Listening to history through the soles of your feet
By Gery de Pierpont
Entering the past with bare feet: practical instructions
Who doesn’t have delightful memories of walking barefoot over hot sand? Or caressing an angora carpet with one’s toes … in the East, feet play an important role in the relationship with planet earth that bears us, as they are not dissimilar to roots which draw life-giving energies from the ground. What an extraordinary way to charge one’s batteries … and grasp fragments of history at the same time. Are you ready to give it a go?
If there’s one zone of our body which often gets short shrift in our western societies, it is the soles of our feet, totally stifled inside tight shoes, wrapped in heavy socks or nylon tights. It’s a rare person who lets their toes wriggle freely in contact with the ground, for more than a few minutes a day; and yet it’s such an enjoyable feeling (when you don’t have glass splinters or sun-scorched pebbles to watch out for).
The soles of the feet are sensitive to heat and cold as well as soft and rough surfaces, but above all to changes in relief. The weight of the foot shifts differently from one point to another on the plantar surface, creating pressure points, which vary from moment to moment as we change position or move. A whole host of “captors” are constantly sending messages back to the brain. This is essential, enabling us to keep our balance and guide our feet.
Re-establishing our contact with Mother Earth
In Eastern tradition, feet are the subject of great veneration. This is particularly the case in Yoga, where a series of exercises work on anchoring them to the floor. These exercises are practised standing up in bare feet, ideally in direct contact with Mother Earth. As if the lower part of our bodies were taking root in the earth’s crust.
Energies actually circulate through our feet, keeping us in good health, in a powerful exchange of “prana” (the vital breath principle), generator of harmony. Yoga experts recommend placing one’s consciousness in the contact zone between the earth and one’s feet, visualizing the virtual roots that connect us to the nourishing soil and channelling our breathing through this canal. It is in the grass still damp with morning dew that this energetic communication is at its most efficient.
An “earthing of the wire”, as electricians would say, is even more important as our rubber soles insulate us completely from these vital energies. Remember to give yourself several minutes of ionic re-equilbration on a regular basis by removing your shoes on “conductive” ground and taking several deep and deliberate breaths!
Entering another age?
One day, fired up with enthusiasm by these re-charging exercises (developed during my Yoga training classes), I tried to adapt this practice to a favourite method of mine: “historical experimentation”. Trained as an archaeologist, specialised in the restoration and promotion of old buildings, I have now become very passionate about “cultural heritage interpretation”. In practical terms, I encourage history buffs to listen to vestiges of the past, and let old stones recount their stories of the generations of people who have passed this way before us.
You don’t have to believe me, but the contact of bare feet on the ground really does evoke an original perception of the past. This is because age-old buildings in their very substance retain memories which can be transmitted. These memories can be picked up by our five senses and decoded using our intelligence, or they can affect us more intuitively, awaking emotions deep inside us. Our imagination is “activated” once we are connected in a tactile way to an historical object. This is particularly true if the connection passes via feet, which are even better able to capture these energies than hands.
Entering history with bare feet: practical instructions
The method I use to “connect” myself via my feet to another era, is simplicity itself. I recommend you try it the next time you are staying at an historical location.
- Choose historic flooring, for example an old parquet floor, ancient stone tiles worn smooth over the years, ceramic tiles or, why not, a cellar with a dirt floor?
- Make sure there is no risk of you being disturbed for at least ten minutes.
- Remove your shoes and socks and stand on the floor of the room, preferably somewhere where there has been much coming and going (this exercise can also be done on a chair, if you are not comfortable standing).
- Close your eyes and let your body relax, maintaining just enough strength in your shoulders, lower back and legs to remain upright.
- Push your hips forwards, hold your chin in a little, relax your facial muscles and let your arms hang down loosely by your sides.
- Breath slowly, being consciously aware of the passage of air through your nostrils.
- Once you feel comfortable in this posture, switch off from reality by concentrating your attention on your feet.
- Perceive the sensations under the soles of your feet when you move the weight of your body gently forwards and backwards and then from side to side.
- Try to feel the inequalities of the ground, with its rough and smooth areas; areas which are slightly warm and others which stay cold.
- Then gradually “anchor” your feet under the floor surface, as if roots were growing under the soles of your feet.
- Mentally “open” the canal you have just created with this historic foundation and let your breath circulate: as you inhale, imagine air going through your nose down into your stomach and through your feet before plunging into the depths below; when you exhale, let the ionised flux of this “archaeological” layer rise through your body, filling the space voided by the breath exhaled.
- To dynamize the exchange, hold your stomach in at the end of each exhalation, like the piston of a suction pump, drawing water from the depths of a water table.
- Very gently, absorb all this energy rising up from the ground and balance your stress levels.
- Now, as the air circulates attempt to capture feelings from the past and your emotional response to them (peace, safety, anxiety, humility, confusion, the unknown, etc.).
- Try to understand why you have these feelings and in your imagination (with your eyes closed), re-create the way these places used to be, in generations gone by. Where did the light come from? Was the atmosphere there damp or dry? Did the room have a particular smell about it? …
- Visualize the people who lived in this setting as if you had a non-speaking role in an historical film, and follow them as they go about their daily round. Are they warmly dressed? Do they seem calm or apprehensive? What do they talk about?
- Little by little, images will flash before your inner eye and you will hear faint sounds within you. These “memories” will be fleeting at first, then more precise as your powers of concentration gradually increase.
- If you “lose contact”, think again about the soles of your feet. Feel the flux of energy, listen to your breathing and absorb these feelings from the past; then hold on to one of them and “take a photo of it” in your private dark room …
- When you have taken sufficient time to absorb these scenes from another era, mentally close the channel you opened below your feet. Gradually breathe more deeply. Gently wiggle your toes and shake your other limbs a little before very slowly opening your eyes …
Do spend a few real minutes on this exercise. History only comes alive to those who take the time to let it reveal itself and tune into its “wavelength”. The first time you do this, maybe you won’t feel much. However, don’t hesitate to adopt this communicate through time position under other circumstances too: your ability to home in on the right channel will improve.
Let me put a word in here – at the risk of losing all credibility in your eyes – it is obviously impossible to go back into the past in real terms, but by using your imagination, these “scenes from the past” will come into your mind. Probably the most rational amongst you will not be drawn to try this type of experiment. The feelings you experience, almost like day-dreaming, will vary from one person to another, depending on your knowledge of history, cultural references and the psychological state you happen to be in …
Nonetheless, vestiges of past eras are particularly evocative and this direct method of “getting in touch” via the soles of your feet is a very efficient amplifier of feelings. It would be a pity to deprive yourself of such journeys, which have an “other worldly” quality, particularly since they come with the added benefit of re-balancing one’s energies.
Above all, do tell us below the stories your feet have inspired! I would not be surprised if a screenwriter or literary author were to fish some ideas out of such a pool of tales…