This week, I created this meditative art-video of myself walking barefoot, both in nature and urban environments, which I recorded through the Summer and Fall this year.
Barefoot walking was a sort of “gateway drug” for me to learn about the ways I’d become disconnected from my body’s natural relationship with life, and became a way to keep returning to connection with the Earth in a very concrete, real way.
Barefoot walking is incredibly restorative for me, and over the years has transformed my body in ways I feel very good about: at a biomechanical level, it changed the structure of my feet and legs, my gait has become more aligned and controlled, and I can adapt to variations in terrain without injury.
Yet it’s also much more than that– it’s intentional contact, and moving dialogue with all my feet come in touch with.
In these clips, my intention was to share some of the layers of that multi-level body-and-earth connection, to draw it into awareness even though it’s easy to take it for granted.
I got to use a song my husband created shortly after we met, 9 years ago, which he called “When the Ancestors Start Marching”. It was a song he made after we’d been in an intensive shamanic ceremony together, and I love how the video brings together the sensory/sensual aspect of material body-and-earth connection, with this other layer of connection with the greater tapestry of life; which includes the full experience of my self, heart, mind, soul and imagination, nestled and in contact with countless other rich and vibrant lives, whose bodies (hearts, minds, souls and imaginations) make my life possible.
How I discovered the magic of being barefoot
One day, maybe around 12 years ago, I was out with my boyfriend. We’d walked for a couple of hours, and my feet were sore. I was exhausted, and for whatever the reason, we still had a long way to go. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, I just took off my shoes and went barefoot. The number of times I’d gone barefoot in public were almost none. I was not expecting the explosion of well-being that coursed through my body during the experience. In a matter of seconds, I was revitalized, far beyond the sensations in my feet– all of me was feeling more alive, more vibrant.
The surprising experience of how good it felt to be barefoot in contact with the earth led me to doing a lot more of it, to feel that wellness. But it also raised some questions about what being barefoot represented. I was interested in how wearing shoes changed my relationship to the world around me, versus not wearing shoes. I had to be far more aware of my environment when walking barefoot; I had to pay attention, not only to what was on the ground, but also to how the people around me were moving, to ensure they wouldn’t literally step on my toes.
I asked myself how wearing shoes had made me, and others, less aware of the state of our ground: would we litter as much if we all went barefoot? Would we all have to be more aware of our surroundings overall, and more mindful, for our and others’ benefit? How did the constant input of shoe-wearing affect our mood and health– was it an oddity of my constitution that made me feel bright, happy and energized when walking barefoot, or was it a generalized human thing?
This was before barefoot walking and running became a more popular “fitness thing”, or before I’d ever heard of Earthing. Over the years, more knowledge about how being barefoot impacts our health started to trickle into the mainstream, and I got to expand my understanding about how this particular aspect of the separation between human culture and nature had been a normal part of my life– and that of everyone else I knew. I called barefoot walking “a gateway drug” because in some ways, it opened me up to a deeper understanding of my body as designed by, and for, nature.
I find myself, more than ever, taking whatever opportunity I can to forge bonds of connection with the Earth. I feel that it matters how I relate to my “others” in life– be they moss on the ground, or human beings, or rocks, or clouds, or houseplants, or flies. I need those moments of mindful connection, because I’m keenly aware of how many life-systems are dying right now, through the actions of a global culture (that I’m a part of) that at its heart, does not know how to be in relationship.
It’s been things like barefoot walking that have shown me how comparatively little I know about being relational, and “seduced me”, through their inherent joy, into cultivating relational, body-based changes to my way of life. That’s how I find myself taking my shoes off and recording myself walking, even if it seems pointless. Maybe especially if it seems pointless, as the practice of seemingly pointless acts of creative connectedness has helped me shift my focus away from a calculating mindset (“what’s the benefit”) to a relational mindset (“how do I bring myself into connection and experience it”).
Over to you:
Experiment with spending some time barefoot outdoors. What do you notice? What is your sensory experience like? What are your thoughts and feelings? Create a piece of art (any medium you like!) or writing, photography or video, in response to your experience.
If being barefoot outdoors is uncomfortable or hard to do, try starting indoors.
Otherwise, you can also try exploring any other contact-in-motion outdoors that you wouldn’t normally try– putting hands in the dirt, exploring a tree or stone with your hands, laying down and looking at the sky… see what else you can come up with!
Big thanks to my beloved husband CloudJumper for creating the track I used in my video, and for the rich and loving history behind it. Check out his work here and here.