Blåsippan ute i backarna står is probably the most well known Swedish childrens song during the 20th century. It is about how the children see the blue anemone, an early spring flower, and they run home to their mother saying now spring is here so now we should be allowed to walk barefoot.
That was how it when I was a child. The summer months was the time to be barefoot. It was a relief for the whole body not to have to wear heavy and clumsy winter boots. The forest was of course my favorite place. Both moss and spruce paths were soft there. Gravel roads were not as comfortable to walk on, one had to patter more carefully. Sure, I scratched my feet sometimes, but it happened at least as often with elbows and knees so the idea of shoes to protect my feet never crossed my mind.
I can’t remember that I suffered from having to wear shoes at school or when we went into town, the feet got all the barefoot time they needed. Then we moved to Africa where there were dangerous parasites. Shoes outdoors was a necessity. Only then did I begin to miss walking barefoot. Not that I thought about it all the time but still it was a delight for both body and soul when we after two years went back to Sweden on vacation and I once again got to feel grass, moss and stones under the soles of my feet. Just like all girls I was, as a child, molded into become a civilized, proper woman whom had myself under control. When you constantly tries to control yourself, you lose contact with your wild self. In my teens, the need to be barefoot was completely suppressed and my potential wild woman was not given the opportunity to emerge.
Nowdays most cultures in the world are patriarchal and girls are trained to be women who are wary of the wild woman within them. But even if we have learned to control ourselves - our bodies so we move tantalizingly sexy but not freely and wild, our voices so we don’t speak too loud and always in high pitch so that men doesn’t feel threatened - the wild woman is there all the time. She pokes and pushes, she scratches and doesn’t leave us alone no matter how much protection we put on. She helps us feel that there is something we are missing and she lets opportunities and possibilities stare us straight in the face.
We can feel the dissatisfaction, but it is not until we have matured, have gathered enough courage, that we accept the opportunities she shows us. Possibilities she shows can be, for example, Jungian analysis, transformation dancing, re-birthing or, in my case, psychodrama.
Once we have met the wild woman inside ourselves, convention can no longer hold us. Instead, we can choose to follow norms when it suits and benefits us, well aware that this is not our only option.
The Wild Woman
That the wild woman is wild is implied in the word, but wild means quite different things depending on who you talk to.
In Woman Who Run With The Wolves. Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:
“Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing.”
A wild and natural creature that, I think, not only represents the natural in women but also has a well-established contact with nature, with the earth. The wild woman has roots deeply rooted in the earth. She knows and understands the dark and the invisible well and it doesn’t scare her. Her roots stretch far back in time, giving her knowledge and stability. The wild woman knows that death is a part of life as well as pain and sorrow. She knows that fear of grief and death inhibits the joy of life, that fear of not being ‘good enough’ suppresses the innate creative forces. She also knows that the only thing eternal, is movement. That certainty is so well rooted in her that she never wastes energy trying to hold on to how life is right now or, even less, what has been. Instead, she moves in the spiral, dancing its dance.
When we get in touch with the wild woman within, our inner landscape changes. It is a breathtaking feeling, sometimes delightful but often also frightening. It can take quite a long time from the time we first sense her until our conscious self has contact with her. Naturally the shape she takes depends on who you are, what life experiences you carry, but she always grows from the inside out.
In general, roots are associated with family, origin and upbringing. If we stay where we have parents, siblings and childhood friends, we have a physical safety net that provides a certain stability and a foundation since there are people nearby who step in when you need help. But that safety net can also become a snare if you want to change yourself and how you handle your social roles.
When we start creating our own personal roots we give ourselves the opportunity to get in touch with the wild woman’s roots. These roots are not family- and growing up-roots. No, the wild woman’s roots are something else, they are ancient, they perceive the invisible and the unknowable. We give the content of her roots many names – intuition, creativity, inner courage, power and inner certainty are just a few examples.
Often we do not know that it is the wild woman, her roots, that we are in touch with, but we notice that we become more intuitive and creative. We notice that we are no longer as compliant, that we find it easier to speak out and stand up for our ideas and opinions and that we become more creative in our argumentation. It is also common to remember your dreams to a much greater extent than before.
Shoes – a cultural trap
Walking barefoot outside the beach has almost become taboo. There are many reasons why this has happened. One reason, of course, is that shoes used to be status (and still are, I’m just saying Prada). Shoes were expensive and poor people had to make do with clogs for everyday use. In addition, in many Christian slave cultures, such as 19th-century South Africa, slaves were forbidden to wear shoes. What we had on our feet showed more clearly than anything else which class we belonged to. Barefoot were only those of the very lowest standing.
Another, more underlying reason comes from the Christian tradition where everything physical is dirty. Our bodies are seen as unclean but the dirtiest of all is the earth. So it was considered that people should wear shoes so their feet doesn’t touch the dirty ground.
The feet have more bones, muscles and joints than the hands. When the feet are enclosed in shoes, a large number of joints and muscles become more or less locked thightly in one position so mobility is severely restricted for the joints that can move. Unused joints stiffen and unused muscles wither.
The result of constantly wearing shoes is that the feet weakens, there is also the risk of getting corns, fallen arch and ingrown nails. In addition, there are studies that show that both knees and hips take a beating because shoes make us put down the heel instead of the mid-foot first. What also happens when we constantly wear shoes is that we make it difficult for our spiritual roots to get in touch with the earth. One of the first things that happened when I gradually started to come home in myself was that my need to walk barefoot returned. As an administrative manager, I of course had to wear shoes at work. My workplace was right next to a small forest and I started walking to pick up the youngest son from his daycare. I left the workplace well-shod as was the norm, but as soon as I got into the woods, I took my shoes off. I did not know why I suddenly had such a strong desire to walk barefoot, I just knew I had to. Today I think that the wild woman had a finger in the pie and that these daily five kilometer long barefoot walks was a strong contributing factor for me daring to resign.
The eyes of the feet
Humans is one of the animal species whom, to a quiet great extent, use sight to orient themselves in the world. But we do not only have the eyes we call eyes, the feet have their very own eyes.
If you are not used to moving barefoot, the idea that your feet have eyes may seem strange. The first time I heard the expression was with Shirley Eagle Claw Woman. We had participated in the Sun Dance at the Rosebud Reservation and afterwards we went to one of Lakota’s most sacred places, Mount Wamaka Og’naka I’Cante (it roughly means ‘in the heart of all that is’). There we came across a medicine woman with her entourage. She was, like me, barefoot. The only barefoot Lakota’s I had seen before were the sun dancers when they danced. Everyone else was wearing shoes. When the medicine woman explained that she did not want to hinder the eyes of her feet to see, I felt a strong recognition, even though I myself woul n’t have expressed it in that way.
Of course, the eyes of the feet do not function the same way as the eyes of the head, but they do see. They look into the earth, they see the invisible and that which is secret. They help us to create contact with the wild woman in ourselves and all the powers living in the earth.
Our body, our senses, are constantly receiving an enormous amount of information. The fly button that presses a little against the stomach, how the hair is patterned on the head, color and pattern on the tapestry, the smell of shampoo in the hair, sounds from planes and cars, smells of the potted plants in the window sill and the neighbor’s dinner, the texture of the shirt, fluorescent millisecond flashes et cetera, et cetera.
One of the most important function of the brain is to separate what information is important and what is not, before it reaches our consciousness. One of the strategies the brain uses in this work is a learning mechanism called habituation. The brain simply learns to sort out everyday sensory information. When the shoe is put on the foot you feel it but the brain recognizes the phenomenon and quickly sorts out the information from our consciousness. This process is vital because it ensures that the consciousness has space enough to process what actually needs to be processed.
Photo: Jenny Boquist
If you’re not used to walk barefoot, all sensory information from the soles of your feet reaches your consciousness and you feel the grass, the sticks, the moisture and the drought, the concrete and the asphalt distinctively. If the surface is not really nice, it can feel uncomfortable. It takes a while to get used to. For me, who always walks barefoot indoors and almost only wears footwear outdoors when there is snow, the habituation in the spring is quite quick. My experience is that the feet get used to it, but really it is the brain that gets used to it.
Let your feet feel free
Spring is here. How far it has come depends on where in our elongated country you live. In southern Sweden, the blue anemones hopefully bloom. You have a whole summer ahead of you when it’s possible to walk barefoot.
If the changefrom shoes to barefoot feels as if it’s too much, you can make a pair of soft moccasins. They are so thin that they do let through a lot of what the earth provides and they are so soft that you are likely to regain your natural gait.
Now you have the opportunity to let your feet help you get in touch with the wild woman, now you have the opportunity to let your souls go free.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés; Woman Who Run With The Wolves. Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
Gunilla Åström; leg physiotherapist, acupuncturist TCM
Kim Gejel; PH Mag, neuroscience
© Nauð Vanarot, 2016