Valentine’s Day. We pass newspaper stands in pharmacies: covid numbers up, climate temperatures up and down, stock market down. Messages of hate. We read sour headlines, then lift our gaze to the sweets. Candy hearts with messages of love. Chocolate.
Sometimes I don’t know what to do, how to be in this up and down world, when to step in, when to step out. I do know, speaking of stepping, that we can lose our footing, figuratively, as in “there is no solid ground these days.” And we can lose our actual footing, trip over mounds of snow, slip on ice. These are destabilizing, unbalancing times.
So today, because I, because none of us, can stop what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe of living,” I am doing one thing I can do, one thing we could all do. I’m feeling the soles of my feet on the floor, grounding. We can’t stop the world’s whirring, but we can, for a few brief moments anyway, stop whirring with it.
Instructions are simple. Feel the sensations in the soles of the feet. Sitting at desks. Walking from room to room. Stepping on the earth. Standing in line at the post office. Sound crazy? Not so crazy as trying to keep pace with an out-of-control world.
As a bow to a recently deceased beloved teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, a friend and I made a commitment to ninety days of ease. She said, “I speed up at Valentine’s time. Candy to buy. Cards to write for kids and grandkids.”
I said, “for years, fast was my only speed. A physical therapist asked me to walk a few days after hip replacement surgery. She said, ‘Walk slowly down this long hallway.’ I did, at least I thought I did. She stopped my almost-jog mid-hall. ‘Whoa,’ she said, ‘is that what you call slow?’”
We laughed. “Feel your feet hit the ground. Feel the floor. It’s called Soles of the Feet practice.”
Then she quoted Thay (as his students called him, meaning teacher), “It’s called ‘peace is every step. Walk as if your feet are kissing the Earth.’”
Our 90-day commitment to ease might bring “a certain freedom,” my pal and I said. And then, “How does a commitment to ease look? How do we ease? How do we stop wobbling in a world where everything wobbles?”
My physical therapist said, “First, you slow, then you notice. Your steps are staccato in rush-mode. Try landing softly on the ground. First, slow, then soften.”
My body calmed as I practiced what Thay taught, with each footfall, whispering, “I am here. I have arrived in the present moment.”
My pal asked, “So, what fuels non-ease?”
“For one thing, the news.”
“Could we watch less?” she asked. “Could we delete e-mails and Facebook posts, unsubscribe?”
“Maybe,” we high-fived.
There are millions of ways to help the world beyond feeling the soles of the feet as we walk, or, say, as we stand at the sink washing dishes. Yet Thay repeated, “peace in the world begins with peace in oneself.”
So, it’s worth steadying our feet, steadying our rhythm, then noticing how slowness happens, how that steadiness in this unsteady world moves through the body, steadies the mind.
Then maybe we can stroll with ease by the newsstands with their stories that bring us down, stride past the Valentine’s candy which jazzes us up, and focus on the love which February 14 is all about, which Thay was all about. Love would be grounding, stabilizing and sweet.