“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I first read this a couple years ago. How on earth, I thought, am I supposed to remember to ‘kiss the ground’ when I barely have time to get to where I need to be? It looks like a pretty maxim to live by- but not very practical.
I forgot about it. The Earth didn’t really figure into my grand plans and my life story- why would it? I was so involved in zipping back and forth across the damn thing. Months and years went by before I hit a wall. I was disconnected. Existing entirely within the confines of my own head, my whole reality revolved around just that one viewpoint. It was an overwhelming shock to realise how limiting and limited that kind of life was. The threads between me and the people around me were tenuous at best.
A friend told me to kick my shoes off and take myself out of that self-imposed box. I thought they were mad but I tried it anyway. I took my shoes off. There’s a particular strength to standing barefoot on earthy ground, feet planted shoulder width apart. I could feel a certain life connecting me to the latent ground beneath me. The ground that produced the food that made up every cell of my body. The ground that would likely be my home when I conked out. As a woman, I felt a particular connection to the nurturing presence of the solid earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote came back and whacked me across the head. Human beings far older and wiser than I have said many words about connecting to the earth. I watched my steps and realised there is a certain arrogance in the way I clack about- a certain entitlement to the ground I stomp on. I crush blades of grass and lay down my concrete roads and knock off trees that get in my way and plant flags of discovery like I’m the most badass wonder that ever happened.
The whole idea is strangely hilarious. Science and technology have made grand leaps in explaining how life works- how leaves push up through the deadest of branches, undeterred, how a bit of dust can turn into wheat and potatoes and bread and rice on the table, how the clouds roll in and change the entire landscape overnight. And yet I bang about thinking all this somehow depends on me, somehow belongs to me, somehow exists at my beck and call, and can be built up or destroyed on my whims.
If you watch the raindrops pelting into soft earth, or the dance of predator and prey as it plays out across a natural stage- look at how they connect to the land. The mightiest lion or the strongest elephant or the wildest horse- each regard the steps they take a very particular way. There is a softness and a fierceness. The harshest of gallops flows in tandem with the beat of the Earth. It is never a statement of ownership.
And so I experimented. How would I kiss the earth with my feet? I walked like a rainstorm, or a leopard on a hunt, or a tortoise ambling along. I danced like a sparrow. It felt new. Different. Connected. Then I asked myself why I cared. The earth is a living being. The life that flows through me comes from and returns to her deepest, darkest chambers. That life is sacred. And all my zipping about is utterly meaningless if I cannot pay homage to that simple fact.
So yes. I will forget and fail and lose sight of the bigger picture. But I will remind myself what is important to me. I will remind myself to kiss the earth with my feet. Practical or not- how else do you live?
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