The other day, I was nearing the end of a long, hard hike when I reached a quiet, bubbling stream. The stream was well shaded, with reflective pools of water and miniature waterfalls throughout.
I almost kept on going. According to my planned schedule, I had no time to waste. And since I wasn’t wearing water sandals, going into the stream would require me to take my shoes off, an unnecessary nuisance. But a little voice inside told me to stop.
I sat down on a rock, unlaced my hiking boots, and peeled off my socks. I had no plan to stay more than a minute or so. But one enticing pool in the distance shone bright green, reflecting the sun and the leaves that hung over. I wanted to take a picture.
So, I crept slowly through the riverbed, feeling the oblong river rocks, hard on my bare feet, and squishing through the mud. When I reached the pool, I took some photos. And then I stopped.
Sitting down on a giant tree root, I realized that time spent here would not be time wasted. That spot was full of inspiring music, a beautiful symphony: the bubbling river, the rushing falls, birdsong, gentle wind, the noise of flower petals falling into the water. I watched the ripples form and then flow along. With closed eyes, I took in the timeless beauty of nature and the vastness of our world. My schedule evaporated, and with it the pressure in my heart.
And all of this because I took my shoes off.
So often, we are hesitant to remove the barriers we’ve erected in our lives, the helpful systems we use to carry us through life’s rocky terrain. We fall into habits that we can’t break, even when they may be working against us. In holding fast to conventions and routine, we inhibit our ability to experience the more important things in life. The beauty. The creativity.
A beautiful sunset arrives, and we are too busy to go out and appreciate it. Our child wants to tell a long and fascinating story, but we can barely listen, our task list and routine ruling the moment.
We forget to stop and take our shoes off.
After sitting by the stream, I climbed up onto the riverbank to look at an unusual tree. Then I noticed all the different types of trees growing over the stream: oak, almond, carob. Slowly, I crept back to the marked path, feeling each stone, each clump of dirt, and each fallen leaf beneath my feet. Lacing my shoes back up, I noticed a fading butterfly clinging to a river rock. There was so much beauty to see.
To see the true substance of our world, we may need to remove barriers and strip to bare skin. In doing this, we slow down to a pace that allows us to truly experience the beauty and complexity around us.
Make sure to stop and take your shoes off.