I didn’t walk barefoot on grass until I was 25 years or so. I was reading a book about meditation, and one of the exercises involved closing your eyes and walking on the grass barefoot. I had to try this.
So there I was, about to do what any normal human being would have done since birth in a different time, a different place, back when things were more “normal”. I took off my shoes at the edge of the lawn, and I walked. And I felt naked. I felt unprotected and vulnerable as I couldn’t help checking where I was walking, as my feet suddenly woke up to a million sensations, overwhelmed like prisoners who had suddenly seen the light of day.
But I also felt alive. I felt connected to the ground, the world, the earth, down to the depths of its magma inferno and all the way to the other side of the world. I felt that I had just touched the heart of a big animal. I was able to feel its heartbeat, right beneath my own feet.
Sometimes we need to become vulnerable before we can feel anything. We need to open our hearts before someone can love us. If we do not reveal our fragility to them, our fears, our imperfections, they won’t get to know us. All they will see is fancy shoes hiding the calluses and scratches that made us who we are today as we walked on the broken glass of our own unique path.
I’m not advocating we all go barefoot. But we have used shoes, soles, whether they are leather or rubber, as a protective barrier against our own planet. Whether it is walking on glass, shit, or the refreshing, soothing feel of a green lawn, at some point we stopped feeling. We put a protective barrier between ourselves and the planet so that we are able to walk “on” it, not with it. So that we are able to hurt it, but not be hurt back. So that every single step feels identical to the previous one, without the occasional little stick of wood or slight bump on the ground. Everything became automatic as we became unconscious, walking robots going from A to Z without even knowing what we are walking on anymore. Surprise and unpredictability gave way to the safety of not being able to feel anything anymore. And rather than accepting our own responsibility for the broken glass, we invented bullet proof and glass-proof soles. Refusing to stand with our planet on equal footing, we shut ourselves out from our own feelings, our own connection to the large, beating heart beneath our feet. The glass that we are walking on is nothing but the fragments of our own heart.
When I was 46 I had to undergo multiple, extensive surgeries in both of my legs to remove the veins that had become tired, exhausted from carrying the warm blood that was pooling in my overheating shoes. Years of sitting on chairs, standing in queues, wearing clothes that cut off circulation had already begun affecting my veins at a very early age. I had become another victim of civilisation.
In northern Greece and Bulgaria there are certain villages that practice an ancient ritual that is believed to go back to the days of Dionysius: walking barefoot on fire. A short “fire course” is prepared by laying out hot embers for a few meters. The fire “gladiators” take a deep breath, raise their arms in the air and walk, sometimes even dance on the burning coal with their bare feet. As they re-awaken to the life force within them, they are a reminder of what we have lost as our civilisation matured: we are about to soon walk on a burning planet, without even being able to feel its burning, shattered heart of glass.
To be continued …(or not)
George is a chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , join his mailing list, or read his books:
9 thoughts on “Heart of Glass”
wow… one of your best!
You never walked barefoot on grass as a child?
Your parents didn’t let you?
I cannot actually imagine this very well, hard to imagine that much ‘civilisation’ what an awakening that must have been in so many ways. Thank you for such a powerful essay. Sharing.
Glad you got to experience something so taken for granted by all us country-fied folk. Your essays reflect your reflections and mirror your soul. Thank you.
Thank you 💙