“He who walks softly goes far”, says the Chinese proverb. It would seem to suggest that if you want to travel the path of life comfortably it’s a good idea to make sure your shoes are free of stones; that it shouldn’t seem hard or impossible to stop and get rid of them, and that your shoes should be easy to put on and take off.

Because in the path of existence there are often stones that get into your shoes and make life very uncomfortable. They harm your shoes and socks and can cut your feet. The most logical thing to do when they get in there is to stop and shake them out. But paradoxically, sometimes we prefer to just let them slip between our toes or into a corner of our shoes rather than stopping, sitting down or leaning against a wall to throw our annoying tenant back on the path it came from.

The reasons we might prefer to do this may be related to inertia, hurry, embarrassment (What will people say if I take my shoes off in public!) or laziness (I’m going to be home soon, anyway, so why bother?) So the tiny source of torture can end up riding with us for a good stretch of the way.

But once we’ve got to the point where we decide to just leave the stone where it is, the love-hate relationship can go a long way. We might, for instance, answer anyone who asks us why we’re grimacing or limping that we have a really irritating stone in our shoe but we still haven’t found how, where or when to get rid of it. If we’re asked why we don’t just shake it out once and for all, we might argue that it’s not so bad after all –doesn’t everyone get a stone in their shoe once in a while?; or that in the end you get used to the pain, and maybe it even gives you a little pleasure, and hey, you’ve actually decided you quite like the little guy. There are so many arguments that can be found –it all just depends on how much imagination the owner of the shoe has.

This metaphor seems extremely appropriate for thinking about the loads we sometimes carry and which make what could be a light, pleasant and peaceful walk through existence more complicated. Here are some of them:

Mental stones: Prejudices and beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, or life, can truly hold us back from living. These are stones that end up destroying interesting encounters, necessary learning processes and revealing experiences. Shaking off your prejudices is a very healthy exercise which opens up a multitude of possibilities in relating to others. It’s also a good idea to take a new look at the things we believe about ourselves, as they can shackle us and stop us from changing. So it’s advisable to sit down and think sometimes, even to pick up a piece of paper and pencil and make an inventory of the opinion-stones that get into the shoes of our mind and which can lead us to miss out on so much.

Emotional stones: In this section, the stones in our hearts, I’d include stones which slip in in the form of unwanted or toxic relationships, symbioses that cause emotional shipwreck rather than uplift. Company that limits us, inhibits us; psychologically viral or negative bonds that open the doors to psychological exhaustion or even depression. Such relationships can also do serious damage to our self-esteem, and block our potential personal development. It also makes sense at times to take a look at the “relationship-stones” that have slipped into our emotional shoes, and shake them out before they sabotage our inner peace, good humour, joy and pleasure.

Material stones: Here we find a wide range of useless or near-useless objects hoarded on shelves, in cupboards, in bags or wherever we find room for them, as well as the shopping we do in our attacks of consumer bulimia, and the compulsive need to have in order to feel we’re alive. Realistically, anyone who lives off others’ needs is not going to worry about fulfilling them. Which means that our shoes easily get filled with bright-coloured but useless stones that invade our lives without us even noticing it. As well as cluttering our space, this affects our financial health as well. Taking a look at the things that slip into our budgets can often be a very healthy idea.

Bad habit stones: Stones can also slip into our lives when we stop caring about our health or become apathetic or lazy about looking after ourselves properly. The stone of resignation and laziness is hardly noticeable when it slips in, but can have devastating effects in the long run. Why not sometimes shake off these passive-aggressive stones and head out for a walk –with comfortable shoes on, searching for people to share it and exchange interesting ideas with.

To put it succinctly: letting go, emptying out, spring-cleaning, getting rid of things we don’t need or find annoying, is not only a necessary exercise; it also gives you a sharp sense of pleasure and is an act that can lead to significant changes in your life. It’s worth pointing out here that pleasure is a mechanism that sparks into life when we get rid of needs. So it can be a real pleasure to stop carrying around uncomfortable stones in your shoes.

William James, an American 19th century philosopher, considered one of the forerunners of psychology, and a firm believer in pragmatism, said that “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? But to overlook things you have to stop and take a look at what you’re carrying around with you, what kind of things have slipped into your life –and perhaps suddenly or perhaps without knowing it, you might suddenly walk lighter in the shoes of your ideas, affections and acts.

Álex Rovira

Alex Rovira