I’ve noticed something curious over a lifetime of traveling, living, learning and unlearning with different kinds of folks around the world: in some parts of the world wisdom is fairly common. People are sense-ably engaged with Life in a way that grows wisdom naturally. In other parts, it’s like some fantasy-land unicorn, with all kinds of books describing it in far-away lands, but in pretty short supply where we need it. I’ve wondered about that for a real long time.
Then I noticed something interesting: wisdom is, literally, down-to-earth. And so are all of the People I know who have it, literally. It comes from a sense-able relationship with our world. The people I met who had wisdom in abundant supply DID just THAT! With WHAT?
In 2008 I got a life-threatening blood clot in my leg as one of many instances of my health deteriorating severely, over eight years, until I questioned everything I had learned in both allopathic and “alternative” medicine and went back to our actual, Living, Cellular Design to begin to understand what, exactly, constitutes health. I took blood thinners for six months.
My body said “take off your shoes!” I’ve always liked shoes. For some unexplainable reason I didn’t want to wear shoes anymore. I took them off, even in places like Brussels, Belgium, where nobody walks around barefoot.
Once I took my shoes off I wanted to keep them off. It felt good to walk barefoot, even in the cold, wet weather of northern Europe. I couldn’t believe all the textures, temperatures, and sensations.
Many years later I discovered that walking around barefoot thins the blood and increases clotting time. People who take blood thinners are told to readjust if they start walking barefoot. It also has a whole plethora of health benefits. We evolved in bio-electrical connection, not disconnection, to Earth.
That made me consider that many of our “health” problems, like so-called “clotting problems,” are not so much failures in our design, but disconnections from all of the ways that we are designed to be connected. We are bio-electrical beings. Our feet are designed to ground us, literally and electrically, and much more. Read this surprising compendium of benefits by the U.S. National Institute of Health.
If we are raised in disconnection from Nature, we won’t even notice that our bodies are part of this Nature we got disconnected from. Self-alienation becomes our self-relationship. The only “self” we then identify with is a mental/ cultural construct. We become foreign to Earth and to our bodies.
Once I allowed my feet to connect to the ground, a number of other discoveries followed suit. My Intelligence began to be in-formed, literally, through contact with my World and my Being, which share the same Nature. Full sensory input is essential to our full development.
At first, my feet seemed very “sensitive.” I had almost no capacity for feeling intelligently through my feet. Sensation registered as “pain.” The range of my intelligence, from my feet, went from “dead/ numb/ no detailed sensation” to “pain/ OUCH!/ ‘take me back to numb, NOW!”
“Wisdom is in the Ground and our FEET are designed to connect with it.”
Are your feet only mechanical appendages that move you from here to there? What Wisdom could possibly be in something as remote from our heads as our feet? How did we ever get the notion that the two are unrelated?
There is a very strange legacy from the enslavement and dislocation of our ancestors that pervades modern culture. Aside from becoming estranged from our own ancestry, history, language, the very essence of our place and ground of our Being, our bodies, also become foreign to “us.”
David Graeber, in his fascinating, and highly recommended, book Debt: the first 5000 years points out how people with a history of conquest and enslavement, like Western Europeans and many other people, have a relationship of both master and slave to ourselves, rather than one of relatedness and connectedness. Our body becomes the in-sense-able object of our minds.
I’m not saying that we don’t feel anything. I AM saying that the range of a modern human’s sensory capacity has been drastically reduced. We grow in a culture of literal non-sense, oblivious to the clearcutting, not only of our forests, but of our own neurologies.
We are divided against ourselves, with the body as slave, and the violently-programmed and and obedience-trained mind, as master of our body and unwitting slave of the programming and obedience-training. We no longer know our bodies as Living Systems of Knowing, of Connection and Relatedness with any real subtlety or depth. Our bodies become deadened “things” whose sense-ability we learn to ignore while we “make use” of “them.” Such is the life of a human whose being has been amputated and made into a resource.
The capacities for Natural Intelligence that coherently inhabit and unite our entire body become unknown to us. Instead, we live in “a plan for our lives” as “a literally non-sense-ical idea of who we are,” somewhat baffled by the fact that “life seems to make no sense!” Even “exercise” is something we do to our bodies, “to take care of them,” like generous, goodly, kindly slave masters “doing our best” for our charges.
The notion that wisdom is in the ground and that my feet are the connection was not obvious to me before I took my shoes off. It’s taken years to really get the sense of it. It takes literal growing ourselves back to sense. It’s not about our feet. As children, we naturally develop neural structures that accompany our sensory and motor experience of contact-with-our-world. Remove the contact and those structures don’t develop. We adapt to what we experience.
The reality I’m pointing can’t be grasped from the words. To grasp is something our hands do, and so do our feet. You’ll have to take your shoes off, literally. Many people will say, “Yeah, yeah… I get the idea.” The connection I’m pointing to, however, is only possible through connection.
Wisdom is Way-Finding, and Making.
Wisdom, from the Proto-Germanic wijs: “path, trail, way” + dom: “state of, condition of,” is what grows naturally once we discover, through coherent contact, the state of and conditions of our paths, ways, roads and trails.
To gain actual wisdom, and not 20 bookshelves full of facsimiles of “wisdom,” we have to discover (from the Latin dis: “opposite of” + cubrire: “to cover”) the paths we walk upon. To dis-cover means “the opposite of covering.”
Our connection to Wisdom is in our feet. Most of us keep them covered, “protected from,” and uninvited to the sumptuous, naked, sensual truths our World invites us to.
Each of us is a shape of Aliveness 4 billion years old. Touch your pulse. We encode our entire ancestral Journey. We are not mere individuals. We are individual fractals of an ancestral, unfolding, ongoing response to living. How we respond to living is what we encode in the living legacy we pass on. How do we live? Do we live in connection or disconnection with what we are and where we are?
We are naturally equipped to know Aliveness: we have feet.
We are acculturated to ignore the REALITY of Aliveness: we avoid contact and FEELING BODILY, SENSE-ABLY.
Wisdom is not something abstract and remote, but available to each one of us, not by trying to cook up another fantastic idea about us, our world, and “Nature,” but by simply, literally making sense-able contact with our world and the ways we take to make our way, literally. To orient in this world takes literal making-sense of it. Is it so surprising that this requires engaging our senses?
That our feet are hidebound may be the perfect metaphor for cultures where it is fine to think, but profoundly discouraged to think-with-our-senses in a sense-able world we are equipped to discover it sense-ably.
Friends of many years are surprised to see me walking everywhere without shoes, even beaches with good-sized rocks and gravel roads. Many ask to feel my feet, expecting to find thick, calloused soles. Instead, they discover that I have LESS callouses on my feet than they do, even after six years of walking barefoot.
There are two ways to learn to walk barefoot. The most common is to “tough it out” and grow thick callouses. A lot of people take this route, not only with their feet, but with the rest of themselves. It turns the feet into a kind of shoe, thick with insensitivity.
Walking is an art that corresponds to our design. In China they call it “walking like a mountain,” an expression which, as poetic as it sounds, is designed to help one come down a mountain in the darkness without breaking one’s neck. My Cheyenne friends call it “walking in balance.” One day at a ceremony they pointed out the difference between the footprints that “traditionals” make when they walk, and those made by folks they called “apples,” red on the outside and white on the inside.
It was a simple pointing, not an idea. They SHOWED me what it WAS in their tracks. Agreeing or disagreeing missed the point. The possibility of “walking in balance” would remain only an idea until I DID it. Same with my Tai Chi teachers. A lot of people want to “learn Tai Chi.” If they were in China, however, they might spend an entire year just learning how to stand or take one step. Westerners want to “advance,” however, and, in our hurry, we rush into literal non-sense.
Few modern people walk in balance. They are led by their heads, literally. They have no center, no ease. They are literally catching themselves from falling, and this plays out in all aspects of their lives. They rush and fall forward, putting their body into momentum and catching themselves with their forward-moving heel.
If you do this barefoot you will quickly hurt yourself. Our feet are not designed to land on our heels first or to constantly catch us falling forward. Consider that 25% of the bones in our body are in our feet! Why?
Our feet absorb the shock of landing when we land on the pads at the front of our feet. Then the heel follows and we ground. We land. We connect fully. Completely. Instead of spiking our heels into the ground, and subjecting them to any sharp point or uneven surface, and then rocking onto the ball of our feet while bracing our forward falling, we learn to touch the ground while staying centered on the rear leg. We take our time. As one foot comes forward it is gently eased into touching the ground and taking its shape, before transferring any weight to it. Only then do we transfer weight to it. If you practice as slowly as you can, and make the practice more about staying in balance, at ease, relaxed and then advancing a foot to feel – and really take the time to feel – the ground before you make any move to transfer weight, you’ll discover something delightful. Deep delight emerges in feeling. Those who can’t feel can’t delight – not really, not deeply. They can emote delight but not really feel it. Feeling emerges in connection.
Our feet naturally show us how to feel our way into ease and comfort with every step. Each step roots fully into the ground and finds support, contact,sensuality, texture, warmth/cool, wet/dry, contours and balance there. We begin to know our world with our entire being.
The next step emerges as the leg and foot move forward while we remain relaxed and grounded. We make contact, feel and then connect to the ground. Walking becomes something the ground does with us in a very curious and delicious way that can’t be grasped from the words. It becomes a dance of contact and not just motion. The ground has a spongey softness that roots us, propels us, and receives us, with a deliciously inviting sensuality words can’t even convey. Walking becomes an art of effort-LESS-ness, then our living begins to grow into the art our walking reveals to us. We learn to BE human, and not just live as human resources.
When we relearn how to walk in contact, we relearn the Nature of what and where we are, and what the Invitation-In-Being-Alive is.
This leads to a very different way of walking and being. We abandon the game of trying to be “tougher than rocks” or “protecting ourselves from the rocks.” We being to see that there are other options and sensibilities with which to find our way. The intelligent flexibility of our feet awakens our flexible intelligence, literally. This is how our brains and intelligence were designed to grow and develop: in contact. Choosing connection or disconnection is choosing Full-On Living or a dampened facsimile.
With time the entire foot changes shape. The toes spread out, the soles flex. A three-dimensional muscular and sensory intelligence awakens in the foot. Our balance improves in surprising ways and our foot becomes like a soft, very sensitive hand that touches the earth, feels it and moves us in the multi-textures world we inhabit. Our feet are like our hands, only with capabilities and sensitivities that are similar, yet profoundly different.
Intelligence originates in the Earth and through our feet. We are Shapes of Earth, from Earth and for Earth. We are shaped for contact, not as some idea or ideal, but as the literal Ground of Our Experience. It’s Natural to us and, like all other expressions of our Intelligence, it only comes Alive in Contact. Reading about it won’t awaken it.
Recently I spent a month and a half in the desert of Utah in a place where I’ve worn out quite a few pairs of Vibram-soled hiking boots. This was my first visit back since walking barefoot. I walked barefoot, even in long, steep ascents up scree and irregular rock. I was very surprised by what I discovered.
First of all, my steps were far more sure and balanced than with boots. I didn’t send tons of rocks flying down below. I made and rooted in contact. Step by step. Enjoying every rock surface, edge and texture.
Also, I discovered how incredibly, sensually SOFT the Earth is, even in what looks like hard-rock desert. It is DELICIOUS to connect with. I had surprising connections with animals. They know the difference between someone who is grounded and someone who is disconnected, someone who is walking in balance and someone who is unconsciously rushing about without sense-ability. What that word “SOFT” means as an idea, or a word on a page, or all the advertising we’ve been subjected to, to sell us toilet paper, is not what I mean.
What I mean is under our feet, it’s inside of us. It connects our being to the place we are – but only if we stop disconnecting. Experiencing the Nature of our World allows us to come into a different relationship with a World that designed us to connect, to feel, to relate, delight and experience.
This isn’t just about our feet! It’s about how we awaken, or dampen, our entire, embodied intelligence. “Wisdom is in the feet” sounds ridiculous if your feet are reduced to mechanical attachment points for your shoes and cut off from the rest of you because all the amazing nerve endings that go from your feet all the way to the rest of your nervous system are never stimulated to grow. That kind of human is not only a physical, but also a mental and sensory cripple.
I’m not saying this to insult. I’m saying this to INVITE. There’s more that we ARE and there’s more to WHERE we are than most of us ever get invited, or invite ourselves, to. This invitation comes Alive once we accept and connect it in ourselves, in fact, in act, in sense-ability.
In places full of cacti with sharp needles, the ground, shaped by antelope, rabbits and mice, speaks a language that our feet understand easily. We become part of a conversation that’s ALIVE. A Living Planet, and its many Shapes, speak to us, literally, through our feet. We become a part of something and begin to know in connection, as sense-able beings. Our feet show us directly what our minds can only imagine. Wisdom, which is way-finding, is in the feet in ways that continue to surprise me.
When I come to a gravel or dirt road, it often hurts to walk there. Mechanized human activity hardens the earth in ways that are alien to the natural state of our planet.
Recently a friend of many years, now in his seventies, had the itch to “try” barefoot walking. He first tried on a gravel road. It hurt. He was disappointed. We then found a footpath through the woods and I said, “Now try this.” He was surprised at the contrast. The Earth is delicious, sensual, generous, SOFT. Yesterday, several weeks later, he thanked me “for the gift of walking” and told me of going on a two-hour walk in much-loved place he got to know like never before. No hiking boots. Pure contact.
He has himself to thank: HE made the invitation to the Beauty that Aliveness is, as him. HE made the experience of connection real, by connecting.
If you like making love, or getting a massage, or having someone you really love kiss you slowly and all over your body… this is what walking barefoot is like, ANY TIME OF THE DAY! Seriously. It is THAT delicious! It’s what contact, real contact, with a Luscious, Sensual, Beautiful Place we call “Earth,” is like. She invites our being to lusciously connect with hers and rediscover ours. THIS is the Life that this Place of Aliveness designed us for: Full Contact, Full Feeling, Full Connection, Full Celebration LIVING! Once we get THIS then a lot of things really fall into place.
For many of us, because our feet are so desensitized, any register of sensation gets interpreted as “pain.” Please don’t set out to “prove a point” by brutalizing yourself. All learning, all new capacities, including new capacities to feel require new, living connection in us. That happens at the speed of life, of cells, of living things. GROW your capacities like you grow anything else that’s alive: nourish it with caring, pleasant experiences. Have fun and pleasure with it. Yes, PLEASURE. Then stretch your experience just to the edges of what you’ve done so far. It’s not a matter of “pushing” it, but rather a matter of growing your experience.
Try a bed of moss, or soft pine needles, or sand. Connect and open, rather than trying to , harden, toughen up or even move forward. Allow your feet to FEEL first, before even trying to walk. Take your shoes off and feed your feet with sensation. Sit in a chair and make contact with your bare feet if standing is uncomfortable.
In workshops and retreats, I’ve used barefoot walking as an opportunity for discovering how we connect, or don’t. A lot of the guys see me walking comfortably and want to show me that they can “tough it out.” Then I watch them beating the daylights out of their feet, hobbling down the road in pain yet “keeping on going.”
I tell them to stop. Sometimes they insist: “No! No! I can do this.” I tell them, “What you are doing is EXACTLY what I am asking you to NOT do. Notice what you are doing! Notice how you approach an opportunity to learn and you will notice how you approach living. Have the courage to STOP walking and FEEL with softness!
Allow your foot to SOFTEN, instead of HARDEN. FEEL the SHAPES of what’s under your foot. How do the shapes and sensations change as you move your center around the base you have with your feet? Find softer ground if it hurts. If you decide to walk, do so as SLOWLY and with AS SMALL OF STEPS as possible.”
This was a life-changing experience for several people . They got it. They brought attention to their experience.
I continue to marvel at what I am discovering in the same process and the wisdom that my feet have for the rest of me.
We are not made of disconnected bits and pieces, with intelligence in our head and locomotion in our feet. We are coherently designed to literally in-form our intelligence out of our sense-able totality. The whole is of a piece.
To live wisely is to live well with our Aliveness. Being human is a shape of the Aliveness all around us. It’s the same Aliveness. We fit, are informed, nourished by, and nourishing of the entire fabric of Aliveness we emerge and take our human shape from. Being human is a shape of Aliveness designed to KNOW, through contact, the other shapes of this Aliveness. We are shaped to be here connectively and coherently, sense-ably.
Between our head and our feet we have a whole tapestry of sense-abilities. They are woven of the same capacities for Natural, Living Intelligence as our feet. Many of these sense-abilities are in similar condition to how our feet have been after a lifetime of wearing shoes. When we take off our shoes and step on the ground the range, nuance and textures of our feeling capacity are very limited. We feel exposed, bare, vulnerable, threatened-by-contact. We FEEL and readily interpret FEELING AS PAIN. We retreat from feeling.
Regaining and reclaiming our capacity to FEEL is an Art, in and of itself. It’s a GENTLE Art, an Art of Kindness.
It’s easy to go from not-feeling-much to “wanting to feel fully.” What is Feeling Fully? What does it require? How does it LIVE?
To grow a capacity requires literally growing new connections, not only to our world, but inside of ourselves. It is like growing anything else that is Alive. The slower I go, the smaller the challenges, the greater the pleasure, the faster my neurology grows new neurons and connections in the delight and curiosity of new experiences. As long as those new experiences don’t overwhelm me.
If it hurts to walk barefoot, I sit down in a place with delicious textures, take my shoes off and feed my feet with contact. I learn to FEEL. I also learn to allow my feet to make full contact with the textures they touch. I don’t hurt myself. I don’t force myself. I don’t try to “advance.” Instead I make sense-able, pleasure-able contact.
It is the same with the rest of our embodied intelligence.
A Cheyenne elder brother and friend used to say to me, repeatedly, “Go slow, get there fast.” This is a complete teaching.
The teaching is realized in slowing down. Then slowing down even slower.The slower I go the more I begin to notice what the secret is. This is not some “indigenous poetic idea.” It is precise and only realized in practice: slow, slower, slower yet… and noticing.
Thirty years after hearing this and considering it, even repeating it for years I’m finally becoming a true beginner at this. In the beginnings I discover marvels in exchange for simply going slower.
The slower I go the faster I get to where I am, and discover it and my capacity for contact, instead of being too busy getting elsewhere to never get anywhere. I being to land. Only then, right here, can I savor where I am.
Wisdom is in the feet. They show me how to FEEL, to KNOW-from-FEELING and Aliveness.
Get There Fast!