Taking Off My Shoes
I walk out to the concrete slab and remove my shoes. I’m not trying to keep my feet OR the concrete clean, or for that matter to make either of them dirty. Taking off my shoes as I step onto the slab represents a conscious step, one where I am listening, observing and meeting myself anew. This is a way for me to claim sacred space, to say to myself; This is important, pay attention.
What I didn’t mention about my sacred space is that its actually a helipad. There are four tie-downs embedded in the concrete and the pad is a hexagon about thirty feet across. The mounds of sand around it support healthy and wonderful smelling creosote bushes. In the distance I hear the whirr of blades at the windmill farm, a white noise, like the ocean, playing background to the calls of birds or, if I’m out late enough, coyotes. Above me is the vast, open sky. Its my very own outdoor yoga studio; walk out the front door, cross the driveway, take off my shoes.
To the owner and builder of the home it was a helipad, but as a helipad it’s useless to me. But by the act of removing my shoes I claim what could be useless as a meaningful and sacred space. And I come barefooted, a naked approach with an open mind, ready to learn.
As spiritual warriors we strive to grow and learn by engaging ever more deeply in the world. We know our beliefs, opinions and actions help us define our relationships and the very reality in which we live. It’s important, then, to examine them. Where do they originate? Are they the product of our society or our religion? Or a rebellion against them? Are our beliefs leading us into the lives we want to create?
Often our evolving personal identity, according to poet David Whyte, “is actually more of a function of our ability to pay attention to the world around us.” When we take off our shoes and walk openly in the world we determine what is sacred and what is useless, what’s important to us and what doesn’t really matter. Through deep reflection on our observations and experiences we see if we are truly following our hearts or just following the owner’s manual that our parents were using.
Our beliefs and opinions are refined by our ability to pay attention. Paying attention with all of our senses (even the 6th one!) gives a rich, textural stream of feedback. Sometimes it’s utterly overwhelming; remember, as the ancient yoga text, the Shiva Sutras, tells us “The senses are spectators.” Spectate rather than get caught up in the drama. Its a paradox to both feel our feelings more deeply and simultaneously know that we are NOT our feelings, but something much greater than them.
Seekers who do this still have plenty of emotion (believe me, I’ve got it in spades…), we just don’t lose sight of ourselves because of it. Instead, we find what we’re willing to stand up and fight for: the places, people and beliefs that are most sacred to us. In the process we learn a little more abut who we are and how we fit in the world. This is the barefooted approach. Open, aware of what calls deeply to us, willing to feel the emotion that comes from listening to our inner voice. The voice that is concerned with deeper meaning, not superficial labels. Sure it’s a helipad, just not to me.