We know we’re made of water. The bodily proportion of H2O is 50% in females and 60% in males. My new project, MindfulBiology.org, aims to help us understand what it means to be a human organism, and to take that understanding inward by way of felt experience. By appreciating our biological nature, we can begin to feel more grounded and less alone, a key task in recovering after childhood adversity. It helps to remember that we are rooted in life itself, and that we share this experience with all that lives. As an early step in this exploration, it’s natural to investigate our relationship with water, the fluid that makes living possible.
Water flows through us. In channels large and small it flows. As liquid courses through our bodies its chemistry is monitored and corrected as needed, and this adjustment of the inner fluid is vital to life.
Like so much of what our bodies do for us, we seldom think about fluid balance and what it entails. Sure, we get thirsty and seek out water (often, these days, with sugars and other stuff dissolved in it). We pee every few hours while awake, but unless we’re out of reach of a restroom for too long, releasing waste water seems to happen with little notice. If we exercise, we might soak our clothing with perspiration, but we don’t connect the dots.
What dots might we connect? How about linking our perspiration at the gym with the beverage we drank earlier. Or that glass of tea with rain or snow that fell months ago and found its way into a reservoir or water table, and then was pumped through distribution lines to our tap. Or sun beating down on the ocean and forests, coaxing moisture upward, in due time leading to clouds and then precipitation. Or, most profoundly, the fact that at this moment half or more of our form is made of what was recently sea and sap, snow and rain.
Nor do we connect the dots going the other way, as liquid trickles from our bladders and flows to a treatment plant or septic system and thence to ocean or water table, completing the circuit.
Giant cycles of water move across the planet while our bodies diverge their little streams: they take in H2O as food and drink, use it for a time, and then release it. Rivulets of blood circulate in the body, mixing with lakes of fluid in the tissues. Composition is critical. Too dehydrated and we feel intense thirst, too little salt and we end up woozy and cramped. If deviations worsen, life itself is threatened. Luckily, bodies with access to water and electrolytes rapidly optimize their inner chemistry, so we seldom worry about it.
The kidneys, of course, play the biggest part in maintaining good blood chemistry, though they operate under guidance from brain, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems, while the digestive tract plays a supportive role. Nearly a quarter of the cardiac output flows to these small paired organs (each about the size of your fist), which are tucked safely near the bottom of the ribcage on either side of the spine. Through intricately coiled tubing, fluid filtered from blood travels into the depths of the kidneys and then back out again–the cycling of water continues.
As the proto-urine moves through the kidneys, waste salts are added and vital salts removed. There are systems that excrete impurities such as medications, which body sees these as foreign, regardless of whether we (or our doctors) believe them necessary. Obviously, the conscious mind doesn’t influence the kidneys much; they do their job beneath awareness and outside control. And, truth be told, we wouldn’t want to be bothered. We’re perfectly happy to let them percolate silently, without troubling us or expecting our involvement.
I invite you to take a moment, here and now, to appreciate your own inner flow of liquid. Think of some water you drank recently. See if you can trace that water back to its source. Did it come from a tap? Is the tap connected to a private well or a public utility? If the latter, does your water come from a nearby watershed or from snowmelt in distant mountains? Imagine the rain or snow that fed your water supply. Be mindful of the journey water followed before joining your body.
Think too of the liquid that has departed you today as urine or solid waste, or through perspiration. Some also evaporates into the atmosphere with every breath. Be mindful of how water leaves your body, and how it finds its way back.
Water is ever flowing. In our bodies it arrives, circulates, and leaves. We are like lakes filled by one route and emptied by others, bodies of water that remain full despite all this coming and going.
As you sit comfortably, perhaps with eyes closed, remember that your inner river flows every moment. It works its way through your intestines as food is digested and water extracted; it races through your blood stream, never stopping; it accumulates in tissues, bathing your cells, and then flows on. Finally, it collects in your bladder (and to a lesser extent in the colon), before it is expelled.
Perhaps you can feel your pulse, gently, in your fingertips, or hear a subtle whoosh of blood flow in your ears. Imagine the vital fluids circulating to every part of you. And imagine also your steadfast kidneys, keeping the chemistry just right. Thank them, if it feels appropriate, for sustaining this marvelous experience of living.