Learning lessons from rocks
Take off your shoes and leave them behind. Cast off distractions and give yourself the present of presence.
While climbing Croagh Patrick as a child, I used to cast curious glances towards, and wonder about, the people who climbed “the Reek” in their bare feet, as penance for their sins against God’s simple instructions. These people were offering their pain in walking up the mountain, as retribution for all their terrible sins committed up to now. In the same way Jesus suffered his way towards the forgiveness of all mankind’s misdeeds or so the story goes.
But something else registered with me… that none of these people really seemed to be in that much suffering at all, yet alone a damnation-salvation amount of suffering. In fact, they looked as happy as anyone else, but they were simultaneously yielding the additional God brownie points for their efforts, to be cashed in the event of an untimely death? Good on them. Working the system I suppose? Despite that, I thought my comfortable running shoes were the preferred option among the non-masochist community working their way up and down over the course of a few hours.
Years later, having undergone the journey of transitioning to barefoot running, I have found a new enjoyment in walking when there’s the opportunity to walk barefoot for a few kilometres in challenging footing conditions. The barefoot running experience has assisted in my easy adaptation to a more barefooted walking lifestyle too.
By this lifestyle, I refer to ambling along preferably scenic mountain paths, deep woods, jungle trails, but to a lesser extent, also parks, suburban neighbourhoods, and quiet roads with enough soft margin to give the feet a treat some of the time. You can even tackle the urban jungle if you’re up to dealing with the dangerous wildlife! Modern roads and paths are not designed for modern feet. They’re designed for modern wheels and shoes. This may make the notion of walking like this somewhat unpleasant for our soft manicured feet to footle. The imagined unpleasantness of walking up a sharp mountain path may dissuade the lighter feet amongst the masses. It’s reasonable to ask about the motivation behind such potentially foot-sore times.
With bare feet walking on unfamiliar soil or stone, each step become a conscious act, precariously interacting with the environment and keeping the pain of a misplaced footfall at a leg’s distance away. Focus is on the motion of walking, the relationship with the ground, the feeling of the stones, the texture of the soil. You can easily walk without pain if you bring your awareness onto where you are placing your feet. To do so with artful intention, requires removal of all distractions of the mind, the chatter, the thoughts, the noises. The focus becomes the breath and the step. The breath and the step. The breath and the step.
Slowly the mind will attune to the soul task at foot and assist by tuning out the normal whispers and gusts of thoughts which keep us so distracted from the present moment. Be nothing but a body moving through space and time, in flow with that single intention. Allow the environment to influence your meanders as you effortlessly guide yourself through the terrain. Become aware of what would normally be beyond the din of thought patterns and embrace what unfolds.
Every so often your mind may wander and bring your foot upon a sharp stone whose role in this is that of your teacher, reminding you to be more conscious in the present moment. You may curse the stone for being there, your toes for meeting it there and yourself for being the instigator of the meeting.
The fact remains, any pain you experience is as a result of not being aware in the present moment. Lessons so simple, a rock can teach you.