I’m at a bucolic setting outside of Sperryville, Virginia. Today my friend and I hiked Little Devils Stairs along the Shenandoah Mountain Ridge. We crossed a beautiful, rocky stream many times as we curved our way up. I divided my attention between my footing so I’d be stable and the sights in my environment so that I wouldn’t miss the beauty of the forest. The wildflowers were spectacular. I was uninterested in being reminded that rocks are unforgiving when they serve to break a fall. I proceeded apace without falling. My feet were placed carefully and they met the ground consciously…heel first, followed by a gradual shift of my weight onto the ball of my foot. My back leg was my ballast until it followed suit.
As he aged, I asked an accomplished runner and friend of mine how he managed to skirt injury. He replied that it was all about “how your foot strikes the ground.” His words implied full engagement of the mind and senses. I enjoyed running back then and I remember the protective feeling associated with reciting this friend’s statement to myself as I clicked off the miles.
In 2002 I attended a Peace Walk led by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han. Serendipity worked in my favor. Thich Nhat Hanh ambled towards the beginning of the walk just as I was entering the event through the same portal. I had never seen anyone whose feet struck the ground with such careful placement. He wasn’t just stepping. He was feeling the earth beneath his feet. There was a palpable exchange between his absorption of the energy of the earth and the earth’s absorption of his energy. It gave me pause. I was mesmerized by how Tich Nhat Hanh’s carried himself on the planet. It was conveyed by the way his feet met the ground.
I participated in walking meditations during several Buddhist retreats. Walking meditation involves deliberately thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. It called me into consciousness. One of its rewards is a elevated level of awareness can be brought to any everyday activity. It heightened my sense of presence. The walking meditation began with establishing intention for how my feet struck the ground. The intention was fulfilling.
How does becoming aware of how my feet strike the ground have application to other areas of my life? It offers guidelines for how I approach relationship…with respect, with awareness, with my feelers out, with senses open, and with an open mind for connection. Connection is tactile. Just ask my dog. Our feet often strike the ground in unison.