I was 19 when, as a new student at a holistic massage school, I was told to pick a partner and observe the soles of their shoes.
The feet, we learned, are our grounding system. The way we wear out our soles reveals how we hold our pain.
While I have always been soulful, I’ve not long been comfortable in my body. In my young mind I decided that this exercise informed me of others, not of myself. Lesson tucked away for later professional reference.
Earlier this year I started training for my first marathon, and a friend warned me to care for my feet—to let them breathe after being trapped with all the moisture, heat, and stress generated by hitting the ground running.
“I’ve never had problems with my feet,” I thought. “I’m barefoot or sandaled every chance I get.” I again stored the information for future distribution to others.
And then I went to the doctor.
We tend to pay attention to those who went to school to learn how to care for the vessels that carry our consciousness, so when the doctor pointed to and pored over some blisters on my feet, I was captivated.
Notice this, I heard my inner voice whisper.
“Take care of your feet,” the doctor said, tenderly running her gloved finger over a piece of scabbed skin. I was about to dismiss the information, then she finished her thoughts: “Leave the skin on if you can. You don’t want to be too exposed…”
F*ck. No denying that one was for me.
Call them signs, or call them knowledge, both derive from mindfulness. In this case, I had a Jenga-tower of universal messages accumulated over a span of 13 years.
In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa tells us that the cosmic mirror reflects messages of success or failure: if promoted at work, we know we’re doing something right; if fired, we know we failed somewhere—a reflection of performance.
So, how in the world do my stinky shoes and blistered feet become a cosmic reflection?
The feet are a grounding center. Great. Yeah. Whatever. I’ve heard it countless times. But when I unpacked all these pedigogical lessons from the for-someone-else file, I finally understood more of what that means.
Running away from the roots.
When I experienced during marathon training debilitating shin splints that knocked me out of training for two months, an ultra-running friend urged me to ditch my minimalist Vibram Five Finger shoes. I resisted hard, but finally gave in. Per the conclusion of a running analysis, I needed one step below the highest level of cushion.
I had literally been giving my feet the bare minimum when I needed close to the maximum.
With the feet being our grounding center, it’s no surprise that this is often what I have given to myself in other areas of my life—bare minimum support.
To my feet this looks like cardboard-thin shoe soles during a three-mile walk both to and from work, no pedicures. In my life, it looks like placing others’ needs above my own; over-producing and filling my calendar with friends on the days I want to be alone.
In asking me to be mindful of keeping my skin on to avoid infection, my doctor inadvertently directed me to look at a longstanding habit of over-exposing myself to others without discernment. My shoes are a bit snug and, if I’m honest, I’ve been trying excessively hard to impress more than one person. Those who cut me deepest often receive the most effort. I peel back all my layers, get raw, and essentially roll in the dirt.
I’ve been excessively harsh with my roots, trying to pound them into soil in which they are not necessarily nourished.
My shoe soles verify these observations. Nearly all my shoes are in disrepair. I recently posted an Instagram story featuring my finger peeking through a hole worn through my favorite flats; my eight-year-old boot bottoms are pulling away from the edges of the leather upper, stacked heels missing layers.
I am worn out, and I’ve been wearing myself out for years, running in the wrong shoes—someone else’s.
As with most metaphysical practices, this exercise is personal; we need to tune in to ourselves. Shoes are just a strange inspirational tool for self-analysis. Here are some guidelines to translating what our shoes might be saying, and the messages our body may be trying to deliver:
Hold both shoes up side by side. Set them on a flat surface. Observe the way they sit; toe to heel, side to side.
According to Tantric philosophy, the right-side energy of our body, pingala, is masculine. If our right shoe soles are disproportionally worn, this can indicate that we are over-exerting in masculine tendencies. We may want to think about our “alpha” ways, and observe our relationship with things like structure or control, logic, and self-interest. Right-leaning individuals might find they have an overabundance of energy.
The left side of our body, ida, is feminine. If our left shoe soles are more worn, we might be overexerting our feminine tendencies. We may want to observe our relationship to communication, emotions, and selflessness. Left-leaning individuals may feel energetically depleted.
Generally speaking, we tend to be in excess of the energy associated with the side of the body to which we lean. My shoes reveal an imbalance of feminine energy; left shoe is moderately more worn than the right.
Next, look at the wear on each shoe.
The area of wear on a shoe can be tied to reflexology points, and their associated chakras: different regions of the toes correspond to the crown and brow chakras; the ball of the foot, the throat; the front of our arch, the heart; the arch of the foot, the solar plexus; and the heel both the sacral and base chakras.
Consider the degree of wear in each area. If we are living too much in our heads, we may have scuffed toes. If we are too rooted, we may be lacking heels.
When not completely worn, the tips of my toes take a good beating. The holes in my soles occur just behind the ball of my foot. So, in addition to being poorly grounded, my shoes would indicate I might have an imbalance of my crown, throat, and heart chakras. This manifests for me as self-alienation, an inability to speak out, and feeling rejected.
The over-feminine may retort: but I am so alpha; a tip-toer may argue that stubbed piggies don’t mean we’re mental. But upon reflection, we just might find our shoes are demanding that we walk our talk. After all, if we were truly present, we’d probably be more aware of our steps. So then, why you trippin’?
Whether we believe in the hippie-dippie, meditating on these simple observations can facilitate growth or at least an arrow pointing to our next necessary steps toward self-care and getting back to our roots.