Feet in the Air

Trail running can be hard on the feet. Rocks and roots snap at you like bear traps. Injuries mount and linger, new pains arise before the old ones subside. Broken toes, twisted ankles, black and missing toenails, blisters, bruised heels. Every footstep is an ordeal.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Sometimes it gets to be too much. Sometimes I stand at the trailhead, leaning forward on my feet, one finger poised on my watch’s start button, and I realize… I do not want to do this. I don’t want to take the first step, never mind ten thousand.

So what then?

Deepak Chopra tells the story of a Buddhist monk suffering from foot pain so agonizing that he can no longer walk the monastery grounds. He is visited by an elder monk, who gives him this advice: “When you walk, one foot at a time connects with the ground and causes you pain. Focus your awareness on the foot that is in the air.”

Pain will always be a presence in life. Perhaps physical, perhaps emotional. But the elder monk’s words are a reminder that the pain is not everywhere, not everything in that moment. It might cry for our attention, or try to bully us into collapsing our entire beings around it. In those times we can direct our mindfulness elsewhere, to other parts of our bodies and other points of happiness in our lives — the people and pets who love us, for example, or our good fortune to have homes or jobs or food or health when others do not. It helps us to balance our view of the universe, to draw strength and sustenance from the good things, even as the negatives embattle us on the other side.

So however you and I are hurting today, let’s focus on our feet in the air.

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