Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity with those affected by generations of structural violence. You can help »

The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

All Issues
MAR 2020 Issue
Critics Page

Walking: Foot as Conduit

Satellite view of Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire, England. Image in the public domain.
Satellite view of Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire, England. Image in the public domain.

Is there a force coming up out of the earth that we absorb through our feet while walking? This question has been vapor, been a ghost, been there invisible throughout my walking life. We’d walked, following Richard Jefferies, the 19th-century nature-mystic who came here before, to White Horse Hill and standing above on a green hill that at that moment had been turned into an island, an ephemeral grey sea washing in around its base. Into the green turf carpeting White Horse Hill is cut the Uffington Horse. One hundred meters long, we walked slowly, mindfully from tail-tip to head, dropping between its ears, to stand in its table-like eye where for the first time real words condensed onto my tongue and I said them aloud. What Richard Jefferies knew he absorbed directly from the earth through the bottom of his feet as he walked.

We were there walking the scarp of the Berkshire Downs, hoping for insights as to why Richard Jefferies had, or so it seemed, pierced the veil between life and death, as if the present might make use of his past. We were eight miles from Coate, where Jefferies was born in a farmhouse, the same farmhouse from which he staged daily walks throughout the years he lived there, thinking, dodging accusations of “idleness” raging against him, sitting atop hills, back against trees, wondering. We were there because the year before we had discovered in a used-book store in Maine, a copy of the book, The Story of my Heart (1883).

“Have you heard of this book?” Terry asked. I’d not. “Have you heard of this man?” I’d not. We bought the book, read it out loud to each other and wondered why it had been invisible and how to make it visible. The book, full of unpredictably accurate futures, the clear blending of worlds, spiritual and ecological concerns that transcend generations, seemed to us to have come from somewhere else. Somewhere beyond Richard Jefferies, who although his education was scant, had read Plato, Socrates, and possibly Thoreau, to whom he is often compared.

I spent a year obsessed with this book, with Jefferies, and could only conclude that this book was only possible by the act of walking. For a time, that was enough. Once we finished our introduction and afterword and the new edition of The Story of My Heart was published, I began wondering, what is absorbed from the earth “through the soles of [our]feet?” and how?

Since then, I’ve made more discoveries, clues supporting the possibility that feet are conduit for the raw truth of the earth. At Charles Darwin’s Down House, I discovered his “Sandwalk,” where he went daily or while writing down some of history’s most important ideas, he became stuck or lost. We explored the South Downs of Sussex where Virginia Woolf walked while writing To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, and other novels which continue to pass the test of time. I’ve walked in Thoreau’s footsteps around Walden Pond and read and re-read his famous “Walking” essay, because I need to know why “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” These great thinkers had one thing in common. They walked. Nietzsche who walked wrote that “only thoughts reached by walking have value.”

The Daoists believe that the earth emanates lifeforce that we can absorb. This life force is directly related to evolution—this lifeforce may be evolution!—which moves life successfully into the future. Once we understand this, we may realize the role we play in our own evolution. Recently scientists have discovered the “Schumann Resonance”—which pulses at 7.83 Hertz per second. The earth’s lifeforce is a pulse.

According to the Tao, we can absorb this energy through our feet—there’s a point, upper-mid sole, at the base of the ball of the foot, the yuan-chauny, through which when during each step weight is placed there, the earth’s energy is drawn up. Which, they say, represents the roots of the Tree of Life, penetrating into the earth.

The ball of the foot.

Lately, I see much documenting the benefits of walking barefoot, due I’m sure to this same phenomenon. I like walking barefoot. I do it when I can. And now, because I cannot always be barefoot, to remove the obstacle for the earth’s energy as it passes through me, I will cut a hole in each of my shoes.

Contributor

Brooke Williams

Brooke Williams can often be found near Moab, Utah, walking, writing, and thinking.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

All Issues