I am kneeling low on the ground, palms up in front of me, the backs of my hands touching the ground. My face is inches from the forest floor, and I am waiting. Rustling in the dry leaves to my right, I see a line of feet – sneakers, brightly colored rubber boots, gym shoes, and hiking boots. The children, elementary school students, are lined up, quietly and anxiously awaiting their turn to step on my open hands.
How did we get here?
Fox walking, we sometimes say, is the act of stepping lightly on the earth. I teach this skill as an essential wilderness skill – equal in importance to learning wild plants or tracking. We go over the basic logistics of it: relaxed and balanced stance, laying a soft foot on the ground starting with the little toe, rolling to big toe, then setting the heel and whole foot against the ground before shifting your weight. Simple and elegant, yet there is so much more to it than that. Asking them to relax their eyes, and expand their peripheral vision (owl eyes), I tell them to imagine they are stepping on someone’s face – the face of the earth. Can we soften our steps, and quiet our minds enough to actually leave lighter tracks?
As a test, I offer to let each of them walk on my hands. Which brings me to where we started: kneeling low on the earth, hands open, ready, and waiting. I tell them that I trust them, and that I know they won’t hurt me.
I notice several patterns in their steps: some step stiff and awkward, yet the soft earth still cushions my hands. Some fully press on my hands, and I feel the gentle roll from toes to heel on my palms and fingertips. Some, however, are afraid to commit – they lay a foot on one of my hands, then quickly hop to the next foot so their weight never fully lands on me.
I realize another thing: after this brief lesson, they trust me more. It is as if my willingness to trust them, this most simple vulnerability of hands on feet, has somehow won a little bit of their trust.
So my question to them, to each of us is: which are you? The earth is open to us all, palms up and ready to accept a myriad of awkward footsteps. Areyou striding blindly forward, and ignoring what she is willing to teach? Are you stepping carefully, no matter how awkward and unbalanced, but at least trying to feel her face through your boots? Or, if after seeing her laid out before you, are you so afraid to make a mistake or hurt her, that you will not let yourself fully step in?
How to we move from a place of fear, to a place of exploration? I told them I trusted them, and to you I say the same. I knew they wouldn’t hurt me because they were walking out from a place of intention. As you leave this page, you are now walking out with intention. Walk in awareness and you will know which steps you need to take. You will know where to lighten up, where to step higher, where to stop and listen quietly.
So, I welcome you on this journey. Walk with me. Or, when the time comes, kneel down, put your face near the earth, and lay your palms open upward. We have so much to learn together.