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Without water, life on this 'blue' planet of ours is impossible. Being a vital substance, water participates in virtually every process that occurs in plants and animals. It is literally the stuff of life that is above, below, and all around us all the time. Up to 83% of a person's body weight consists of it (up to 90% in a child). Even our brains are 80% water, making them more liquid than blood. On average, we each contain about 38 litres of the stuff, needing to replace 2 litres every day. Go without it for more than 70 hours and death is imminent.
A Sustainable Substance
The upholder of the cycles sustaining all life is water1. Life on Earth, whose surface is covered by almost three-quarters water, is only sustainable because of water's ability to flow. It expands, becoming more dense then gradually less dense, as it cools below 4°C. At freezing point (0°C) its volume increases by 10%, another unusual property. However, ice would sink if this did not occur2. Approximately three-quarters of the oceans are colder than 10°C and, since water expands when it freezes, circulation is maintained by ice rising to melt at the warmer surface. Winds and tides then move the heat stored in the world's oceans, circulating warmer waters from the equator to the poles and cold water back again.
The Memory of Water
Water is a simple chemical compound comprising two basic elements -hydrogen and oxygen. However, the physical and chemical properties of the compound, H2O, are extraordinarily complicated. The bonds between H and O atoms, though associating strongly, are easily broken down. This said, its bonding is a matter of lacing so intricate that human artistry is put to shame. It is almost a continuous structure; so much so that a glass of water has been described as 'a single molecule'. The structure of liquid water is believed to consist of aggregates of water molecules that form and re-form continually. This accounts for other unusual properties of water, such as high viscosity and surface tension.
The association of water molecules in an ice crystal is a highly ordered but loose structure. The precise crystalline pattern of ice seems to persist into a liquid state and, though looking clear, water contains short-lived regions of ice crystals that form and melt many millions of times per second. This tight ordering of molecules in the solid state persisting in the liquid state, called liquid crystalline behaviour, also exists in other chemicals. It is as if water remembers the form of ice from which it came by continuously repeating the formula to itself, ready to change back at a moment's notice. Lyall Watson3 suggests in his fascinating book on natural phenomena, Supernature, that it is even likely that ice-like areas are present in hot water.
In 1988, Jacques Benveniste, a highly respected immunologist and medical researcher in Paris, claimed to have stumbled upon a remarkable system of cell communication which contradicted many of the laws of biochemistry. He was engaged in experiments aimed at creating effective homeopathic cures and discovered that water had the ability to naturally re-configure (and remember?) the chemical constitution of the original trace substances after being diluted many thousands of times. His 'Memory of Water' theory was seen by the establishment as an 'experimental error'. Colleagues disowned him and he was even accused of being a heretic and disgracing his country.
Water - the Mercurial Shapeshifter
Water exists in gaseous, liquid and solid states. But it is its versatility as a solvent and its 'promiscuous' behaviour that enables it to penetrate all living organisms in order to promote the processes of life. As an aqueous medium it acts as an instant trigger substance, a 'go-between' in many biological reactions, receiving contrary substances with equal facility. Not only does it become permeated with all colours, tastes, and odours but it can also react chemically with itself, as both acid and base. These bivalent powers of water suggest it struggles against its own creation.
Having the ability to corrode many of the toughest of metals, water demonstrates its duality as being both hard and soft, life-enhancing and death-dealing. It is such attributes and ambiguous qualities inherent in water - its ability to merge, bind and dissolve, and to de-form and re-form itself and other substances and yet retain its own separate identity - that makes it a mysterious and elusive substance.
The paradoxical nature of water, its mercurial qualities, was not lost on the imagination of medieval alchemists who saw it as an original primal 'stuff' that inspired (breathed life into) many of their transformative operations. In many creation myths, water's ambivalence is used as an imaginative background to emphasise the ambivalence of creation and imagination itself. For Jung, the famous Swiss Psychologist who studied and analyzed dreams, water was the image par excellence of the dark unconscious psyche, which, in turn, has associations with the archetypal Mother. Like the alchemists, he knew these 'psychological' or 'baptismal' waters form a uterine matrix out of which something new is born. Dreaming of entering the sea and other bodies of water therefore signifies entering the darkness of the mother's womb, awaiting a rebirth or transformation of consciousness.
Water - the Link to Cosmic Forces
Water is sensitive to extremely delicate influences, like sunspot activity and cosmic activity such as electromagnetic radiation, and is capable of adapting itself to the most varying circumstances to a degree attained by no other liquid. Research on outside influences on the variability of chemical reactions in water provides strong evidence that cosmic forces can influence life by means of water's susceptibility. Watson, too, seems to endorse these findings by suggesting that many aspects of life on earth are controlled and formed into recognizable patterns due to water's resonance with cosmic themes. It would seem that life is sensitive to these patterns of movement between Earth and other celestial bodies because it contains water, being consistent with its remarkable qualities: its permeability, viscosity, mutability and adaptability - even 'memory'.
If life collects information from the chaos of cosmic forces in order to maintain its rhythms and motions then it is the medium of water that communicates and initiates change. Understanding the behaviour and 'language' of water more fully would allow a free exchange of information, that unites all life into one vast organism that is itself part of an even larger dynamic structure.
If the earth is a living, breathing and integrated organism, as James Lovelock's Gaia Theory4 maintains, then water is surely the 'Blood of Mother Earth.' Its movements reflect nature's principal constant, namely that of continuous change and transformation. Our technological, mechanistic and materialistic way of looking at things, however, prevents us from considering water to be anything other than inorganic and lifeless. But far from being a dead, inert substance, water can be seen as a living entity, the locus of all kinds of cosmic themes which are communicated through the motions of every living organism on this planet - and even beyond.
Within this intelligent fluid occurs the universal exchange of qualities. Its duplicitous nature gives water an aptitude for submitting to as well as animating the qualities it bears. It is a substance that continually 'struggles against its own creation' as if constantly slipping from the grasp of man's rational control and organisation. If this is the case, then water can be perceived as connected to the source of its own destruction, its death - forever at the point of becoming, neither real or unreal, only a substantial nothingness. In giving water a psychological reality, it offers an inexhaustible reservoir of images and meaning. It speaks an eternal language, evoking streams of memories. It is little wonder that this unique, ubiquitous substance continues to nourish the mytho-poetic imagination.
It is often said that the world shows us the face we show it. As the fundamental basis of life, failure to treat water respectfully will transform it into an enemy rather than a nurturer of all life as it should be. Our modern puritanical obsession with 'cleaning up' water and chlorination of drinking and household water-supplies may ostensibly remove the threat of water-borne diseases; it does so, however, to the detriment of consumers. Viktor Schauberger5, a radical exponent of nature's laws and Eco-scientist, asserts that, though eradicating all types of bacteria, beneficial and harmful alike, chlorine also disinfects the blood and in doing so kills off or seriously weakens many of the immunity-enhancing micro-organisms resident in the body. This may eventually impair the immune system to such an extent that it is no longer able to eject harmful germs and viruses, thereby increasing susceptibility to disease and profoundly disturbing the delicate ecology of the human body.
The way we treat this precious substance, our ignorant handling of it, therefore has serious implications for the future health and well-being of the myriad life-forms on this planet.
All around us we see the bridges of life collapsing, those capillaries which create all organic life. This dreadful disintegration has been caused by the mindless and mechanical work of man, who has wrenched the living soul from the Earth's blood - water.