Origin stories, Origin sandals, and original sin
Long long ago, in the beginning ...
"There was only the sun and the moon. And they were disguised as children, dressed with palm leaves, living in shacks made out of sticks and mud and a palm roof. They didn't have any earthly belongings, neither cows, nor goats, nor chickens, nor sheep, nor turkeys. The skin of the two children was very dark and the morning star was the only thing that shed light upon the sinful earth."
And so begins the Origin story of the Tarahumara natives of the Copper Canyon's of Mexico. The Tarahumara also known as the Raramuri, are famous for running 50+ miles up canyon walls in their running sandals. The Origin story of the sandals I make can be traced back to their lineage of huaraches running shoes. It seems only appropriate to tell you both the origin story of these sandals along with the origin story of the people they come from.
First off, I want to expand upon the phrase "sinful earth." When I think of the word sin I think of all the connotations of how people are bad and the Christian idea that we were born this way. What I recently learned is that the word sin is actually an old archery term that means "to miss the mark/target."
Original sin isn't actually about being bad or wrong and having to repent for being human for the rest of eternity.
What it really means is that sin occurs whenever we miss the target, when we miss the truth of who we are. And our true nature is love. We are infinite beings, and anything that distracts us or disguises this truth like fear, ignorance, hatred, jealousy, violence, these are the sins that fly right past the target and land smack in the dirt.
I made my first pair of sandals at a time in my life when I was missing the mark most days. I was disconnected from my own truth and the reality of the goodness in me and the world around me. I was lost and stumbling in the dark, the unknown threatening to swallow me whole with no hope of return. During my second year of college my confusion and disembodiment peaked when I had my first shamanic experience when a tumultuous social situation led me into a spiritual crisis. Three days of no sleep and anxiety where enough to transport me into an altered state where I began to see signs all around me that pointed to the oppression of the feminine, to the lack of compassion in our world, essentially all signs and symbols pointed to how we had missed the target as an entire culture.
Our sins were so simple and easy to see from this altered state. Everything around me became embued with deep symbolic meaning. Street signs, songs, words people spoke to me, the way a bird landed on the grass, all had a message in them.
All around me I saw signs of "sin" of forgetting what life really is about.
The only problem was that I was so far gone in the other world that I couldn't ground myself and make use of the valuable messages I was seeing and hearing. (more on this in a future post.)
When I did come down from my journey--after a wonderful religion professor who was a practicing Buddhist sat with me and fed me and then gently led me to the counseling center for appropriate help--I quickly found myself in a depression and in a fog from the medications they were giving me. I went from one altered state to the next ( I believe depression is an altered state). During this roller coaster of a year my mother gave me one of my grandmother's books by Tom Brown Jr. called "The Tracker," that recounted his childhood growing up learning primitive skills from an Apache elder. Tom and his friend Rick learned the ways of living in accord with nature, to make fire with sticks, build shelters to sleep in and track a field mouse in the dark. All year I had been asking myself,
"What does it mean to be human?
To be alive on this earth?"
I knew I was missing the mark of what life was really about. I certainly wasn't getting the answers at my prestigious East Coast Liberal Arts College. Surely these skills would help me understand the human experience. And so off I went to Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracker School in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The last place you would think to find a survival school.
I wanted to know what it felt like to be at the beginning of time on earth.
Like the Tarahumara, I wanted to be with just with the sun and the moon. To learn to dress myself with palm leaves, to live in shacks made out of sticks and mud and a palm roof. This sounded like a good beginning to me.
"Then one day the moon swallowed the light from the head of the sun, while the morning star watched over them. Soon afterwards, the Raramuri did not know what to do in such darkness. They could not work and they had to hold each other’s hands to prevent them from tripping over the rocks and falling into their canyons. But One day, they placed tiny redwood crosses soaked in "tesqüino" (a corn alcohol beverage) and gradually, the sun and the moon started shining with a bright light. In this way they had healed the sun and the moon."
The lecture that I remember the most vividly from my course at The Tracker School was about Stalking and Awareness. The instructor on the creaky wooden stage explained to us that the more clothing and protection we wear on our bodies, the less we can feel. The less we can feel, the more disconnected we are from our surroundings. The more disconnected we are, the more harm we do, the more oblivious we are, the more we become intruders on the land instead of people OF the land. Just like emotional vulnerability, the more we try to protect ourselves from pain the less we can feel over all and the more isolated we become from ourselves and our loved ones.
Imagine you are beginning a walk in the woods with a thick soled pair of hiking boots. You are excited to see what animals and birds are living in this beautiful place. You begin to walk off trail in your excitement to be away from the city or town where you sit at a desk all day working on a computer.
But unable to feel the ground beneath your thick soled boots, you begin to break sticks and branches as you walk into the woods.
Because you spend your time in a noisy modern world these sounds seem quiet. You keep going, and as you walk you notice the birds have gone silent. Strange. You keep walking but the forest feels different, quiet and still. You return to your car disappointed having seen none of the animals and creatures you were told lived in abundance in these woods.
When this story was told to me I fully realized was how disconnected I had been from all of life around me, and how that lack of awareness was causing distress, suffering and also less enjoyment for both myself and every other being around me.
The sun had been eaten by the moon and I was alone in the dark.
I was ready to reach out to the world around me and reconnect. To find my way in the dark.
The chain of events we set off when we step on those branches, when we make a loud noise that startles one of the birds in the woods that aren't used to animals moving that loudly or quickly unless they are hunting or in distress-begins with a bird sending out an alarm call. And the rest of the animals in the woods know these alarm calls. Suddenly, the whole forest is alerted that there is an intruder in their midst and they all start to move away from you. Without a knowledge of bird language or how to move in the woods, we would never even know this chain of events was happening.
In summer months this doesn't cause too much of an issue, other than the animals going out of their way to avoid us. But in the winter months, disturbing the environment can cause animals to waste precious calories that they don't have a way to replace. There is also plant life to consider, and where you step may devastate a young crop of plants that create health and balance in that ecosystem.
As an animal, plant and earth lover who grew up in the woods, I became obsessed. I wanted to learn how to NOT be that person anymore. I thought I was this hippie, crunchy, granola girl that was super connected to her environment,
and I had just been told that I didn't know SHIT about the things I cared the most about.
Our instructor gave us a list of shoes that we could buy commercially to begin our minimalist footwear journeys. I immediately invested in both Toms and Vans and around this same time the book Born to Run had been published and I got wind that it was about a tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico that would run ultra marathon distances in nothing but sandals. I bought the book as soon as I could and devoured it. If you haven't read it, its basically like a reality tv show in a book with the characters, adventures and wild plot twists.
This book proposes the same "sin" my instructors did in the pine barrens:
We have missed the mark. Our aim had good intentions, but we have over shot the target and are actually causing more harm than good to our bodies and our environment with our modern shoes.
Born To Run takes foot wear one step further (the puns are endless!) tracing our roots as a humanity back to the plains of Africa where our forbearers survived by means of foraging and persistence hunting. All of us come from ancestors that provided food for their tribe by running animals down to the point of exhaustion. What this means is that we are all born to run.
Then, a great flood came and a boy and a girl fled to the top of the Lavachi Mountain. When the flood had ended, and the waters subsided, they returned carrying with them three corn kernels and three beans. And because everything was so soft and moist, they planted them in a rock. Later on, they fell asleep and that night they had a dream. As time passed the corn and bean plants grew. And soon they harvested the first crop corn and beans. It is said that all Tarahumara Indians are their descendants.
One fateful day in college when I was feeling particularly bored and at a loss, ie. like I was missing the target of life's truer deeper meaning,
I pulled up a youtube video on how to make Huaraches, these barefoot sandals I had been hearing and reading so much about, and decided to make a pair.
Luckily I was in a sculpture class and as destiny would have it, my friend was utilizing leather from a local cobbler for his artwork. I discreetly asked to borrow some and tucked myself in a corner and proceeded to fashion myself a very simple pair of sandals. I walked out of class that day with them on my feet and the second I got onto campus someone said, "I like your shoes!" I was slightly shocked by the immediate feedback and replied, "Thank you! I made them." To which they replied with shock, "No way!" And without even thinking, the words flowed out of my mouth: "Yeah! It's easy. Ill teach you."
My first impulse was to share.
My impulse was to take the seeds of what I had learned and plant them. To spread them to those that were seeking the same nourishment I was.
To dream a dream of a new world where each of us was connected to our truth. A world where we continue to hit the mark more and more through connection, through understanding. Because after all, "Understanding is love's other name. If you don't understand, you can't love" ~Thich Nat Hahn
And isn't funny that the word understanding has to do with our feet?
To under-stand. To know the ground beneath our own feet. And to bravely seek to know what its like to be "in their shoes." There's something about this part of our body and how it touches the earth. There's something about our feet that can put us in touch with ourselves, each other and all beings.
In my readings of "Born to Run" and through a very basic understanding of Tracking, I began to wonder if perhaps our capacity to have compassion not just for each other, but also for other species, other life forms, other realities was born out of the long distance tracking/hunting of our forbearers.
Its often conjectured that the first form of language came out of tracking, out of pattern recognition and our ability to create meaning out of the pattern to find our food. With persistence hunting, the animal can often be many miles ahead of a hunter, and at some point along the way,
the best tracker actually must become the very thing they are hunting.
Understanding--loving-- their prey on a level that they can predict where and how they are moving to achieve their goal.
This ability to meld our reality with another, to step into the shoes of another, to understand another, and to do so not just between humans for tribal survival, but between species is quite miraculous. We are the only species that can do this by choice.
This kind of tracking is a form of shamanism, where the hunter becomes signs and symbols they are seeing and feeling to become what they hunt. And to find with more accuracy, more ease, allows a faster kill, which ultimately creates less suffering for all.
It is my hope that the Origin Sandals can be like the little corn and seed beans planted in the ground of a newly forming reality where love and understanding grow tall and strong, where we sin--miss the mark--less and less.
These sandals are a living dream that imagines in dark times--when the sun is swallowed by the moon (as it will be later this month during the solar eclipse!)--that we have the courage to reach out to each other. That we make sure other's aren't tripping on stones they cannot see.
That we come together and make our daily rituals offerings of love to ourselves, to each other, to the sun and the moon, to the world of nature and spirits and call in a new way of being that is in right relationship with all of life. Under-standing that life moves in all things, not just humans animals and plants. What really matters is to flood the matter that makes up our lives with meaning, with life and spirit once again. Perhaps this is what the great floods that are recounted time and again in creation myths across cultures are symbolic of. The O of Origin becomes regenerative in this way, to renew, to wash away the old "sins" of our best aim to hit the mark of our true nature and create fertile ground for a new beginning. The root word of the word Origin is "oriri" which is latin for "to rise." And here we are, the only species that can rise up on two feet and move freely and quickly about the Earth. There is no better time than now to rise up, to return to our origins...
To remember--to understand-- who we are and where we came from and that we can begin again, and again. And again...
And so it is now, as it was then. As it shall always be.