I’m about to turn twenty-four. Which is just something that happens, I suppose.
In my twenty-four years of living, I’ve thought about a lot of things and done a number of things and come to a very, very few conclusions.
One thing that has always been important to me, though, is water. Not only from a survival, but on a spiritual and psychological level as well. Whether it was the shores of Lake Maxincuckee, the majestic Mississippi, or now the roaring Pacific Ocean, I have always found myself drawn to the constant change of water.
In thinking about water, as a scientist and a human, I’ve distilled (ha) a few key life-lessons from that most miraculous of molecules. Read and enjoy.
1.) Love yourself.
Water is hydrophilic, because of the nature of its polarity, water molecules are attracted to one another. This makes the capillary effect possible and allows trees to grow to such great heights. Way to go water! It is also an important lesson for us as people.
If there is anything that we as a species need more of (and there isn’t much I can tell you) it is love. And I believe that love, like, peace or forgiveness, must in fact start within.
Love, by my definition, is caring deeply about the well-being and growth of someone, and it must start with the self.
As someone who struggles with depression, chronic self-doubt, and occasional self-harm, this is not a lesson easily learned. But self-love makes survival and meaning possible.
Self-love begins with self-understanding and self-understanding begins with self-reflection. I am one who spends a lot of time thinking about why I do what I do, so this hasn’t been much of a problem for me. But for many, especially people who have experienced trauma in their lives, self-reflection is not an easy or enjoyable experience. But I believe it to be a necessary one.
Water, in a sense, understands itself. It orients in such a way that the slightly negative end, the oxygen atom, is in line with the slightly positive end, the hydrogen atoms. In just such a way we must orient ourselves in a way that makes sense: extending our sense of compassion, pursuing what brings us joy, and valuing what is best in ourselves. We may bring this proverbial hydrogen atoms to view with understanding what we see as negative in ourselves: our frustrations, our regrets, our mistakes and cruelties. But always seeing that all our aspects of ourselves are necessary.
We may alleviate guilt at past mistakes, forgive those who have traumatized us, and release fears and anxieties by viewing these aspects as part of our beautiful and necessary polarity. We do not need to remain trapped by our negative traits or emotions, but neither can we always be the positive glowing stars if we are to exist as full humans. Through self-understanding we may achieve self-love and orient ourselves in a way that may allow for sustained and incredible growth, reaching the height of redwoods.
Be like water, begin the process of self-love.
2.) Sustain life.
With this incredible beginning of humanophilia, we may continue our emulation of water by committing to sustaining of life.
It is not an exaggeration to say that water made life on Earth possible. It was in the primordial oceans that the first nucleic acids began to form our fundamental blueprints. From the water the first plants begin their stretch to land. And water continues to be the key ingredient to continuing life.
I’m not saying you have to start creating new life forms all on your, I’m saying we should aspire to such levels of support and catalysis. It is my hope, if I have any life dreams, that I will be remembered as a kind human. I have failed in this in many regards, at times needing to cut people out of my life, at other times finding myself rejected for decisions I make.
But I still endeavor to be a fertile soil for people to express their concerns, to air their emotions, and to discuss their dreams. I hope to be a supportive lattice, a network of fluid affirmation to nourish the yearning desert of so many human hearts.
Yet as I seek to be a part of the gentle spring rain, I also hope to partake in the roaring flood that rewrites the landscape. Social justice is to me not only a matter of politics, but a matter of personal integrity. If I love myself, I am able to see myself in the faces and struggles of the people around me. And when I see suffering caused by systematic injustice, I know that it is not without me, but also within me. It is necessary to sustain life, to fight for justice for all people. I cannot fully love myself, I cannot pursue what brings me joy if I am not fighting for the full humanity of all my siblings.
Water flows to shape the face of the Earth, and I, though a single molecule, have a role in this universal etching.
Be like water, sustain life.
And so we return to perhaps our first scientific introduction to water: the water cycle.
As a child growing up in a Westernized civilization, so much of what I was taught was linear. My plan for my life for example was single-mindedly direct: get good grades in school, go to college, write. There was no going backwards, no looking around, no moving in alternate directions.
But water does not move in straight lines. Water trickles, drops, dives, leaps, falls, and rises. Water moves through stages, now gas, now liquid, now solid, shifting and transforming into a vast array. Even still water is in the process of cycling, evaporating to rejoin its dancing sisters in the sky.
So, too, must I constantly be in a state of changing uniformity, forever myself and forever statically moving. Through research, meditation, conversation, and deep reflection, I am slowly beginning to realize that life will not be a straight line, nor should it be. I learn things and forget them, meet people and lose them, move across the country and stay in the same place. It, like time, is a cycle and flat. It reminds me to live in the present moment, the only moment that truly exists.
Be like water, cycle.
Water has always been sacred to me, life, power, beauty, understanding inside the drops of rain, transformed to trees, grass, and flowers, or beating through the veins of every human I’ve ever known. I will continue my thinking about water, and hope that its lessons will continue to lead me along.