Although I hadn’t read Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step, I became very intrigued with the concept implied by the title. As an improvisational movement and dance person, I have long been fascinated with how the foot contacts the earth, as well as how everyday movement can be an opportunity for awareness. Last Sunday as I was slowly moving by myself on the dance floor, I became aware of the interrelationship of the many bones in the foot.
A few days before, my body worker had helped me become aware of how energy moves down the inner leg from the hara or belly center to the talus, the bone at the peak of the arch which interfaces with the tibia of the leg, the larger supporting bone in the calf and the heart center. Dropping through the talus of the foot, the heart center feels fully supported.
As I focused on my feet while slowly dancing, I found myself in a new alignment, with my weight dropping from the hara onto the talus, allowing me to feel the inner space of the arch of the foot, and the supporting nature of the surrounding bones. I became a spacious Zen temple, my bones as the structure, with the hara as the hearth at the center.
This entirely new relationship among the bones of my body and the energetic centers allowed me to experience a sense of energetic support as well as great peace. I became aware that my awareness was inside the bones instead of the feeling of standing on the bones of my feet, and the bones felt very comforting and soft. I also became aware that once the energy traveled down the arch to the ground, there was a moment of centering before part of my weight shifted to the heel bone, the calcaneous, that had probably never occurred before in my movement. Fascinated, I explored this all evening, noticing how it created a new movement in my hip as well. That evening when I returned home, I referred to my anatomy book to understand what was happening. I was amazed to discover that the talus does initially bear all the weight, then approximately 50% shifts to the heel bone! That moment when the weight moves purely onto the talus at the height of the arch feels like pure presence.
Tuesday evening I continued this exploration in my women’s movement group. We began with a sitting meditation focusing on the hara, and then I showed everyone diagrams of the foot structure, after which we massaged the bones of our feet with our hands. Next we moved into standing meditation, experiencing the relationship between the hara and the inner arch of the foot, which seems to be where the foot chakra opens to the earth. We connected both these areas to the heart center while standing. Finally, we walked around the room, and everyone reported feeling more presence in their walk, as well as awareness moving into the feet and legs instead of sitting on top of the bones. Greater sense of balance and a relaxation of the thighs and lower back were also reported.
The following day I asked my friend to borrow Peace is Every Step and after reading parts of it, embarked on a four-mile hike, sinking into the bones of my feet with each step. In comparison to my usual walk, I became aware that, as Thich Nhat Hanh notes in Peace is Every Step, the way I usually walk feels like running, moving ahead of myself and not really landing (p. 28). I traversed a trail that I often walk and felt myself falling into each footstep, feeling very peaceful and grounded. At times, I would notice myself lost in thought and my feet returning to their old pattern, and then bring myself back to the feeling of presence in each step.
At the end of the hike I was amazed to note that the hike had only taken perhaps 10 additional minutes compared to the usual amount of time. Another interesting benefit was that the places in my body that sometimes hurt when I am pushing myself to walk, my right knee and hip, were able to completely relax when my foot fully met the ground. I noticed how my normal walk would tend to skim over the bones without the feeling of full support, and my knee and hip would have to compensate for the lack of support
While I have yet to experiment with Thich Nhat Hanh’s actual walking meditation, which includes paying attention to the breath with each step as well, this creative experiment with the feet has been very instructive, illuminating how I am often rushing forward rather than simply arriving where I am.
Nhat Hanh, Thich Peace is Every Step, New York: Bantam Books, 1991.