“He washed each tiny blade of grass / And every trembling tree; He flung his showers against the hill, And swept the billowing sea.” – William L. Stidger

As the above-quoted poem describes, the work of water is to cleanse the earth–and the people living on it. Next to breathing, our body’s most constant need is to stay hydrated. And both are needed for similar reasons.

Why water?

Drinking water and breathing both supply us with essential elements, such as oxygen. But they also rid our bodies of wastes. Suppose you stopped taking out the trash, and let it pile up inside your home. How long would it take for you to notice the effects–the foul smell, the cockroach infestation–or to feel physically ill from exposure to all that bacteria? Likewise, when we aren’t drinking enough water to flush the waste products out of our bodies, they build up and eventually become harmful.

Water also serves as a medium for transportation. Imagine, for example, that you’re going river tubing. You’ve packed a lunch, inflated the tube, and hopped inside, but there’s one problem–the area’s in a drought. Instead of floating atop several feet of water, your tube is sitting in a foot of mud. And it likely will be for a while.

Similarly, you’re constantly equipping your body for action. When you inhale, you fill your lungs up with oxygen. When you eat a nutritious meal, you pack your stomach with healthy proteins, carbs, fats, and vitamins. But how does the oxygen get to your brain, or the nutrients to your bones and muscles? They’re carried through your bloodstream. And like a river, it transports things much more efficiently when it has enough water flowing through it.

For those who do mentally demanding work, hydration is vital for another, more recognizable reason. Water conducts electricity, and our brains are chiefly electric devices. Think of the USB cable you plug into your phone. Would it still work if the wires snapped? Could you use it to charge your battery, or transfer pictures onto your computer?

Dehydration, in effect, cuts the wires between your neurons. Without sufficient water, nerve impulses are “transferred” less efficiently, resulting in slower processing of information. (That’s bad news for us interpreters, who have to process in two languages simultaneously.) So if you ever feel brain-dead, bringing yourself back to life may be easier than you think. Wash away the fog with a tall glass of water!

Willful watering

It’s clear that water is essential in a big way. So in theory, we should be making it a big part of our lives, and noticing immediately when we’ve failed to do so. But in all the shine of our modern lifestyles, we often lose sight of the things that give us life. So how can we become more aware of staying properly hydrated?

Personally, I sense the effects of a drink of water within minutes. Reminding myself to drink enough of it, therefore, is just a matter of remembering how good it feels when I do. That requires mindfulness. No matter how thirsty I am, I try to sip slowly, noticing the sensation of thirst dissipating. Then I take note of how the rest of me feels. Stiff muscles tend to loosen up a bit; brain fog evaporates (at least partially). If I’m feeling heavy or bloated after a meal, water will generally solve that, as it gets the digestive processes moving. By paying attention to all these positive effects, I’ve learned to recognize the opposite: the negative sensations of being poorly hydrated.

If you’re not used to watching out for these things, it might be hard to tell whether you’re getting enough water. More obvious indicators, such as urine color, can help you gauge your hydration level. But in the spirit of opening our eyes and seeing life in 2020, I think most of us could benefit from simply tuning into the signals our bodies send at any given second. They do tell us what they need; we just have to listen.

When we start to feel deprived and desperate, it may be that all we’re lacking is a slow, deep breath, or a glass of cool, clean water. Or we might try both of those, and still crave something more. In that case, it’s time to move down our checklist, using the process of elimination to find out what it is we truly need.

We’ll move one step closer to seeing ourselves in 2020.