When you see a mountain why must you climb it with your eyes. When you hear a mighty river why must you ford it with your ears, when you feel the earth why must you touch it with your feet? Are you not the mountain does the river run through you, as you run through it, are you not the earth?
A reflection on Case 16 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) koans.
Once they pierced your heels to hobble you, bound up feet and ankles to lash you to the earth, there weren’t angels then, no wings, just the pain of toes crushed inward, the silent agony of motion, a cruel joke played by gods starved for entertainment. But Terpsichore, hearing Erato’s song, set them free brought them to a pointe, allowed them to take wingless flight, and toes became a platform from which their joy rose up spinning, whirling, slashing until even the most jaded of the gods fell silent in awe.
He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
He waited patiently in the queue until, after two and one half hours he approached the battered metal counter. The young, bored woman, chewing at her gum asked the usual question, have you looked hard for work this last week? I stood in many lines, for hours on end in my battered old shoes, that is more work than you can imagine. Each night I would soak my feet for hours in the small sink hoping the swelling would go down. Each morning I would find another line or two, if they moved quickly, but at the end of each they would ask the same question, what skills do you have and I would tell them there are few better than I at standing in lines, and they would sheepishly smile and thank me for my patience and that is why, again this week, I ask that you stamp my book so I can stand in the other line and wait patiently for my check which I can take to the small bodega waiting calmly in line to cash it to buy what canned goods are on sale. Then I will take my cans and carefully line them up on the kitchen counter, and marvel at how patiently they stand in the queue.
Today I would like to walk to the river, fashion a boat from a sheet of paper, and set off on it to a far distant sea. Most would think me crazy, but most see only the water flowing by under the bridge, and not the sea that lies out of sight beyond the horizon, when each moment the sea washes by right beneath their feet.