Let’s try something. Start with the left foot. Start by unlacing your shoe… take it off. Now, move to the right foot and do the same. Next, your socks… get rid of them. Pause and breathe deep. Wiggle your toes. How do you feel? Relief might be a word that crosses your mind. Free? Excited? Alive?
My recent trip to Australia, the barefoot country, is where I learned about the balance between bare feet vs. sock feet, about freedom vs. constraint in my own life. Australia is a country full of people who are drunk off of the warm ocean breeze, a population constantly wrapped up in rays of sunshine, parading around to the beat of bongo drums… barefoot. If you’re going to learn how to let go, how to really feel a moment down to the tips of your toes, Australia is the place.
In this country full of foot-in-mouth jokes (a reputation on which Aussies pride themselves), there is no such thing as shoes. Their free spirit is expressed not only through their naked humour, but also through their naked feet. This “bare nakedness” seems to come easily to them, in fact if I could use one word to sum up the entire country it would be “easy.” Easy is the wind as it blows, easy are the waves as they come rolling in, and easy is the sun as it shines bright day after day. Everything has a flow, everything moves together in a slow even motion. Like breath the waves roll in and roll out, inhale and exhale. In Australia, I could breathe. I could root my toes into the earth, swing my arms wide open and smile the widest smile. There was nothing holding me back.
The difference between Canadians and Australians is fairly evident just from one downward glance. Canadians will be sporting shoes as often as they can, they aren’t always tied tight, but they are on. Just like our disposition, we’re a cautious bunch when it comes to letting loose. Maybe this is a generalization you want to try and blame on the climate but I have begun to see it as a little more than that. The first time my shoes came off in the sunburned country it was a long process, having naked feet felt foreign to me. Slowly and carefully I removed one shoe then the other, testing out the ground below me, not sure if I was ready to let go of this safety net. Every step hurt but, eventually, my feet didn’t feel so naked anymore. Where at first I was timidly tiptoeing around I could now run at full force, my rough and blackened feet became an item of pride—an image of freedom. It was in Australia that I was able to get back to my roots and learned to walk again, to run again… except this time, barefoot.
Since then, the hauntingly sweet aroma of sea salt has followed me all the way back home. Every once in a while I feel that warm breeze and for a split second I’m back on that coastline—sand between my toes, able to breathe deep, to soak it all in, to feel free. Every time I take off my shoes I’m reminded of what it felt like for my feet to be free, for my mind and soul to be naked. It’s a constant reminder for me to keep my feet bare all year round, whether shoes are necessary or not.
I believe we all have a sense of restlessness, and for some it’s stronger than others. For some it demands to be heard and for others, it just whimpers quietly beneath the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We’ve created a world for ourselves where there is no time to sit back and listen to our unease. Where there is no time to take off our shoes. We’ve become so used to being “laced up” that it’s easy to forget there is any alternative, we quickly forget how to untie all those knots.
For me, being barefoot has become a metaphor to live by. It is the epitome of freedom, of letting loose, of having not a care in the world, of letting life throw in your direction what it will and welcoming it. Embracing it, transforming it, loving it. Living barefoot will allow you to feel every blade of grass and every grain of sand. Sure, you’re bound to stub a few toes at first, maybe even scrape a few knees from losing your balance, but you get back up and your feet get tougher—it gets easier. Don’t get me wrong; you don’t need to max out your credit cards booking a trip across the world to understand what living barefoot means. We’ve all been able to experience the feeling on one vacation or another, on one beach or maybe even in your own backyard. Take yourself back to that place. Remember that feeling and hold on to it. Whether you need to physically take your shoes off or not, hold onto this feeling everyday and soon it will become second nature.
It seems that continuously society is handing us a pair of shoes and expecting us to fill them. But now, you will choose to leave those shoes at the edge of the sand and run, full force, into the ocean of the unknown. Barefoot.
image: barefoot woman via Shutterstock