Foot politics

Just back from a quick cobweb-clearing solo walk along the Ridgeway between Wantage and Avebury. Before setting out, I’d been shifted by various things I’m doing into a heightened consciousness of my feet. Or more like heightened awareness of my lack of consciousness of my feet. Plates of meat. I suppose it’s natural, in a way, that the part of your body furthest from your head is the one that gets forgotten about…

Grabbing some new trousers before setting off, I’d set my heart on some green ones, but when some rich red ones caught my eye, I thought of the Muladhara (base, or root) chakra, its common association with the colour red, and the fact that it doesn’t just govern the perineum, but the legs and feet as well. Red strides seemed like a good reminder for me to pay attention to the parts of me that connect down to the earth.

Well, my few days’ walk was pretty uneventful, but, as ever, all that solitary time and space opened up my senses a lot. I’m also a sucker for the whole ‘nature trek’ aspect, which gets you in that frame of mind I loved as a kid, going out into the hedgerows with a magnifying glass. The whole trip was crowned by my walk to see some friends near Avebury. Lost in thoughts about animals I liked as a kid, I stopped on the overgrown track to their house when I suddenly became aware of a very young deer sat in my way, only a few metres from where I was. My first thought was, "Shit, it must be injured for it not to have buggered off already," so I made some noise. It turned slowly towards me. No movement. I made more noise. A second or two more of looking, then up and away! It bounded off into the hedge and vanished. Fantastic!

Along the way I kept asking my feet—bearing the full weight of my camping stuff, food & water—when they needed a rest. This was partly that fun type of talking-to-yourself insanity that long walks lead to, but mostly that more intimate dialogue with different parts of yourself that this insanity opens up. And doing it made me realise I’m pretty compulsive when it comes to walking—paying attention to where my feet are at usually gets sidelined in favour of just eating up those miles and getting the oxygen high.

I pushed my feet hard once, trying to beat some menacing rainclouds to Barbury Castle. I eventually collapsed in ecstatic relief on the sheltered bench there to massage my feet and watch the deluge commence… But along the way, the phrase "my feet are killing me" came to mind. And I thought, "Really, who’s killing who?"

I constantly flip my vision of everything around me between micro and macro, taking perspective from each. Thus, global geopolitics snaps into focus when I see it in terms of schoolyard politics; and my own body’s processes get illuminating flashes from the light of the biosphere. Mostly seen as harmless hippyish cogitation, hackles often rise—with good reason—when it comes to social divisions. As in: if there’s a social body, who’s the brain and heart, and who’s the arse and feet?

I read Bruce Lincoln’s fascinating book Myth, Cosmos and Society a few years ago, where he expands on Georges Dumézil’s idea that Indo-European societies are based on a primal tripartite structure. This extended into myth and ritual as well as forming a basis for social division, and was modelled on a division of the body. The head equated with royalty and the priestly lot, the chest and arms with the warriors, and the belly down with farmers and artisans.

The use of such "natural" divisions to justify hideously unjust social systems is a can of worms I can’t begin to open here. But thinking on these lines made me think really hard—some would say a little too hard—about the phrase "my feet are killing me". It just conjures a vision of risible, out-of-touch aristocrats getting puffed up and offended when some workers rally against them, protesting against unbearable back-breaking working conditions.

Such, I fear, is the dynamic at work in the mind-body division; even as I slowly, patiently melt it away with yoga and bodywork.

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