“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If you ever had the chance to enter my closet, you would realize two things about me: I love shoes and I might have a shoe addiction problem. I have more shoes and cowboy boots than all my friends combined; and I have a lot of friends. But after returning from two weeks in Costa Rica I have decided to spend most of the summer barefoot.
I learned that Costa Rica is at the top of the world, the lone contender from the Americas in environmental performance distinguished in March this year for it’s environmental sustainability by the United Nations. Costa Rica’s relationship with Mother Earth is both remarkable and respectful and I found myself wanting to connect to Her in the same way. So I took my shoes off. And I kept them off. Aside from when I was at the beach or my backyard, I can’t remember when I last spent one day barefoot, much less several.
What I experienced from walking around without shoes was profound. Being barefoot creates presence. Mind chatter dissipates. The animals seemed to be less suspicious. I noticed sounds, smells and saw more detail as I slowly walked. And I discovered the earth is soft, so soft in fact that it deeply moved me. The temperature of the dirt changed step after step depending on the tree cover over me and the leaf litter under me. The moisture, the rocks, the shade, the direction of the wind. It all mattered. With each step I felt met by Mother Earth. Supported. Held up. And something I never expected, I felt better. I noticed improved circulation in my feet and ankles. My neck and shoulders lost all the tension they seem to always have. I had better posture and better balance. It’s amazing to me how wearing shoes has separated me from so much of what I am a part of.
When I returned home I continued my barefoot practice. It’s simple, convenient, and heart opening. It’s a mindfulness spiritual practice that uses our feet as connective soul bridges between body, mind and planet Earth. It raises our consciousness and raising consciousness in urban life is critical to sustaining the planet.
Our shoes distort our bodies’ feeling and function and also disconnect us from the earth. We don’t think about this, working in our offices behind non-opening windows, perched high above the earth on steel encased in concrete. We sleep and move in climate controlled homes and vehicles where we have to look at an instrument to know the temperature outside. Our lifestyle is more like life in submarine or spaceship than on Mother Nature, it seems. Conversely, there’s something primal, damp, sensual and connective about walking on the earth. Something of mystery. This is the thing I love about it: it redirects my abstract concerns. It plugs my attention into something much greater and more live-giving than the ridiculous flock of worries my mind generates.
We’re at a real crossroads now with Mother Earth, and need to change our relationship to Her. Recycling newspapers and buying hybrid cars isn’t going to do it because the mindset behind these well-intended changes still treats the planet as a commodity, a sort of gravel pit of resources for humans to plunder. We don’t need different ways to pillage the planet. We need different humans. A more evolved humanity that sees the ecological and spiritual implications of living as creatures in a much greater web of life all around us.
I’m not ready to kick my cowboy boots and Manolo Blahnik’s to the curb, but I do plan on spending most of the summer connecting to the earth’s chi by going barefoot.
When was the last time your bare feet hit the ground?