A couple years ago, I decided to “go barefoot.” Like most permanent changes, this was a slow process. Initially, I only ran barefoot. Then I began to leave shoes behind while at college and eventually just about everywhere. I must confess, it took a while gather the nerve to enter retail establishments sans footwear. People usually inquire about my feet, or at least stare, and I welcome attention. This is a lifestyle that I love; as any sincere advocate would, I welcome curiosity. Of course, many write it off as weird. A couple have even said, “That’s so gross! Put on some shoes.” Honestly, I have never understood that reaction. Bare feet can breathe. Have you ever taken a deep whiff of a shoe that has housed a foot for a couple hours? That is disgusting.
The question “why?” comes up often, with a myriad of potential answers–foot and ankle strength, earthing, joint health, and many more–none of which I will discuss here. (A plethora of health sites and blogs grace the world wide web, to which all of which you have free and ready access. This is not such a place.)
I see the human as a whole being, body, soul, and spirit. All parts operate under the same mindset and for the same purposes–in harmony, not division. The mindset that would pit each element against the other is nothing short of suicide, a rending of the most sacred of creatures. Thusly, being barefoot is not merely for bodily health (and pleasure, of course), but it is an entire philosophy of life. Barefoot philosophy, as I like to call it, is the beauty that I wish to share with you today. Be aware, I will blend the literal and philosophical aspects in the discussion, stepping from one to the other without warning you beforehand.
Naturally, the ideal situation would be living and growing in this mindset and practice from infancy. Bare feet, trained unawares by the joys of childhood, are a common-sense way of life. They are not a source of pain for those who have known such freedom, in contrast to feet crippled by comfort. As in life, to blossom in truth from birth is preferable. However, such is a luxury that few are granted. Time marches on, heeding no man. The past exists despite us, and we exist birthed from its mysteries. However we wish, our history is unalterable. What we must do is act on what we believe with the time that we are given. We live now, we change when confronted with truth, and we never blame the past for our condition. Stop being complacent, as if you were a victim of the standard trials of life. They are your training, difficult light of the love that would see you a beautiful warrior, not a consumer of counterfeit pleasures.
The transition takes time, for which we should be thankful. Finite and fragile, we lack the capacity change in a swift plunge. Life is a journey, after all, and requires endurance. Taking that next step day after day can be so arduous that we wish for the convenience of violence. Strength and time are inseparable. To leap headfirst into barefoot running would have meant certain injury. (I admit that I have minorly injured myself several times, since I tend to work over my capacity. Bad idea.) Cramped feet learn to grow into stable, vigorous ones; muscles atrophied from disuse in pretty cages groan and rejoice with newfound work and freedom. See, freedom is only delightful for the strong and self-disciplined. Lack of restraint alone leads to death, as one’s passion flies hither and yon, unable to direct its power. We must learn to rightly steward our liberty, directing it according to truth. After all, a force is only effective if focused; spread out, it loses its very essence.
To be barefoot, you must let go of some degree of what you might perceive as dignity–pride in respectable masquerade. Please, do not be afraid to stand out. Be worthy of standing out. Re-learn the joys of childhood, cruelly stolen by the embittered whose only mocking comfort is “welcome to the real world.” Stop being so stiflingly self-important and boring! It’s a risk, of course. Callouses develop surprisingly quickly, but you must become aware of your surroundings. No more comfortably isolated in your directionless pursuits and entertaining illusions, without truth shocking placated ears. To finally know the world around you is a difficult but engaging experience. Ignorance is so easy and so difficult to release. Passive and allured by its poison, you accepted the roots of falsehood that grew into you. Blindness seemed so good, for a time. You must take the risk to feel. Yes, there will be pain. Pain teaches. After and with the pain, deep satisfaction and vitality flow through you. The itch and restlessness are relieved, fulfilled. This is freedom, to forget the self-imposed conventions and fashionable restraints that we all assent to because everyone else is, even though others would follow one who just dared to deviate. You can stop worrying about how you look. Bare feet are always beautiful, and no striving of your own will change their strong, wild quasi-symmetry. In addition, you can run in the rain without worrying about soggy shoes. And you can walk in the mud without regret.
Bare feet feel the ground; no sole but their own shields them from knowledge of every stone, rut, blade of grass, bed of moss. Awareness is a shock at first, but they grow hardy, neither over-sensitive nor desensitized. The essence of being barefoot is to feel, to be aware, to learn the ground. It is to live fully, right where you are. To quietly, surely confound all that would kill life with machine substitution or foster a passive existence. Going barefoot exemplifies what I believe to be the truest way of advocacy. What you love, practice. Channel it with all you are, joyously and intensely. Do not stoop to the level of those who would be obnoxious or pushy, as if promoting what they love were a chore, as if they don’t really believe it. Be passionate, infectiously, and watch curiousity follow your steps. Bare feet are humble and vulnerable, open to give and to receive. What a risk, to bare part of who you are to whomever might abuse your trust. What is the alternative, but to construct walls that may keep you “safe” from the piercing of betrayal but which cut you off from the source of what you need, from all chance of love and vitality? Be open, to rejection or acceptance. Wounds will afflict you, but they will heal, leaving a scar and new strength, knowledge and new love. If we insulate ourselves for fear of pain, we destroy any opportunity for experiencing joy.