By Bonnie Tsui
Bonnie Tsui is the author of “Why We Swim.”
As human swimmers, we can never really be the fish. You and I, we know that. We don’t have to remind ourselves that it’s water around us. But we get glimpses of what it’s like to be the fish. We get flashes of forgetting the water. In the forgetting, we can drift. Daydreaming is critical to problem-solving and creativity. Scientists now know that when our minds are wandering without any particular external focus, the brain’s “default-mode network” is active. It’s what makes fresh, unexpected connections possible. And it’s the reason you get some of your best ideas in the shower.
The marine biologist and author Wallace J. Nichols is an evangelist for achieving what he calls “blue mind,” which emphasizes the importance of drifting to discovery, and water as a way to enable that process. “Being around water provides a sensory-rich environment with enough ‘soft fascination’ to let our focused attention rest and the default-mode network to kick in,” he writes. In these times of stress and social distancing, he emphasizes that water is essential medicine more than ever.
“Use your wild waters if you can safely and legally,” he told me. “Make sure you have a daily ritual involving domesticated waters” — pools, tubs, baths, spas, showers — “and embrace all types of virtual waters.” Even looking at water will take you to a better, calmer place.
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