“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
It is early morning, the house is still and quiet. I am drinking hot coffee and writing in my journal. The space heater hums behind me, warming the small space of my writing studio. When I stand up to go to the kitchen to get more coffee my right leg is stiff and my left leg lingers too long to make a graceful stride. I tentatively put my right foot down, placing more weight on the outside of the foot. It takes a lot of effort as I slowly make my way to the kitchen in the dim light of the early morning.
A week ago I was finally given the permission to begin wearing tennis shoes and to start walking again. Walking is awkward at best right now. I knew walking was going to be slow and it was going to feel strange. I did not understand how much moving fast was important to me. I didn’t realize learning to walk again was going to teach me to let go of old beliefs.
I miscalculated how much my body forgot how to walk. I miscalculated how uncomfortable I was going to be internally— how much being able to move efficiently is wrapped up in my self-worth.
When I get up from a sitting position to walk somewhere, whether down the hall at work or to go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, I have a moment of forgetting my foot is still healing. I forget that due to the weeks in a walking cast, my muscles have learned new patterns of operating. I forget, limp a few steps and then feel a deep discomfort of not being in control.
I am in physical therapy two to three times a week to wake up my foot. I need to relearn how to use the network of tiny muscles and ligaments— how to reestablish my gait. I am grateful I access to the health care to learn how to walk again. I am making progress, slow progress.
The hardest part is how slow I move. It is startling to remember that “oh yes I can’t move fast.” Yet I am finding this is where the magic is despite my internal resistance to accepting my present limitations.
Every time I get up I am propelled to move at my normal fast pace, the pace that tells me I am doing enough, and I quickly feel discomfort and pain in my right foot. My movements are stiff and awkward. I stop, I take a deep breath, and I bring all of my attention to how I am walking. I slow down— way down. I focus on my breath. I focus on making sure I feel my full foot falling—heel first then rolling forward to the toe. I hear the physical therapist’s voice telling me to evenly spread my weight across my foot. I pay attention to how it feels when the left foot moves forward to do the same thing. I stay with my breath and I keep focusing on how it feels to walk.
If my mind wanders and I loose focus, my gait becomes jerky and stiff. Just like in my meditation practice, I chastise myself for wandering and then let it go. I bring my attention back to the present moment and only on the activity I am doing, walking, then my gait smooths out— and I am moving super slow.
More or less I am doing a walking meditation. Albeit a some what forced walking meditation. I feel strange and like I stand out as people speed by me in the halls at the office. I realize just how much of my sense of self worth and pride I have wrapped up in moving fast, in doing enough—being unstoppable.
Yet, a part of me, the part that strives to live with an open heart. The part that wants to connect with others, wants to fully participate in life and not run from it, likes this forced mindfulness practice. I like being slower. I find myself thinking, how can maintain this as I continue to heal. I am realizing my worth is not wrapped up in how much I do or how efficient I am.
I am not only learning to walk again. I am learning once again there are always opportunities for me to practice mindfulness and open my heart—if I am open to them.