Does the “Stressed” Fish Know It Is In Water? Really?

 “Of what significance is one’s existence, one is basically unaware. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?”  Albert Einstein

Fish swim all day in water, with the current, against the current, in cold water and warm, shallow and deep.  The water in all its complexities and variances is all around the fish.  Sometimes the water is calm, sometimes the water unleashes a torrential tempest with an unforgiving rage.  But the fish, very likely, still does not know it is in water.  The fish may not even know it is a fish.  But maybe the fish, when still and calm, can learn and understand that it is in the water, and even who it is.  Maybe…

Countless times and with earnest faces and piqued curiosity, my patients look at me after my inquiry into their stressful lives, and say, “Well, maybe the way I am feeling is related to my stress.”  Even after a long discussion about their stress, listing trauma after trauma, internal dilemmas, financial collapse, amazingly long work hours, loss, death, divorce…they still will wonder, with honest curiosity, if this is related to the physical and even mental/emotional symptoms that we are discussing.  We have a natural tendency to separate, compartmentalize.  In fact, they often will attempt to persuade me that it is not related at all, and the stress they are experiencing is just “the way it has always been.”  They will implore me to dig into the direct physical causes of their fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, dizziness, anxiety, depression, bowel distress, and lowered libido.  And with an honest unknowing denial, do their best to minimize the opinion that maybe their stress is affecting them physically.

We have all been the fish swimming in the torrents of the waters.  What happens is that we forget we are fish, we forget ourselves.  We particularly forget that we are even in the water.  Perhaps we have never known.  Perhaps we have known about the waters…deep inside us we knew…but we chose to forget, chose to forget ourselves and that we were fish.  And perhaps we forgot all about our connection to the water that was all around us.  Then one day we wake up and find that our life is difficult and we have no understanding why.

Stress comes in many forms, as variant as the waters, and we all interpret this stress differently.  But what is certain, what is unequivocally known, is that stress affects us physically.  I have seen physical symptoms improve in my patients when their stress minimized.  Sometimes it would not be the stress that was leaving but that their perspective about it changed, and the physical symptoms abated.  You need to understand that you can most often just swim to another area where the waters are calm.  Most stress is either not stress at all or it is something that is avoidable.  Remember that.  Most stress is something that we have chosen and we have the ability to avoid completely.  Consider this right now about your stress.  Be completely honest to yourself…  However, as we all know and have experienced, some stress is not avoidable.  And if you must stay and weather the storm, then your awareness allows you to understand and accept the situation and that you may have some physical difficulties along the way as a result.

Our first step towards achieving meaningful change, whether physical or metaphysical, is to be aware.  To be aware means to look into yourself and perceive, face the mirror directly on yourself and realize you are a fish and that you swim in the water.  This means exploring yourself and exploring your personal universe and how the two connect together for you.  We often forget that it is our job to do this.  This is how we gain perspective on how we feel, how our bodies operate or not, how our experiences have relevance and purpose.  This requires intention, decision, and effort.  The rewards are understanding, relief, and peace.

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” John Buchan

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