On Soles and Souls: A Running Parable

To figure out if a running shoe works for me, I have one criterion: When my foot lands, I should be able to feel the ground, not the shoe. This feels better, as my feet can react to the slope and traction of the terrain. I’m in communion with the path I’m on.

Severely padded shoes act like isolation chambers for feet, and I want shoes that don’t obscure information. When I’m on concrete, I want to feel concrete. If there’s a twig on the path, I want to feel the twig.

Communion with the ground also feels safer. If I’m only feeling my shoes, I’m more likely to roll an ankle or trip. A healthy running practice means our feet react to the ground, and shoes don’t help. As orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mercer Rang puts it, “Shoes do no more for the foot than a hat does for the brain.”

In part, my shoe preference comes from my meditation practice. My aim in meditation is to step outside of the isolation chamber of my thoughts and feelings. Our brain is designed to generate thoughts and feelings, and meditation allows us to see that process. Watching my brain generate ideas is like feeling the ground beyond the shoes. It’s a reminder that there’s a world beyond my thoughts.

This parallel between running and meditation goes even further. When running, I’m not feeling my shoes, nor the ground; I’m feeling the connection between my feet and the world. Ultimately, my experience is simultaneously internal and external.

The same thing happens in meditation after we realize thoughts are just thoughts. We expand our view and notice feedback from our entire body. We also become aware of external connections, whether we hear a bird chirping on a tree outside, or feel the vibration of a truck rolling down our street.

My aim is to infuse my meditation practice into as many things as I can throughout the day. Whether it’s running, cooking, or guiding a client, the internal/external experience is always available.