Fingers pointing to big toes"There are so many things that can provide us with peace. Next time you take a shower or a bath, I suggest you hold your big toes in mindfulness. We pay attention to everything except our toes. When we hold our toes in mindfulness and smile at them, we will find that our bodies have been very kind to us. We know that any cell in our toes can turn cancerous, but our toes have been behaving very well, avoiding that kind of problem. Yet, we have not been nice to them at all. These kinds of practices can bring us happiness."
– Thich Nhat Hanh in For the Love of God edited by Benjamin Shield and Richard Carlson

I must confess that I have not been very kind to or appreciative of my feet. As a young and scattered boy, I was always rushing here and there without watching where I was going. I repeatedly stepped on rusty nails and had to have tetanus shots.

When I was a teenager, I battled a severe case of acne on my face, and so I ignored all my other body parts. Of course, the suburban culture which formed me had nothing good to say about feet. Parents were urged to have their children change their socks and not to let them go barefoot. The adjectives must often used to describe feet? Sweaty. Smelly.

Better ones would be amazing, wondrous. The foot is a masterwork of complexity with 26 bones, 111 ligaments, and 20 muscles. Leonardo da Vinci called it "a masterpiece of engineering." I like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh's tender treatment of his toes. I have been fondling my toes ever since I came across the passage quoted above. My feet have been behaving well over the years.

One of the ways I give them a treat is by going to my massage therapist, Mary Lo, and having her share her special gifts of reflexology. This ancient healing art from Egypt, China, and Japan is the practice of applying pressure to specific points on the feet to influence the well-being of corresponding parts of the body. It's a gentle art, a holistic tool, and it feels really good.

Far from being just sweaty and smelly appendages, my feet provide a mini-map of my whole body! They deserve a regular spiritual practice of their own. Here is one provided by Jan Philips in her book Divining the Body: Reclaim the Holiness of Your Physical Self:

"Try to do this every day, before you get dressed in the morning or before you go to bed at night: rub lotion into your feet, massaging them one at a time, thinking of nothing but your feet. Think of every tendon and muscle, every cell and atom, every nerve and blood vessel. Massage each toe, one at a time, thanking every part of your feet for the ways they have stood by you, grounded you, and moved you through your days."