“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.


Class One: Survival

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau

We all want to lead lives of purpose and fulfillment. Yet, most people’s lives more closely resemble what Thoreau described. I have noticed that “quiet desperation” lurking inside me at many points in my existence. I’d venture to say you’ve felt it yourself.

So the question we must each ask ourselves is this: What am I desperate for?

It might be quality relationships, job satisfaction, or a cure for a chronic illness. Or it could be as simple as a hearty laugh. We can’t know what it is until we take a long, close look inside ourselves. What we’re looking for is the empty space.

There’s a space like that inside all of us. But the thing which fills it will be different for everyone, and it can be hard to identify. It can also come as a surprise. Sometimes what we need is the exact opposite of what we’ve been seeking.

So how do we identify our needs, and beyond that, our true desires? The articles to follow are a sort of checklist of human pursuits, to be used in taking stock of what we already have and what we need more of. We’ll start with the basic resources required for survival.

Most of my readers already have access to all these things, likely in abundance. But, like me, most of you probably forget that you have them. That happens when we don’t take time to notice and appreciate what we have. And when we feel that our basic needs are somehow lacking, what happens?

We panic. We get desperate. And desperation leads to poor decisions, ones that don’t bring true fulfillment.

By living mindfully, we can stop that desperate, directionless running. Instead, we can take deliberate steps toward what we truly want. And we can savor the beauty of the path we’ve chosen, smelling the flowers that grow along its edge.

Are you ready to breathe it all in? Come on a stroll with me, and I’ll show you how.