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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The Key to Dissolving Pain

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 12th 2010

In their book Dissolving Pain, Les Fehmi, PhD and Jim Robbins tell remind of us a joke that reminds us that we are often unaware of our own unawareness in life and how we can use awareness to dissolve pain. 

“Two young fist swim by an older fish, and the old guy says to the youngsters, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ ‘Fine,’ they answer. After they pass the old fish, one young fish turns to the other and says, ‘What the heck is water?’”

They make the argument that just like the fish not being aware of the water they are swimming in, we are also not aware of the way we use our attention moment-to-moment. There might be a moment where we experience pain and that’s all we can focus on, exacerbating it with a barrage of negative judgments.

Or maybe there’s a moment of pain where we intentionally choose to focus on it, but this time, letting the judgments be and tuning into the direct sensations of the feeling, thus stopping the negative cycle between thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

You can drop a tablespoon of salt in a small glass of water and it will taste pretty salty, but if you drop it in a lake you likely won’t notice it much. The way we use our attention can have a similar effect when it comes to pain.

In other words, if we recognize that our awareness is much larger than the area of the body it is focused on, we can pull the lens back and begin to notice the spaces between the pain and the rest of what is there. This creates the same salt to water effect.

 Now, if you are someone who is suffering with chronic pain you might notice thoughts such as, “Yeah right, he has experienced my pain,” or “I’ve tried everything under the sun, why would this be different.”

Keep in mind a couple things here. There is a strong correlation between chronic pain and automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) and this creates that effect of keeping us boxed in or not knowing the water we’re swimming in. One reason for this is so we don’t become disappointed yet again. Also, this blog is meant to offer ideas to chew on that if it peaks interest can be explored further. 

With that said know that this is easier said than done and takes an intentional practice. One doorway in is through readings like this or picking up a book, but the best and most effective entry is to find a community of people who are doing the same thing because this provides the support during difficult moments to stay the course rather than fall victim to the ANTS.

Right now in this moment we are all taking part of a community. So allow this to be a space to share your experience with pain and what has and hasn’t helped you. What have been the obstacles and what have been your points of refuge.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Sometimes we can be mired so deeply in our own painful beliefs it’s as if we’re boxed in and have no idea that there’s a world of possibility out there just waiting to be discovered.



Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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