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Barefoot Walking

walking-barefootShambhala Times Interview with Shambhalians Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee
about their new book: Barefoot Walking

edited by Ani Dawa Chotso

As the thousands of people who have fallen in love with barefoot running already know, shedding one’s shoes is good for the body and the soul. Barefoot Walking shows readers, no matter their fitness level, how to take command of their well-being through this practice, even if they are daunted by sore feet, achy joints, injury, illness, or feeling out of shape. We interviewed Michael and Jessica to find out how they stumbled onto this path.

Michael got into barefoot running by accident. He has had weak feet and plantar fasciitis, and it used to be that he wouldn’t go anywhere barefoot.

In 2004, Michael did a 5,000 mile 40-day unsupported solo bike ride across the country, raising funds for people with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. He had gone to a support group meeting, and everyone was talking about wishing there was something they could do. Everyone seemed helpless, without the means to make a difference. He felt there had to be something that he could do. ‘No’ and ‘can’t’ aren’t in his vocabulary.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I went to sleep and woke up after a dream about going on a bike ride across the country.” He was already a top-ranked sprinter, but at 200 meters, not 200 miles. “It was crazy, but I heeded the voice, sold my racing gear and with a limited plan and less money, had a ticket in hand to go to Portland, OR. From there, I rode across the country,” he said.

One night it all changed for him. After an incredibly grueling day over 100 miles on broken roads, his bike light conked out. It was pouring rain and cold, and he was 20 miles from a hotel at one in the morning.

“Then the rain stopped, the clouds peeled back and there was the moon gleaming a path before me,” he remembers. “All of the aloneness melted away, and it’s never come back. It was one of the most spiritual experiences in my life. It was just one of the many miracles along the way.”

After that bike ride, he was sponsored by Rollerblade to do a 4,000 mile skate across the country.

He was living in Boulder, CO at the time. “I stopped at Boulder creek and put my feet in the water, meditating on how to do this big skate,” he told us. “I had been listening to teachings from Dr. Wayne Dyer and the words: “everything happens in life for a reason”, were running through my mind. I laced up my skates and thought I should go home slowly.”

Walk BareAs he pushed off and came around the first bend, there was a father and small child directly in his path. “I had a choice: to hit the baby or hit the deck. I tried to throw myself backwards onto the ground to avoid the baby, and as I landed, I heard a giant crack through my body.”

The first thing Michael did was to flop his left leg over the right (which likely prevented his shattered femur from perforating his femoral artery), and then he saw the boy and dad were okay. “I felt, life is good. It was just a moment of complete peace and serenity and surrender. It was completely letting go and that was the life-changing moment that started me down this barefoot path.”

It took transfusions just to keep him alive, and it was very questionable that he would be able to walk again. After a week in the hospital, he was placed in a former sanitarium that is now a rehab center. Not a place to expect to heal. He went in on Wednesday and miraculously left on Friday.

“Something magical was going to come out of this experience, and would have to if I would survive,” he said.

With a history of study in orthotic design, Michael took to the trails with every tool he had to try to change his orthotic supports. “I finally realized that the only thing smart enough to help my feet meet the ground perfectly was the neural connection between my feet and the ground.” Nothing else was working, so he took off his shoes to connect with the earth. “When I started going barefoot,” he said, “it was because I couldn’t find any other way, it was a giant leap of faith.”

He kept on meditating, and what he eventually became was a barefoot runner. When walking or running barefoot, he found he could quiet his mind. Working to become a pro-athlete, he could quiet his mind. When he focused on putting one foot in front of another, all the other chatter in his mind stopped. He found he was 100% committed to the experience of the now.

Then he met Jessica. Together they started a barefoot running and walking club and founded RunBare, the company. She had a vision, had them quit their jobs, and with no income, no reason other than faith to believe it would work, she had them step off that cliff. Nine months later, they were on the road with their book, Barefoot Running, which was an independent bestseller. Their new book is called Barefoot Walking.

Barefoot-Walking-BookJessica shared that they are more excited about Barefoot Walking than their previous book, Barefoot Running because, as she says, “we took Barefoot Walking in a far more spiritual direction.” In a sense walking barefoot is like putting on training wheels for real spiritual growth. “After all,” Jessica points out, “our bodies are vessels whose main purpose in this lifetime is to support our spiritual practice.” If our bodies are in pain, it’s a distraction from our centered place. “So not only is barefoot walking a mindful exercise,” continues Jessica, “that helps you quiet your mind, but it also helps your body return its natural state of health and wellbeing.” Over time you discover that you’ve begun to live in greater harmony with not only your mind, body and spirit, but also with the earth itself, and all of its expressions, from the plants to the animals, the sky, water, air, and even the rocks. “When you’re connected to the earth,” Jessica asserts, “you’re more at peace and can’t help but see the beauty and wonder all around you.”

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche shares this in his forward: “Walking is the most basic of human activities. It is also one of the most healthy forms of exercise. Not only is it beneficial for our bodies, but also for our minds. It helps us connect with nature and the outdoors. It provides a natural basis for meditation and contemplation – a time of the day when we come in contact with our inner feelings, thoughts, and emotions.”

Walk Bare~~
Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee are natural wellness and barefoot running and walking coaches, when they’re not on the road teaching, they can be found at their home in Maui, Hawaii, where they hold barefoot running, walking, and mindfulness retreats. Find out more about them at their website: www.runbare.com.

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