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