What's the first thing we do when we enter the zendo? We take off our shoes and socks. A simple enough ritual, but one we may not give much thought to. After all, in our usual dualistic way of thinking, our feet are literally the furthest thing from our minds!
In part, this ritual is a hold over from a traditional Japanese way of doing things - of leaving one's shoes outside the door - not only outside the temple door, but outside the door of traditional homes as well. And this, I think, beyond the practical reason of keeping fragile tatami mats neat and clean, carries with it a suggestion of keeping the dust and dirt and chaos of the world out of some inner sanctum, some place we will separate off and keep pristine. Never mind that the real dust and dirt is in our minds not on our shoes!
Joko used to like to tell a story from her days at the LA Zen Center, which was located in a pretty rough neighborhood. One day, when she was jikido, there were sounds of gunfire outside in the street. And suddenly the door of the zendo was flung open and this young gang member came running in waving a gun. Joko's immediate reaction was to shout at him, "You can't come in here with your shoes on!" And he looked down sheepishly at his shoes and ran out!
There is also a sense in which we are here precisely to shed our usual outward manifestations of self-protection and self-display, and enter in a more exposed, vulnerable and open state. The experience of kensho,of dropping off body and mind, could even be likened to taking off a tight pair of shoes. All the usual constrictions of a narrow, separately conceived "self" that we habitually put on and wear between ourselves and the world, we suddenly let fall away. And there can be just that same AHHHH! of wonder and relief when we feel how much better we feel without all that tightness, all that constriction, all that self-protection. But after the initial feeling passes, what are we left with? Our bare feet. Exposed, ugly, smelly feet. Years ago, wasn't there an ad campaign that asked, "What is the ugliest part of your body?" And the answer wasn't your mind, it was supposed to be your feet. I don't know what they were selling, but lots of people out there must be pretty self-conscious about their feet.
Anyway, our feet aren't usually parts of ourselves that we are particularly proud of, or identify with, or think of as the objects of our usual schemes for self-improvement. Diet, exercise, going to the gym doesn't do much for your feet. Sitting just makes you develop a lot of big ugly co-lateral blood vessels in your feet, after years of having them fall asleep on you in the zendo.
So, one thing we're doing here is trying to allow ourselves to simply expose and feel aspects of ourselves we normally hide or neglect or are ashamed of. And an ugly pair of feet like mine can be a good metaphor for all that. But we also practice literally on and with our feet - in kinhin.It's important not to treat kinhin as simply a break from sitting. kinhinis one way we bring our practice up off the cushion. Sometimes when we're sitting we say that we try to be all ears. We become completely transparent to the sounds of the world, and let the boundary between inner and outer disappear. Well, during kinhin, we might try becoming all feet! Put all your attention down into the soles of your feet. Really feel each step. Let the rise and fall of each foot come into synch with the rise and fall of each breath. Breathe all the way down into your feet. Get your "self" out of your head and down onto the ground.
Make sure those feet really are touching the ground.