Day three of my challenge was another 30-minute barefoot walk, some posture resets, and ten ankle circles. Before I left my tomb-like basement office to walk over to the field house for my workout, I watched Chris McDougall’s 15-minute TED talk. Again. If you’ve ever doubted that humans were indeed born to run, then watching this will change your mind. I’ll let Chris speak for himself, but one of the ideas he asks us to consider is that we evolved as a roving band of pack animals. Equal parts competitiveness and compassion. And of course, that running was a key part of our survival. Without the ability to run long distances in hot weather (no other animal on the planet has this skill), none of us would be here today. Running used to be a part of our daily lives. And it used to be fun. For many of us, as McDougall points out, running is instead a painful chore, something we do because we had pizza and Ben & Jerry’s last night. But it doesn’t have to be.
I noticed again today that walking barefoot demands mindfulness. Maybe “demands” is too strong a word. Encourages, perhaps. I stand erect, gaze at the horizon, rather than the ground, and walk slowly and consciously, trying to stay aware of the sensations of every step.
During breaks in Zen meditation, we perform what’s called kinhin, or conscious walking. We pay attention to every thought, every breath, every step. The Buddha said that when a monk sits, she knows she is sitting. When a monk stands, he knows he is standing. And when monks walk, they know they are walking. Sounds simple, but try for even five minutes to walk with complete mindfulness. Our modern ways of rushing from place to place, pulled by our conscious and unconscious desires, makes it almost impossible to do so. Unless we have practice.
I was also thinking again today of the running monks of Mount Hiei, who I’ve written about elsewhere, and who I consider my spiritual brothers and sisters. They run their marathons in flimsy, homemade straw sandals. Rain or shine. Day or night.
I’ve begun wearing a mala bead bracelet I bought at the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery in Woodstock, NY when I was there recently for a writer’s festival. It’s fragile, but reminds me of my commitment. To follow through with my 30-day challenge. To move past fear and pain. To ultimately use this body as an instrument for awakening.