Being a native member of the Arabian Gulf whose family have called Dubai home for over two hundred years, wearing slippers or sandals is an everyday reality. I go to work in sandals, attend weddings and social gatherings in sandals, and when I have the honor of meeting members of the ruling family, we are all most likely going to be wearing sandals.
As a child, I always found the sight of a strangers’ sandals at the entrance of my parents’ home significant. Who did they belong to? Where did they come from? Are they here to give something or take something away? The sight of a cluster of sandals at the entrance of a mosque all placed next to each other was fascinating to me. They looked like empty ships docked at bay with the tide gone out. Some lay sideways or were capsized, as they waited for their owners to return.
As I grew up and traveled outside my region, in the West I saw how removing shoes came into play. Any student of Eastern martial art or yoga would remove their shoes and train barefoot. Russian Hard Style Kettlebell legend Pavel Tsatsouline, in his excellent book Simple & Sinister writes, “Training barefoot is superior for health and performance reasons…You have sensory receptors on the bottoms of your feet that make you stronger and improve balance and coordination. Wearing traditional shoes diminishes the ability of these receptors to work properly and therefore impedes performance and can increase the risk of injury. Go native.”
Globally we humans tend to want to remove our shoes almost without thinking when we go to the beach. We have an urge to feel the soft sand between our toes. It’s the same with grass, to feel its blades massaging our feet as we walk across a garden or a field. Something inside longs to connect, to reconnect, with earth and nature.
So what’s the big deal about removing your shoes, slippers or sandals and why am I writing about it? Well my focus is on Self Realization, Soul Awakenings and Self Authenticity. To be connected to your root self you need to have your “sensory receptors” working at their best. For that to happen you must remove the slippers of egotism, the sandals of materialism, from your metaphoricalfeet.
In the Quran as well as the Bible, we are presented with the story of the Prophet Moses at the burning bush. Moses was close to having a Divine experience and was instructed to be barefoot in order to receive it. “I am your Lord, so take off your slippers; you are in the holy valley of Tuwa.” 20:12.
The idea of removing footwear before entering holy places is also common to Buddhism and many other Eastern religions and spiritual paths. This suggests to me that the act of taking off your sandals, slippers or shoes is not just a matter of improving physical sensory connection, but is also a matter of leaving behind the material world. When you remove your slippers and abandon them you are in effect leaving your ego, that which divides everything, at the door in order to enter the valley of your spirit, that which unites everything.
When we take off our slippers we are doing something sacred, something that connects us to the soul of all things. This strengthens our spiritual coordination and as in all matters of real strength and endeavor it takes practice and much patience to develop. The Spanish poet Miguel De Unamuno once wrote “…to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts is the work; start there, turn to the work. Throw yourself like seed…”Toturn to the task of discovering your true self, your deeper self, your authentic self, is where the hard work is. When people aim to live a life removed from this difficult search they instead hasten towards suffering and difficulty, and that is unconstructive. There is just no way around it. If you are going to truly walk your own path, the pathless path, you must leave your ego at the start and continue walking the path of your soul on your soles.
It’s very easy to write and say these words; it is a very different thing to experience them and live them. When I quit my “stable” nine-to-five job and left my professional career qualifications behind me I had no idea it would feel so dangerous and terrifying. I thought it would be an exhilarating and blissful experience. Instead I felt increasingly vulnerable and scared. A big part of me wanted to turn and run back towards the familiar and predictable reality I had left behind. Even today, after many years of leaving the traditional format of employment there is a part of me that wants to return to where it feels safe and secure. On one occasion I did go back, only to find that the suffering I felt there after having tasted freedom was far worse than the pain of vulnerability I felt walking on the rocky, rough and wild terrains of my soul’s path.
My psychospiritual teacher, Josef Shapiro, wrote “Pain is a part of life, but suffering is something else. Suffering is what happens when we resist pain”. (I highly recommend you engage with his writing if you are interested in esoteric methods of looking at life.) When we resist our pain we resist our reality. Pain is an indicator, a compass needle pointing in the direction we must go. It is not pleasant but it is absolutely necessary. This is what I believe the poet Rumi meant when he said “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them”. Only our modern noisy, busy lifestyle doesn’t allow us to listen and so we go about associating the pain with something that must be covered over and numbed with “medicine”, or a vacation, a new relationship, a new hobby or a new car or dress. We do anything but turn into the pain and sit with it.
It’s a very brave person who can leave what he or she controls behind them and walk into the valley of the unknown. That is why this journey is not for everyone. It’s important to mention that you must eventually return to the place from which you entered and reclaim your slippers! I don’t want to advise you to go you barefoot all your life, nor do I want you to be disconnected from the spirit that unites all things. Replacing one extreme with the other is not the goal. There is a balance to be achieved. I simply want to make you aware of the significance of both, and how they may be subconsciously affecting your life.
Once you reclaim your slippers the real work begins: the work of walking lightly in this world without the heaviness of needless self-induced suffering and pain.