For the first time this year, I was out and about with bare toes in my Birkis today and yesterday. A moment of silence for wild inner rejoicing.
I love to go barefoot.
Sturdy shoes cause me the same difficulties as wearing gloves. In order to engage successfully with the world I have to be able to touch it, feel it. Gloves and shoes remove the feedback that seems to me to be so vital for complete engagement. Without my fingerpads and the soles of my feet, I can’t always tell what the world means. I can’t bear wearing rubber gloves to carry out household tasks. Up through my bare feet come the thoughts of the earth. When it comes to worship, I’m right there with Moses – bare feet R us.
In former years, before hawking up germ-laden phlegm and spitting it onto the pavement came so ubiquitously back into fashion, I went most places most of the summer in bare feet. My compromise, that takes me through from March to November, is Birkestock sandals for out and about, and bare feet in the house and garden. I drive in bare feet too. As I get into the car I take off my sandals and lift them in, placing them on the floor behind my seat. As a result of this I have several times left a pair of Birkenstock sandals in a car park or at a roadside. I only ever lost one pair permanently doing this.
In the same way as Plain speech can cause us to undergo a complete rethink of our habits of mind (as Karen Mercer thoughtfully reflected here on Quaker Quaker) so going barefoot can encourage us to look more deeply into the Way we walk, our relationship with the earth, and our self-understanding. Walking barefoot becomes a metaphor as well as an actuality.
Walking barefoot requires a person to use the foot differently from walking in sturdy shoes. In shoes, the heel goes down first, striking the ground firmly. Because walking barefoot requires a certain caution or circumspection, the foot goes down foxfoot, with the emphasis on the ball of the foot and toes, not the heel. Steps are shorter and lighter. To practice, while shod, the barefoot walking mode, the thing to do is imagine going stealthily through a perilous situation where it is necessary to walk as softly, quietly and lightly as possible. The foot acts differently.
There is in the world a whole army of people who prefer to go barefoot, whether walking in the ordinary way or running. They see the need to protect their feet from infection and injury, but are reluctant to relinquish the sense of connection with the living Earth. This website and this one give good information about the barefoot revolution. Out of this passion barefoot shoes were born.
The Luna is a barefoot sandal – one can either purchase the necessary materials and make it oneself, or have a pair made up from a selection of options. Barefoot runners say it is wonderful – feeling as though the feet had nothing on them at all. The Luna is reminiscent of traditional sandals from places like India. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, maybe. Over time, Lunas mould to the wearer’s feet. To me, there is something peculiarly beautiful about that. Buddhapada or images of ascension or something.
Sockwa make a high-top – inevitably of interest to any Plain dresser! Though at present the high-top Playa is suited for soft ground, not daily wear on concrete surfaces; or so they say! The Amphibian can go anywhere though.
Our Hebe is a convert to Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot range; they make some very stylish, pretty shoes. There’s a lovely red one. For those of us designed like marsupials with feet that go on forever, the Vivo Barefoot range is sadly too limited. They go up only to size 42 – and recommend taking a size up from the wearer’s normal shoe size.
Soft Star, like Luna, are very precise in sizing, and will custom-make shoes, and they both go up to really big sizes anyway.
Probably the funkiest barefoot shoe of all time is the Vibram Fivefinger – aren’t they fab?
There is also a new shoe, the Stem shoe, coming out later this year, which looks really good.
Many of these shoes are vegan and employ recycled material, as well as manufacturing in situations and with techniques and materials as respectful of the human race and the rest of creation as possible. These are responsible, comfortable footwear making us more aware and responsive and enhancing our health. A good thing in the world.