A confession: I’ve been ignoring my toes.
There’s really no sense to it. I don’t ignore my head when it hurts. I don’t ignore my stomach when it hurts. But for whatever reason, I’ve been marching around for months on extremely painful toes. And I haven’t even been remotely curious about what might be going on down there.
One day I thought:-being a responsible adult and body-owner and Buddhist and everything–I should probably go ahead and look at my toes.
A memory out of the blue: once upon a time, I was at a nail salon. A young marathon runner came in and took off her socks, revealing toes bruised in all colors of the rainbow. She smiled and said, sort of triumphantly: “It doesn’t hurt at all.” And I thought: wow, I want to be like that lady. I want to do amazing things and to have it not hurt.
I still do want to be like that lady. I want to do things that challenge me, but to never get hurt in the process. I want to just keep going if things hurt, and not to have to adjust anything I’m doing to address the hurt; maybe even to just ignore the hurt and hope it goes away. And also, to add to this list of unreasonable demands: I’d like to be able to run like a young gazelle forever.
When you get a chance to talk to Kaj Wyn Berry about your Buddhist practice on a beautiful spring day out on her deck, maybe the first thing you should mention isn’t your toes. But it’s the first thing I mentioned to her about my practice plan: this March I will take care of my toes. I will look at them and soak them and clean them every night, even if I don’t feel like it. I will admit that they hurt, even if I’d rather not admit that they hurt. I will admit that I need them to carry me around, even though I’d rather not be dependent on anything-not even my own toes. I’ll take care of them. I promise.
My husband is in on the promise too. At night he asks me “Did you soak your feet like you promised Kaj you would?” He’s made me little wool socks with the toes cut out so my feet can be warm but my hurt toes can heal.
Sometimes I feel like this is what Buddhist practice is: a series of escalating promises, made more and more publicly, in more and more circles of our lives; letting more and more people in on all the little secret ways we’ve been careless, and promising to stop.
And yet always with a sense of humor and humility and love. After all, it’s a never-ending story: once we get this trouble spot cleared up, another one will surely arise. And it’s not just us going through this-it’s everybody.
Kaj said it best as I turned to leave: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
-Elizabeth Fitterer took the precepts at PSZC in 2017. You can reach her at email@example.com