have sound, healthy relationships if you are not in good shape.

This is the time when the bucks stop fighting over does and the herd reunites as a unified tribe; all of the deer are one family again.  As the holidays approach, what plans will you make to unite in peace with your family, friends and community?

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