Okay, you’re going to need to stick with me on this one. It’s been one of those ideas that has rattled around in the back of my brain for as long as I can remember, and over the years I keep coming back to it and trying to explain it to people a bit and then getting a bit self-conscious about it and letting it tail off.
Thankfully, in the last couple of years I’ve found a couple of willing (by which I mean captive) listeners who have kind of got into it… or at least pretended to because a) I’m driving and they’re in the passenger seat and can’t escape, and b) they know that by humouring me they may get to stay up a bit later than usual. [Clever boys!] Of course I’m very aware that you’re not one of my children, so if at any point you want to hit the figurative ‘eject button’ then feel free. But I do think there’s something in all this, somewhere.
With all that said, I’ll give you the overall theme and see how we go from there. It is, quite simply:
Still with me? Great. You’re already doing better than some people.
On a macro level, we really have no concept of water – or only a very, very basic understanding which really isn’t all that connected to anything we actually get.
For a moment let’s set aside the metric vs imperial measurements – whether we’re talking about a teaspoon or a half a pint or half a litre is less relevant than an idea. And because I was born in the 70s in the UK, I dance happily between the two without really noticing, like a bumblebee flitting from lily flower to lilac flower without ever really getting the difference. Or something like that.
So here’s the thing. I know what a pint* of water looks like, and I know what it feels like to drink one. It’s not an unusual thing. Yet what never fails to be shocking is just how very wet you can be when what looks like a relatively small amount of water is knocked into your lap by one of the aforementioned passengers. You’re totally soaked. Like, ‘ruined meal’ soaked. Trust me on that. If I had a pound etc etc…
So let’s take it up a notch from there. How many pints in a sink full of water? Depends on the sink, obviously, but you could probably have a guess, right? Maybe 20, or 30? But it’s already pretty vague. Now imagine a nice, steaming hot bath. How many in that? 100? 150? One hundred and fifty times the thing that gets you totally soaked and ruins the meal? Maybe double that??
Get to a garden pond, let alone a swimming pool, and unless you happen to know then you’re just guessing. How many pints in an Olympic swimming pool? A million? A billion??*
The point where this always gets me is when I go to the seaside. I’m lucky enough to live only 40 minutes’ drive or so from the beach, and we’re often drawn there of a weekend. And looking out at that huge expanse, as far as the eye can see, creating the very horizon, I can’t help thinking the following:
It doesn’t just go unimaginably far… it also goes down.
As far as the eye can see. And down further than the highest mountain. And I can’t work out how much there is in a pond. It’s a level of incomprehensibility that frankly I find hard to comprehend.
We have a strong connection with water which we also don’t really understand. Countless studies have shown that being close to water increases the levels of hormones that make us feel motivated (dopamine) or calm and safe (oxytocin) whilst reducing our stress hormone (cortisol) [If you’re interested in this bit then check out the book Blue Mind available here and at all non-globally monopolistic bookshops.]
Who knew that “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside” was actually a tune about hormonal balance and psychological welfare?
We humans are about 60% water. Our brains are more like 80%. Perhaps there’s something in that? That we feel connected to water because… well… we actually are connected. At a molecular level?
[Right, this is where I’m going to go for it. Strap in compadre]
From the macro of the depth of the sea, the micro of our molecular structure then drags me inexorably into my own mind.
Our planet, the place we call Earth, is effectively a closed system. Stuff just moves around within it. So every molecule of water that has ever existed, and will ever exist, is on Earth right now as you read this.
Some of it is in you. Some of it is in me. Some of it is in the tree just outside. A decent chunk of it is in the seas and oceans of course. If you look up, you can see some of it in the sky, tiny drops condensed into clouds, which will continue to grow until they can’t float any more and fall out of the sky as rain.
You know when you go outside in the winter and you can see your breath? What you’re seeing there is water. The water coming out of your body as a vapour which cools and forms little droplets of water. You are making a personal cloud of your very own.
So come with me on this little journey…
Imagine you go outside on a crisp winter’s morning, and your breath pours out as this little cloud. As you watch it drifts up and dissipates and you think no more of it. In time one of those little water molecules in the air drifts up and become part of a bigger cloud, high up in the sky, buffeted by the wind. This molecule travels in the wind for hundreds of miles, over land and sea and eventually over to Spain, where it falls on a lemon grove. Taken up by the lemon tree, it travels through the roots and the trunk and the branch to end up in a lemon.
Don’t ask me how, but by incredible coincidence, 6 months down the line I’m sitting with my wife after a long day considering the universe, and we decide that we deserve a little gin with a little tonic. A couple of pieces of ice and we’re ready to chink glasses and go. But no! We are not heathens after all, and we know that a drop or two of lemon will turn good into great. So I reach for the lemon we bought at the weekend, cut out a couple of chunks and with a squeeze there we have it.
Yes, my wife and I are living the dream. But also yes – a molecule that was once part of you is now part of me.
We are connected in a way that neither of us can ever really comprehend, but trust me: this is as real as the hand at the end of your arm. It’s not an idea, or an ideal. This is science, and the great thing about science is that it’ll be as true in a thousand years as it is today.
If you’re still with me all this way down into my psyche [and bless you for your perseverance if you are] then you’ll be glad that we’ve arrived at the point.
On a molecular level we are, subjectively and scientifically speaking, all one.
You, me, them. Us. Every person on Earth, every animal, every plant and flower. The people you love and the people you don’t even like. The fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky. Insects in the garden and every blade of grass. Like it or not, you could have a bit of Piers Morgan in you right now and not know anything about it apart from a vague sense of nausea.
Once you get into that, suddenly the interconnectedness of all living things isn’t just some kind of spiritual, sitting on a mountain top, crystals and horoscopes level of bullshit: it’s biochemistry.
And once it’s true, and real, and scientifically accurate that we are all connected like this, then surely the idea of selfishness or conflict or division just disappears, just like your breath on that cold day?
I know, I know: I have just massively overcomplicated the concept of a body of water, and then followed that up by just massively oversimplifying the solution for world peace. Not bad for a couple of pages eh?
But there we have it. All the stuff that goes on in my brain to do with water. My brain which is, lest we forget, basically a load of water held together by the odd bit of something else.
Now we’ve come all this way together, through macro and micro, I think that rather than leave you hanging, I should probably leave you with a couple of suggestions…
First, get yourself down by some water in the next few days. Doesn’t need to be the coast – a lake or pond or even the “dirty old river” Thames will do. And stop for a moment, to consider how you feel when you’re doing it. Perhaps you might get a little boost of the ‘feel good’ hormones and a bit less of the stress one if you’re lucky.
And second… just take a moment to look around at the people and things around you – the water going into your morning cuppa; the tree you always go past on your commute; that bloke on the train – and consider how that maybe one day a little piece of that might be a little piece of you. It might just give you that little feeling of connectedness, or the idea of it, if only for a second.
And lastly, just forget about that thing I mentioned about Piers Morgan – I’m not sure any of us need to think too much about that.
[Incidentally, Buddhist teaching came up with the interconnectedness of all things thousands of years before anyone had heard of a molecule – if you want to learn more about that then I’ll share the book I read a while back which, alongside a modern understanding of psychology, discusses Why Buddhism Is True with a good dose of common sense and wit along the way]
*In doing the “research” [pushing it a bit there] for this, I found out that a pint is different in the US than in the UK***. For our purposes here, I am specifically thinking of an “imperial” pint of 568ml, not the freakish and frankly unnecessary US version which comes in at a paltry 473ml.
**In case you won’t be able to sleep for wondering, an Olympic swimming pool contains almost 4.5 million (UK) pints of water. 2.5 million litres to be precise.
***I also found out that the US have more than one kind of pint for liquids and dry stuff. From the website Britannica: “a U.S. dry pint is 33.6 cubic inches (550.6 cubic cm), while a U.S. liquid pint is 28.9 cubic inches (473.2 cubic cm)”. I know, right? No wonder they can’t make their mind up about gun laws.