Letting Go…

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to let go of my Knitter’s Guide To Beer book concept. While I feel this book has good potential for success, and would be fun to write, my body’s ability to comfortably process more than a couple of pints of beer per week has declined noticeably in the past few years. Combine this with the fact that when people find out I’m writing a book about beer they want to have a beer with me – which is awesome! – and it becomes even more difficult to reduce my consumption for the sake of my health.

This problem would only escalate if I were to finish the book, and then attempt to promote and sell it. And so…I’m listening to my body and letting go.

Being a believer in cosmic forces, it’s clear to me that my writing efforts were meant for a different purpose. Something a bit deeper than matching knitting projects to beer styles.

Looking at all I’ve learned over the course of my life so far, I’ve found that my pursuit of passionate, hands-on inquiry and research into a variety of self-selected subjects has taught me far more than I ever learned sitting in a chair in a room answering questions posed by a teacher. Finding answers to one’s own questions, and sticking with a subject until one’s curiosity is satiated, is far more satisfying and productive.

While there are many subjects that have caught my attention and interest during my unschooled life, I’ve settled on four as the focus of my redesigned book project…Unschooled Path: Knitting, Medicine, Beer, and Bare Feet. What I’ve learned from each of these subjects goes far beyond what I expected to learn. In addition, I’ve found that when explored on a deeper level, the four subjects are connected and interdependent. The knowledge and skills I gained in one subject, helped to improve my understanding and abilities in all the others.

So what’s the most important thing I’ve learned from each of these four subjects? Well, I’ll tell ya…

  • Knitting The value of process. How we get there and what we learn along the way are far more important and valuable than achieving our preconceived goal. In other words, the books we read, the people we meet, the skills we struggle to improve, the choices we make, and the experiences we have that disrupt our progress…these are what life is all about.
  • MedicineThe health of the soil will determine the health of our bodies. When we deplete and impoverish our soil, we deplete and impoverish ourselves. Soil, terrain, terroir…these are what matter to our health, far more than bacteria, viruses, genetics, or even chemical exposure.
  • Beer Microbes should be respected as colleagues, as equals, rather than being feared. They are an essential part of our life and necessary for health. The more we understand and respect our microbe friends, the more we are able to assist in the maintenance of a balanced, stable, and healthy environment – for our own benefit, as well as for that of our microbe family.
  • Bare FeetHuman innovation cannot improve on nature. Certain tools and other human creations can make our lives easier, more predictable, and more satisfying, but we only create problems when we start to believe that we can improve nature. Or worse, that we are smarter than nature. When problems arise, we should always look first to a human action that needs to be undone, in order to make things better.

Through this book concept transition, writing, research and learning continue to happen. Sometimes an activity I take on or a book I choose to read seems like a distraction from my task at hand, and then I find that it’s absolutely related and helps in my understanding of the picture as a whole. As I learned from knitting, the process is where the value is.

With that in mind, yesterday I made cheese for the first time and then made these awesome No-Bake Cheese Tartlets. Way yum! And far easier than I thought it would be…even though my kitchen was a disaster when I was done.

Enjoy the journey!

-Jenne Hiigel

Learning to Walk…again.

There is something humbling about taking something you already know how to do and trying to learn a new way to do it. Sometimes this is forced on us, due to an injury or other disability, and other times it is a conscious choice…to expand our awareness, skills, and abilities.

I’ve had this experience before when I taught myself to knit left-handed. I had decades of experience knitting right-handed, but as soon as I turned my knitting around, I was suddenly a novice…again. I learned patience and humility, and was reminded of the benefits of taking new things slowly – adding to your expectations as the motions start to feel more natural. As far as problems, mistakes, and frustrations go, most of them resolve on their own with additional practice. As I’ve regularly told my knitting students, we’ll just worry about the problems that won’t go away.

When I decided to kick off my shoes nearly two years ago (literally, and for as long and as much as possible), I figured I would need to allow time for my feet to toughen up, but overall I thought going barefoot would be pretty straight forward. I mean, sheesh, I already know how to walk. I’ve been doing it since I was nine months old. (It’s true. I was an early walker.) So how hard could it be to just kick off my shoes?

Well, it turns out that barefoot walking is not the same as shoe walking. In fact, the only thing the two really have in common is that you are upright and putting one foot in front of the other. Aside from that, I can point out far more differences than similarities.

The two biggest differences are stride length and how your forward foot hits the ground. When wearing shoes, we learn to take long strides and hit the ground with our heel first. When walking barefoot, your stride is shorter and the ball of your foot is what comes in contact with the ground first…your heel coming down last.

I learned pretty quickly that walking barefoot was not just about kicking off one’s shoes. I had to abandon my old ways of walking and become a novice again. I found myself reading books and watching videos to learn how to walk barefoot. As frustration and confidence have taken their turns over the past couple of years of my barefooting journey, I’ve had to tell myself the same things I regularly tell my knitting students: Relax. You can do it. It’s easy once you learn how. Find your natural rhythm and it will become second nature.

Frustration kicked in again recently when I kept getting early-stage blisters on the balls of my feet, making it painful to walk barefoot. This has been an ongoing challenge. Clearly this was a problem that wouldn’t go away until I learned something new and changed how I was walking. After a day or two of wallowing in my frustration and sore feet, I took a deep breath and did some more research.

My problems are poor posture, over-striding, and horizontal friction when the ball of my foot connects with the ground. (Thanks to Steven Sashan of Xero Shoes for the helpful info on his website!) So it’s time to take a couple of steps backwards and walk shorter distances until the adjustments I need to make start feeling more natural and become second nature.

Step-by-step we learn new things…sometimes more literally than others.

-Jenne Hiigel

Walking Barefoot…

I have been washing my feet a lot lately. Every night, in fact. It has become a ritual; a way of ending the day and preparing for my night’s sleep. This is different from taking a bath or shower, where one’s feet just happen to get clean in the process. Instead, this is focused attention on just my feet, one at a time… gently, lovingly, appreciatively.

As I wash, I get to know each foot a bit better. I rub the soap between my toes, around my heel, and across the ball of my foot – which is becoming increasingly smooth and leathery. I feel the muscles that have grown stronger, now that they’re finally being used again, providing the arch support as nature intended. I check for any minor injuries and give those a bit of extra attention and care.

As I wash my left foot, I always pause at the scar on my ankle bone. It’s slightly over an inch long and at an angle that goes from my heel to my instep. For me, this scar represents the epitome of human arrogance. A physical manifestation of science and medicine believing it can improve on nature.

This scar sometimes makes me sad, sometimes angry, but mostly it makes me determined. It reminds me how disconnected people can become from nature’s design. How much we expect science, technology, and “experts” to solve our problems… and the many new problems that this path creates. How often we look for a new “fix” to an existing problem, rather than letting go of the previous “fix” that created it.

When faced with an incompatibility between nature and science (my foot and shoes), the doctor concluded that nature was at fault and needed to be altered. He could have concluded that there was something wrong with my shoes, or even all shoes, but that’s not what he was trained to do.

The unspoken motto of modern medicine is, “When in doubt, do something.” And often the more invasive the better, because at least you’re taking action, you’re trying, you’re doing your best to remedy the problem. Non-action makes doctors uncomfortable. Just go to a doctor with a problem and say “no, thanks” to all their drugs and procedures, and you’ll see what I mean. Society has also been trained to feel uncomfortable with inaction. “I have a problem. Aren’t you going to do something to help fix it?!” We have lost our faith in nature, in the human body’s ability to heal.

The idea that either doing nothing or un-doing something is often the best course of action is way too radical for most people to handle. In a society where doing nothing or doing less is considered lazy, non-productive, and shows a lack of caring, we often feel forced to take action…even if such action doesn’t help or actually makes the problem worse.

What was the human creation that caused problems for my left foot? Shoes. And the solution that science and medicine came up with to fix that problem? Alter my foot to fit the shoes better.

I was nine or ten years old. Shoes regularly rubbed my left ankle bone, making it sore. Going with the accepted course of action for the period (the 1960’s), I was taken to a doctor to find a solution to this problem. The doctor concluded that my left ankle bone was too big, giving fault to my body rather than the shoes. If the bone was shaved down a bit, making it smaller, shoes would no longer rub that area – thus solving my problem. This is the course of action that was taken.

The surgery itself was not traumatic for me. Reducing the size of my ankle bone solved the specific problem I was having. Medical intervention for physical problems was accepted in our family. It’s only in hindsight that I’ve been bothered; when I look back on what the decision meant – what it says about our way of thinking, our disconnection with nature, our willingness to embrace significant intervention rather than altering or letting go of previous human creations.

It also shows how the solution that seems obvious to me now, going barefoot as much as possible, didn’t even occur to us as an option back then. I have the same problem when I try to imagine how my life would have been different if I had been homeschooled or unschooled, as we did with our own children. Clearly that never would have happened. It wasn’t even considered as an option; not even a flicker of the imagination. If we can’t even imagine it, how can we possibly make it happen?

This is the point of my book. To toss seemingly radical ideas into the ring. To help you expand your options. To have you consider things that may not have even crossed your mind. Some ideas may seem like the next natural step, or they may instead be so foreign in concept that you will need to abandon what you thought you knew in order to even consider them. Either way, awareness is always the most essential step.

Actually, more often than not, the concepts I will be discussing are tried and true ideas. We’ve just forgotten. Or perhaps we never had the opportunity to learn.

In our society there are a few assumptions that are generally agreed upon by a vast majority of people, such as:

  • If you’re sick, you should see a doctor.
  • Shoes are necessary for healthy foot functioning.
  • Bacteria is bad and dangerous. In fact, all microbes are suspect.

Regardless of how much I’ve learned to dispel these assumptions, or at least minimize them to the “only in extreme situations” category, they are still so deeply ingrained in my thinking that I have to continually brush these thoughts away as they keep popping back into my head.

Even though I know that doctors often make things worse rather than better, when I see someone who is ill my first thought will be, “You should see a doctor.” When I’m walking around barefoot and see someone else without shoes, I find myself looking at the person with suspect eyes and thinking, “Where are your shoes?” And even though my fermenting beer or sauerkraut sits in a crock for weeks, often tasting better the longer the microbes are allowed to do their work, I will still look at food that’s been out of the fridge for a couple of hours wondering, “Is this in the danger zone?”

It takes a long time to let go of beliefs that one used to consider hard, fast truths; and I’m actually starting to believe they never fully go away. Perhaps a shadow remains to remind us how easily it can be to get swayed by common assumptions, particularly ones that have been marketed to us from a very young age by people trying to make a buck.

-Jenne Hiigel