from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 7 July 2013


The first field I walk in has just been cut for hay – maybe yesterday. A blue tractor is circling the edges, turning the hay in this beautiful July sun. Under my feet, the hay is warm, textured, soft. Every step releases fragrance. As I descend to the little brook, under tree-cover the ground beneath my feet is cool and damp still with dew. Tiny purple self-heal flowers are at the margins. I dip my feet into the small low-flowing brook; the dog drinks and paddles beside me.

The next field, cut presumably last week or so, has already been cleared of its hay and the grass is short, turfy and very soft to the soles of my feet. Growing grass is more refreshing, of course, to step on than semi-dried cut grass. Under the trees at the borders there's just a little wet earth: I relish its slight give and ooziness, minimal though that is, in the heat.

Over the little wooden bridge and into a field of long meadowgrass, tipped with mauve and silver flowering heads, and the russet of sheep-sorrel. The grasses sigh against my bare legs; leave a tide of slightly-damp seeds. Here I walk more slowly, more mindfully, as I can't see so well what I'm treading on: it's slightly damp because it's early and because the grass is long, so there may be slugs (and treading on a huge black or brown-and-orange field slug, feeling its viscous squelch between your toes, is an unpleasant experience, and it takes ages to get rid of the slimy feel), and there are both thorn and holly trees close enough to have scattered prickles. Also this field has occasional outlying slate slabs, once part of some sort of causeway leading to the old stone clapper-bridge that the farmer in his wisdom partly dismantled last year, where a snake would enjoy sunbathing. It's good, walking slowly and watching my feet: I'm more aware of every part of my foot and how it makes contact with the ground, aware of all the muscles and bones that have carried me so many thousands of miles in my life (leaving on one side all the extra walking I do, simply giving the dog her daily minimum I know that I do about 700 miles a year).

Over another stile and this meadow too has been left long, though sheep have been here more recently, and more recently still Simon, who works so well in harmony with the land to bring out its best, has started to take out some of the scrubbier bushes by the brook to allow trees to flourish, and has cut a small path through the meadow. This grass is gently stubbly, maybe a day's growth.

Four different experiences – six, if you include the damp earth, and the brook I dipped my feet into – and my feet are in heaven.

I come out onto the tarmac of the lane with its scattering of dirt, gravel and twigs, and decide to walk home barefoot too. This is harder going – of course – tarmac has no give and flex, doesn't respond, or yield, to a foot the way grass and earth do. But it's the little sharp stones that are the issue. My feet are soft, now.

I realise it must be more than two decades since I routinely spent all summer barefoot. Being brought up and continuing to live in the country (and also being a hippy), it was natural to walk barefoot as much as possible when I was younger – at least a great deal of the time.

When did I stop? Even when I was a shoemaker, making shoes from natural materials that were actually good for people's feet – pretty, colourful, made-to-measure, not clumpy but still foot-shaped – I mostly preferred the barefoot way, though I wore them, to show them off, when I was working from my workshop that was open to the public. I do have a memory, though, of excruciating pain after my daughter's flighty little mare leaped sideways once and landed on my (stupidly bare, in this case) foot, breaking two toes and severing my metatarsal ligament. Perhaps that was when?

Gradually, I guess I got absorbed into a more conventional way of living.

Well, you know, stuff that. It's back to barefoot for me a bit more now, after this morning! Time to toughen my soles/feed my soul up a bit more.

I notice that few people are comfortable walking barefoot. On my Ground of Being courses, outdoors on eg Dartmoor, I invite people to take their shoes off. Hardly anyone ever does; but I was very touched when Dominic, who has come to GoB and also came to Iona with my retreat group this year, thought to take his shoes off to walk the labyrinth. It really does make a difference to the experience. Why do we resist? Is it the dirt? Dirt washes off! – though it's true that it takes a good scrub at the end of the day, and I suppose that people resist the aesthetics of engrained dirt and calloused soles.

Against that, though, aren't we already far too insulated from the earth in our man-made soles, tin cars, synthetic carpets, concrete environments? How on earth can the earth's subtle energies get through to us, keep us whole and healthy?

Along with every other animal, humans have walked barefoot and slept on the ground for the major part of our evolution. Our deracination, due no doubt to varied causes, has been exacerbated by urbanisation, industrialisation, technology. In our computer age, this disconnection is the norm.

So we're ignoring a major source of health and wellbeing. Some say that the surface of the earth contains continual healing energy. The ground provides subtle electromagnetic charges that can affect the many systems of the body; insulated from these by our lifestyles and the materials we wear and use is rather like forgetting to plug a lamp into a power socket and then complaining it doesn't work.

What if this physical disconnection from the earth might have impacts on our physiology, state of mind, sleep patterns and stress levels? It certainly has an impact on the life of the soul, the felt warm experiential life of connectedness.

The answer might be so very simple.


  1. I agree. Being bare footed is a pleasure! Here in rural Portugal it is really frowned on. The people cannot bear to see you with no shoes on. It is too close to their past. To be bare footed is to be poor and shameful. In this heat (40) the soles of my feet burn if I go out without my sandals! and also , now it is thistle season. But as soon as I can, I take them off and let them feel the connection. :)

  2. What a beautiful post, and it arrived in my twitter feed on the heels of a week away on a wild mindfulness retreat where barefoot foot wandering was common practice - a new experience for me and, I feel, possibly the first steps in a journey to connecting more with the earth than I ever have. I've only ever walked barefoot on the beach before and I realised on this retreat that I was actually scared of connecting skin to skin with other forms of life, the green plants and multicoloured wee beasties. I assumed I would be stung/scratched/bitten immediately and it was a real physical shock to receive warmth from the sun soaked grass, or feel the gentle tickle of grass blades between my toes, or the cool dry comfort from woodland leaf litter... it's really blown my mind. I don't really have the right words for it but it seems to be a really important thing, this contact with the ground. We put so much effort into creating barriers between ourselves and everything else; shoes, wellies, waterproofs, gloves, thick concrete houses, garden decking, picnic blankets, its endless. I think you're right about it being an important source of wellbeing. It's a shame the area I live in is nettle central - I'm scared again!

  3. Thanks both for your comments and relationship to this! Naomi, that was lovely - and yes I do think it's a really important thing; can't quite get why so few people try it.

    I wonder if you were working with Dave Key? If so, you might like to know that many of my workshops take a similar approach - if you fancy trying this in France at the end of summer, I've a week's writing retreat involving mindfulness outdoors at the end of summer! Yes, barefeet will be involved from time to time at least! ;-).

    Meantime, take care with the nettles - a firm step helps! And maybe it's a question of gently-gently at first?

    1. Yes the week was run by Dave (and Mags and Rob), it was...I'm not sure of the best word, maybe potent? Some quite challenging thoughts came up about my career (I'm currently TB testing so you might imagine the conflicts) and my attitudes to pretty much anything that isn't a mammal. Definitely set my thinking on new paths and it's all seems to be powered by the gentle but very real felt experiences of wandering barefoot in a meadow or wood, or just listening to all the layers of sounds all around.
      The week in France sounds intriguing. Writing is not something I've really done much of (tons of reading), though it's always hovered at the edges, something I keep thinking I want to try but I think I chicken out, afraid all I'll be able to come up with would be vacuous and unoriginal, and so don't put time aside for it. Do you have to be an experienced writer in order to gain much from your week?

  4. Hello Naomi - gosh, TB testing - talk about being in the hot seat...! I like what you have to say, above.

    As regards France, well this time there's a real mix of people – experienced and otherwise, poets and prose writers. Two things to say, really: one is that no matter how much we've written, whether or not we're published, that fear you name never goes away!

    The second thing is that my retreat is very definitely a gentle encouraging space to map our journey through the continuing present in a mindful way (if that doesn't sound too pretentious!), so it's very much not about being a 'good writer', and it very much is about being open to whatever happens, writing from that place. We bring no judgement to the process, just the experiencing of it, and then recording it in words. You can't get it wrong, really!


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