Monday, March 11, 2013

The Maps on Your Bare Feet

Recently, in a fit of restless pent-up fit-to-bursting-ness, right around the full moon (ladies you probably know what I'm talking about here), I tore off my socks, put on my little rucksack, and walked barefoot out the door to the redwood-trail just up the road. I had this strong desire to feel something under my feet, whether it was rocks and sticks poking, the damp cool of humus, warm pavement. I was full of memories of childhood, when I spent long afternoons and weekends barefoot in the back yard. I always stepped on rosethorns, on hard sticks, on hidden rocks. I was proud of my tough soles. Why would I ever want to put shoes on, scrambling through the garden, when I could have muddy feet instead? There is such wild sweet freedom in those simple memories, and it chased me out the door and up the hill, gleeful. 

I've been going almost daily now, up that trail, slow in my bare feet, careful over roots and stones. Something marvelous happens. Your whole body slows, like it is reading the ground through your feet, like the ground is speaking back up through them. They come positively alive, tingling and sensitive as your hands; and you'd forgotten they had such feeling, trapped in shoes and socks. When I drive past the redwood forest now on my way out or back home, and I look into the trees, it's my feet that tingle with pleasure. Literally, they do; they are now as I write.

Barefoot, smaller things come alive; the adder's tongue flower above, a new tiny green life pushing up through the dirt, the trilliums like fallen stars, the smell, oh my, the smell of the redwood humus, of any wild dirt, it overwhelms me with its sweet spice. It's almost as if your feet activate all the sensory organs in your body; they are a gate, they let the world in.

For the past year, I've been seeing an acupuncturist. To me, acupuncture is like a deep old wild magic; put a needle in a little tiny pore, it opens a channel in your body like you are a web of riverways, a great woven map, an ecosystem with each piece interconnected, from your toe to your nose, not just in terms of nerves and veins, but energetically. I've noticed that Claudia, my wonderful acupuncturist, always puts needles in my feet; that the foot seems to have points in it corresponding to your whole body. So I did a little reading, a little thinking, a little talking with her, after my first barefoot walk, and I discovered that of course, wonderfully, in acupuncture the foot is a map of the whole body. All the meridians of the body begin and end there, in great loops.

The feet as a map of the body
When you walk barefoot, the earth is touching the whole great labyrinth of your body. When I step hard on a rock and it hurts, I think of it as the ground's little gift of acupressure; I have no idea what organ that aching spot might correspond to, but perhaps it's the one that needs it the most right then. And in a broader sense, it is an exchange of energies, human body to soil, soil to human body, a language of contact that enters your whole being.

While reading about feet, I came across an absurd concept called earthingI'm not going to go on a rant here, about how utterly absurd I think it is to make a bloody business out of telling people it's good for you to walk barefoot, to lay down on the wild earth and just be. I think it's almost criminal to take it another step and actually sell little sheets and mats that supposedly have some of the earth's electromagnetic goodness in them, to use in the comfort and convenience of your own office, for grounding yourself. This, my friends, is colossally depressing. Do we need to be told this by Doctors? Has it truly come to the point where a walk in the woods barefoot, a good recline in the redwood needles and a gaze up at the branches need be called a clinically proven healthful activity? An activity that a person might make money promoting?

Listen to the maps of your own feet and see how it feels. I'm not disputing that in essence, these "earthing" promoters, aren't right; they are. It is deeply calming to walk barefoot against the earth. It's as old a wisdom as our species, however. I've found my barefoot strolls in the woods to be the most centered and peaceful time of my day. But this is not science, this is not part of a health regime; it's part of what it means to be human, the wild and lovely sensations of the feet, their grounded-ness, the immense peace that rises up through you when you lay down on the ground in a wood and let the needles get all tangled up in your hair. There may be some electromagnetic exchange going on, but dear god please don't go calling it earthing. Call it being fully human. 

The road back down to the house is a transitional passage; my feet can relax a little. It is also remarkably hard after the give and sponge of dirt. Everything feels louder-- the crows, the wind, the robins, my heart.

What magic, that there in those two feet which carry you daily is this great network of feeling, little maps of your body, the soles of your soul.


  1. I cried when I read this (very emotional day, with rain and memories and poetry). I once had calloused feet that rarely saw shoes, until someone told me it wasn't proper for a woman. Two months ago, an astrologer told me I need to be barefoot in the forest again, gentle, she said to make sure not to stomp. And I'd nearly completely forgotten it until now. Thank you.

    You are such a phenomenal writer, a weaver of words, really.

  2. Walking barefoot one cannot but be deliriously happy! It just feels so, so good. Thich Nhat Hanh says: Walk as if you're kissing the Earth with your feet. I say: You are!

    Thank you, Sylvia for another amazing post. So beautiful I think I didn't even breathe until the very end.

  3. Sylvia -

    Your post took me back to my original home and a custom there. We don't wear shoes at home and have separate foot wear for the bathroom/loo. I loved walking bare feet in the muddy waters during monsoon than walking on hot tar road or sand, to go to temples. Here, I try to do (walk bare feet) whenever I can. But actually I miss walking to temples with warm peanuts and chatting endlessly with friends, neighbors and siblings.

    Thank you for writing this, such a writer you're!!!

  4. How lovely, I love being barefoot in the garden...or the woods. But here, presently, still too very cold to do so!