Mental Shoes

The other day I found this video of Pema Chodron talking about shoes.

In her analogy, she talks about walking barefoot over sharp stones, and wounding one’s feet, to the point that you think, “If only I could cover the whole world in leather – then I would not cut my feet on the sharp stones!” Of course, the logical solution is to wear shoes, and cover one’s feet – not to cover the world.

But isn’t this how we treat the world with our minds? “If only we had a different government… If only there was no crime… If only I did not have to sit next to that crying baby…” Very often, our solution to suffering is to protest everything that causes suffering, rather than deal with the thoughts about the world that cause us to suffer.

Chodron’s solution is to train the mind, using meditation and other practices, to walk through this painful world without succombing to suffering.

I like the analogy, but that is easier said than done. It raises some other questions. For example, should Martin Luther King Jr. have sat down and said, “My dream is causing me to suffer. I should simply forgive the injustice, and pray that God will help me feel better despite the racist violence”? His path was to take a stand and change the world, rather than simply changing his view of the world.

Perhaps it works better on the more mundane level of traffic lights, barking dogs and bad weather. There will always be petty things that bug me. Trying to change the weather and the traffic lights would be impossible. So, I need to change how I respond to them. I need to cultivate inner peace in myself, so that when I encounter sources of pain and frustration, I can greet them from a place of inner strength.

Again, easier said than done. But perhaps finding inner peace would still be easier than fixing the whole world and covering every last sharp stone.


About Craig

Craig lives in Calgary, Alberta.
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3 Responses to Mental Shoes

  1. nora martin says:

    Have you ever seen the “serenity prayer?” I can’t remember it exactly, but the part your article reminded me of goes something like this: Lord, please give me the courage to change the things I can, the patience to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    That’s not the exact wording, but the last part seems to me to get at the idea you were hinting at: It’s important to change some things, or at least to try to do so, but there are some things that we are not going to change (barking dogs, etc.), and we need to understand and accept that.


    • Craig says:

      Yes, Nora, I was first introduced to the serenity prayer by the plaque hanging on your mother’s wall. I must confess, I haven’t been living it very well lately, though. 🙂 I still get upset about lots of things that I have absolutely no control over. Then I have to consciously stop myself and turn my attention to what I’ve been avoiding: the things that I can control, but feel intimidated by, such as housecleaning. Sometimes criticizing the government over war policy is just a good way to avoid responsibility for the laundry (if you follow the metaphor).

  2. Laura McLaughlin says:

    do you really think we can’t change the dogs barking and the weather, hehe. I do! Have you not heard of the dog whisperer. If we all were in tune with being happy and centered, and not full of anger and insecurity and fear, these dogs wouldn’t be reacting at everything as well. they feed off of our emotions. as my security with life increases, my dogs security does as well. he used to hide all the time when at my parents house and he would bark at my dad all the time, now he truely enjoys being at my parents house and he plays with my dad. now really if you think it’s just him getting used to my parents, that is not true. he behaved poorly with them for years and years. it’s only in the last 2 years that as i’ve opened up, that he has. Dogs were put on this earth to protect us. But if we didn’t have anything to fear, no need for protection, maybe they could enjoy life more and work less. as for my thoughts on the weather, I really do think that there are a lot of sad people out there, for example yesterday I was driving on the number 2 highway from calgary to edmonton on my merry way. I was going 120km and keeping in line. Some guy speed and passed me and took the effort to roll down his window and give me the middle finger. Why? Was he just passing on his anger at everybody? Or was this a lesson for me? I kind of saw it as both, as I myself had been mentally giving the finger to a guy I’ve been getting to know. Everything he does seemed to be wrong to me and I was getting impatient with him. God wanted to teach me, how it felt, and what it is that I was doing. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but just couldn’t stop this cycle that had started. Now, being humbled by god, I will stop. I will love him when he brings me pepper instead of the salt I asked for, hehe. As he is trying. And I will still tell him, you know what, it was salt I was asking for, but thanks for trying. I won’t just ignore the mistake he made, but I will be grateful for his effort. So going back to the hwy 2 incident, i speed up to him and looked at him and just made an effort to connect with him. As I did, he slowed down and was behind me all the way. At one point we parted ways, not sure when. So I do really think that these people, who are angry, who are sad are making our weather sad. If we were all happy, shining our light, spreading joy, the birds would be singing, the sun would be shining, all of the days of our life. heaven on earth. that’s why it’s so important to share our joy. to connect with someone who is lost and show them the way. it helps them, but it also helps me. No materialistic gain, just a gain of love. i hope i didn’t loose anyone, in my scattered approach to sharing my thoughts… peace

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