Thursday, May 29, 2008

Barefoot walkabout

Today was glorious.  I woke up to perfect Sedona weather, the sun raying, birds singing, and Brewer Trail beckoning. Ingrid and I started up the trail with another friend.

Brewer Trail leads to a special place I call big rock, one of the best panoramics in town, and is about two miles straight toward the big sky.  We met a Native American man at the top of big rock, and a few brave meditative types. I wondered how many relationships healed there, and how many ideas were born there, how much reverie and introspect were discovered on this big, red rock. I wondered how many feet of different lands once stood there, and how many ancient, indigenous voices had spoken there. It's a holy place, that big rock.  The journey to big rock was filled with friendly discussions with Ingrid about life, and men, and work, and aspirations, and grief, and hope, and disappointments.

The journey back down big rock would be very different than the journey toward big rock. While I was on standing big rock, overlooking the herculean geological majesty of Sedona, I experienced a moment of perspicuity.  I decided I would walk all the way down the mountain barefoot on the rocky trail, my feet touching the ground.  

I climbed down big rock barefooted, and I felt different immediately. The direct contact from my skin to the sharp edges of the rocks and earth sent stinging sensations to my brain. Tiny rocks that had just gone unnoticed under my feet now pierced my soles, and I found myself navigating the trail with greater mindfulness of every step. I found myself in the moment, truly in each moment, not deviating from planning the next step. I had to avoid stepping on yet more cactus needles or, worse, into a hungry ant hill. "Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, OUCHHHH!"

For nearly two miles, I walked, and walked, and walked, feet to the burning earth, feeling every sensation. It was a ritualistic exercise in mindfulness and focus, my barefoot walkabout from Sedona's big rock.

It could have been just an impulsive oddity in which I'd chosen to engage. I could have missed the lesson of this walkabout. But I learned something from my trek down the mountain. I learned that I am stronger and more tenacious than I thought, and I that I can tolerate discomfort in exchange for the promise of learning. It affirmed that mindfulness is an important part of walking through life- awareness of surroundings and respect for the moment. I learned that I can navigate pain but not avoid it. I can adjust for rocks in the trail, and I can adjust for the barriers in life but that they are there, unavoidably, and I will face them. 

This impulsive ritual felt good- even through the pain- and I was glad to have taken something profound away from my hike. So I plan to continue the barefoot walkabout when I want to practice mindfulness. The soles of my feet will surely callus over time, but not before being sore and blistered during the process. I cannot reach the lesson without first having accepted the pain. Ah, such is life.

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The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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