Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Barefooted Spirituality

"Holy Ground"
-In the High Desert Region-

When I attend my yoga class, I am expected to take off my shoes and place them at the entranceway of the studio. The other day I asked my instructor if there was a reason why yoga is done in bare feet.  "Yes of course," was his immediate reply. "Shoes and sandals serve as barriers separating us from the earth. We stand bare-footed so that we can be directly connected to the ground, planted in the earth." 

It struck me that this is exactly what happens as I stand barefoot in that yoga class. I stand there vulnerable, exposed, without protection, and so I am "grounded" in what "is."

This realization gave me a flash of new insight about a biblical story I had heard hundred of times before in the Hebrew Scripture -the story of "Moses and the Burning Bush."

I have always found this story to be particularly appealing, probably because it is so poetic and such a wonderful metaphor about the "experience of transcendence." This is one of those stories that, if you read it literally or think of it as an historical account of long-ago events, you miss the whole point of what the story teaches. 

Wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, Moses goes up a high mountain and searches for "God." Standing there on the mountaintop, Moses encounters "God" in the form of a "burning bush." There on the mountain, the whole earth is on fire - it pulsates with an energy of eternal love.  Moses is then told to "take off his shoes" because he is "standing on holy ground."

As I stood barefooted in the yoga studio the other day, I finally "got" the meaning of why Moses had to take off his shoes on that mountaintop - not as a sign of respect because he was in the Divine Presence, but because the shoes were a barrier. He took off his shoes so that he could be vulnerable, without protection, directly connected to the earth that was pulsating with the burning energy of love. 

I love this story of the barefooted Moses standing on Holy Ground. It is a story that teaches me that everywhere any of us stands is always Holy Ground.  The universal energy of Love flows through and in everyone and everything that "is"- every quark and every atom, every rock and hill, every creature, every person. 

And yet we are often unaware of that Holy Ground on which we stand because we put on heavy boots and wear thick leather shoes that serve as barriers.  We put on the protective boots of "ego" and imagine that we are separated and isolated from the rest of the world. We put on the hard-leather shoes of our rigid ideas and glib explanations, our desires and cravings for more and better, we protect ourselves by living in our memories of the past and in our dreams about the days to come.   

And so we are unaware, and unavailable, protected against and separated from the Holy Ground of the present moment in which we walk each step of life.  

The spiritual path is one that must be walked in bare feet so that we might be connected to what "is," vulnerable, no protection, no barriers - just totally and always available, grounded and planted in "now." 

The poet Rainer Marie Rilke once advised his young charge to look beneath the surface of life and see things as they really are:

See everything 
and ourselves in everything
healed and whole

In the story of "Moses and the Burning Bush," Moses on the mountaintop saw things as they really are - everything belonging together, healed and whole forever, all the many in the ONE and the ONE in the many. 

Moses had to "take off his shoes" to see it this way  - so do we all. 


  1. Thank you for your thoughts Paul. Enjoyed and informed by them as always.