Barefoot Kid

How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news!

Photo by Christopher Sardegna

Last night it snowed.

Without thinking anything of it, I slipped on my shoes (without socks), and headed out for the library.

Later in the evening, I found myself in a predicament. Still sheltered under the arts building of my campus, I realized I would have to wade through a few inches of snow to move onto my next station.

I was wearing my barefoot shoes. Which didn’t mean I was barefoot, however the model I own is basically a low sneaker. (Not smart, Glo!)

This morning, I nearly made the same decision when heading out. However, I remembered the Doc Martens I had chosen to set aside, just for snow days.

I’ve been wearing them for a few hours today. Can I just say, after adjusting to the barefoot lifestyle, regular shoes make me feel terrible!

It just felt clunky, stiff, wrong. My back started aching, my pace felt off-kilter, my legs began to cramp, my feet forgot what they were doing, my toes couldn’t splay the way they wanted to, and even my neck felt tense and unbalanced on top of my shoulders. The pains persisted for hours after I freed myself from those shoes in the afternoon.

I would rather have cold feet.

I couldn’t believe that I used to live like that. I couldn’t believe that I had once considered those boots comfortable.

Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by human anatomy. There was no system that functioned alone, independent from the others. I would read about the skeletal, muscular, digestive, nervous, circulatory, endocrine, immune, urinary, reproductive, and respiratory systems, and marvel at the intricate, miraculous structures that allowed us, as human beings, to live.

And in ninth grade, I read a book that captured my imagination: Born to Run.

Christopher McDougall wrote about the Tarahumara Mexican-Indian tribe, who would joyfully run hundreds of miles either in simple huarache sandals or barefoot over natural terrain.

I wanted to experience that kind of freedom, too. The black shoes we had to wear at my new British school would often make me trip. I didn’t like our uniforms either.

I was a runner myself then, however I took a break, not only because of the toxic pollution in the city of Beijing, but also because my feet, knee, and hip began to hurt due to the constant, pounding impact.

Joining swim team, then, was a marvelous choice. I loved using my wide feet to propel myself through the water, and twisting my torso to extend my reach and glide.

I’ve been missing the feeling of bare skin against water. For a while, that was my version of freedom.

This year, the theme of feet has once again returned into my life.

About a year ago, I began to explore minimalism, which is a philosophy of simplifying, living life slowly, and cultivating deeper relationships.

(The way I have practiced minimalism is not just striving for an aesthetic, but by being a conscious consumer-citizen and an activist for social and environmental equity.)

Along the way, I came across minimalist shoes, or “barefoot” shoes.

Essentially, in the current day, shoe manufacturers make shoes which are no longer formed to fit our feet, so our feet slowly form to fit our shoes. Ill-fitting shoes literally disfigure our feet, and this is accepted as normal. As a result, our feet no longer move “naturally,” which impacts how the rest of our bodies move.

Image from Wikipedia:
(Left–B) plaster cast of an adult foot that has never worn shoes displaying natural splayed toes (Right–A) cast of boy showing damage and inward-turned toes after wearing shoes for only a few weeks

This is a shame, because feet literally ground us to the earth. Xero calls them the “foundation of the body,” with one quarter of our body’s bones in our feet, and more nerve endings in our soles than anywhere but our fingertips and lips.

Vivobarefoot says that our feet are meant to be wide (fan-shaped), flexible (with three dynamic arches), and sensory (with thousands of nerve endings). They aren’t meant to be pinched and cushioned. Our toes are designed to splay, and our soles are meant to feel the ground.

The foot is an evolutionary masterpiece. [It] has evolved from a specialization in endurance walking and running for hundreds of generations … Keeping kids in rigid or supportive shoes has been shown to slow brain development and start a lifetime of bad movement habits that result in unskillful, unenjoyable movement for life.

— “Discover/Learn Page” from Vivobarefoot

Well, I wanted in. And I ended up loving it.

And ever since my barefoot shoes arrived in the mail, I have refused to wear anything else.

Until this snow. But even so, my body resists.

To recite an old cliche: I had not known the weight until I felt the freedom.

Until my senses were awakened, I did not know how my sole (soul!) was over-padded, pinched, and deadened with numbness.

Why would I go back to those old ways?

I know now that I was not designed to fit in the shoe, heel, or whatever sort of box society has designed for me.

I am God’s creation. I am His own design, which is sufficient.

I will not change the way I run to be crippled by the products of others’ expectations.

I do not want the next fashionable, high-tech shoe. I do not want to believe (or buy into) every spirit, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. I am my own kind of wild.

I want my feet to constantly feel the Rock they are standing on, and to never rest on any false foundation that keeps me stumbling above it.

Let nothing restrain my feet from their purpose:

How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”

— Isaiah 52:7

They are a bringer of good news. They proclaim peace and salvation, and they usher in the presence of the Lord.

I look around, and wonder how so many people go along, confined to unnatural movement, unawake to the pain they have made themselves comfortable in. Their eyes have not seen, their ears have not heard, their feet have not known the terrain of the Promised Land.

This is why: for those of us who can run, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

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