Long ago, when I was a child, I was an avid reader of stories from other cultures, whether they were ancient history, mythology, or ethnic. I learned a lot about people and life through those stories, and one element that impressed me a lot was a native american tale about a young boy and his father.
I can’t tell you much more about it because I hardly remember the story at all, apart from that element, but it changed my life.
The piece of the story that I do remember was when the father was teaching the boy about hunting. As the boy walked through the forest, he stood firmly in every step and kept breaking twigs, crunching fallen leaves, and dislodging small rocks. The resulting noise from his walking made it difficult to be quiet enough that the prey could not hear them coming. So the father taught him the method of ‘silent walking‘ and of walking in a way that blessed the mother earth with every step.
I was born with flat feet that had no arches. It meant that my feet were sore a lot of the time, but it didn’t really hold me back. The doctors at the time told my mother that I should go barefoot as much as possible, in the hope that I would develop what was called ‘false arches.’ But I was a fairly clumsy child, very gung ho in my actions, and so I was always having accidents.
I liked to play on nearby vacant lots that had old house planks stacked on them from demolitions, and the house planks still had rusty nails in them. I’d walk along the planks as if they were tightropes, checking my balance, and almost always stepped on a nail. And later, what happened was an infection from the nail and a rush to the doctor for help and tetanus needles.
The Amerindian story changed all that for me. After reading it, I never walked on the earth the same way again. I never placed a foot without looking at the ground I placed it on. And I followed the advice of the father to his son, to ‘silent walk‘ by placing the ball of the foot (the toe end) on the ground first and rolling it back to the heel, instead of jamming the heel into the ground and slapping the toes down thereafter.
My new way of walking meant I was far more able to creep up on people. It also meant that I stopped accidentally stepping on things that wanted to go on living, like snails.
An interesting side effect at first was that my shoes all developed severe wear and tear along the sides, because I was rolling my feet to the sides as I did this new step. It was so bad that my mother got advice from a foot doctor, who said I needed orthotics for my shoes. Luckily, she really didn’t have the money for that at the time, and I didn’t realize that it was my new way of walking that was causing the problem. No one else ever seemed to notice that I placed my feet differently to the way they placed theirs when walking.
Over time, I learned to adjust the way my feet moved so that I didn’t walk on their sides as much, but still walked in what I presumed was the way of the Amerindians.
I noticed how so many others walked jarringly on their heels, thudding across floors, making noises on footpaths, and always alerting the villains to where they were in the movies I watched because they couldn’t keep their footfall quiet. I took pride in my unique walk.
I thoroughly recommend my ‘silent walk‘ that kisses mother earth with every step for anyone who has back problems – far less jarring of the spine from jamming your heels into the ground.
It was also very helpful with my sprinting style when I did athletics in my teens, because you actually run on the ball of your toes, not your heels. So you can move faster. And if you are trying to carry a book on your head, like you do in deportment classes, my style of walking means you move the lower body more smoothly, so the book doesn’t fall off. It seems to give strength to the calf muscles, too.
What seems like small things like the change in my walk can have a chain reaction effect in life.
The care with which I placed my feet and observed the ground beneath then followed on to a greater observation of the world around me, in general, and I noticed things that I hadn’t seen in such detail before. That led to a life filled with wonder and a deep sense of happiness from what I observed, that buoyed me up through many painful moments and even later tragedies.
Small changes really do have great effect.