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  • Writer's pictureLuke Dowding

Sole Relief

Learning a few heart lessons from… my feet.

I spend a lot of time looking at my feet these days.

The left one is hairier than the right.

The right has a tattoo of the Albanian double-headed eagle on it. The Shqiponja.

Both are otherwise fairly symmetrical to the naked eye, except for the little toe on my left foot that has never quite recovered from the time I think I broke it in 2019…

My feet have, up until recently, represented the necessities of life to me. Not that I’ve spent too much time meditating upon them or the metaphor they offer, except when the thought struck me on the yoga mat the other day.

There I was in a forward fold, just looking at my highly arched, bony feet. In fact, it was the absence of revulsion that I first noticed; I’ve always believed myself to not be a fan of my feet or anyone else’s. These are the workforce of the body, unloved and shoved on the periphery – labouring without love or attention. In addition, I’ve been repulsed by the idea of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet ever since I first remember that story being shared on Maundy Thursday. Dirty, dirty things. Especially given that the widely accepted understanding of this episode is that Jesus is either debasing himself to demonstrate his status as a suffering servant, or that we are unable to come before God until we are completely “clean”. Or both.

Of course, as someone who trained for ordained Christian ministry, my brain can’t help but work in sermon illustrations – even though preaching makes up a very small part of my work. I began to empathise with my feet (stick with me here), realising that we had far more in common than I’d perhaps been previously willing to acknowledge.

I have often felt unloved in my body. Unloved because of the desires it has; the occasional awkwardness of my height and build; where my hair grows in that weird patch on the bottom of my back.

I’ve also willingly subjected my body to hatred, a hatred fuelled by the dualism found in many Christian traditions. That my body is weak, broken, and something that is not quite as the Divine had intended it to be. That I am unworthy through the desires of my flesh.

Over the years this has manifested itself in the physical through strict control: exercise, food, sex. I’ve been over-exercising and under-eating for years, with the occasional foray into over-eating/drinking compensated by over-exercising again. At the age of 33 I’m still learning about the very basics of my sexual identity, what makes me tick, what doesn’t, and uncovering all that I’ve ignored or felt ashamed of.

As I looked at my feet, blood rushing to my head as I breathed further into the forward fold, I almost wanted to re-introduce myself after years of absence.

“I’m sorry that I’ve ignored you all this time.”

Because of course, my feet are just representing everything else I’ve ignored about myself over the years. My wants, desires, needs. All of these are just as essential, just as necessary to me as my feet.

When I bring myself daily to my yoga mat, occasionally my guide (Adriene, guru and queen) will encourage those practicing alongside her to give their feet a massage. Initially I gently (read: arrogantly and dismissively) dismissed this suggestion and sat quietly until that particular weirdness ended. But when I gave it a go, I realised how sore they were, how much of a burden they had been carrying with no gratitude or care.

Where else in our bodies might we need to find the time for a little self-massage? What other sore spots have we been avoiding, ignoring, mistreating, because we have been taught to find them dirty or shameful?

Whilst I’m not yet fully reacquainted with my feet, nor the other parts of my body which have carried and continue to carry pain, my heart is glad to have started that process. As I allowed myself to fall forward, experiencing that physical letting go, perhaps I uncovered a fledgling ability to emotionally let go and tend to the sore spots there too.


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