One more step, I tell myself. And every step requires tremendous effort. As I walk through the forest, my feet sink into the Earth.
This is where I was just over a decade ago: I am climbing a mountain in Maunawili, an area on the island of O’ahu. I laced up my shoes ahead of the journey. “Don’t wear sneakers,” they told me, “Just sandals.” Sandals? To hike in? But this was unfamiliar terrain, unlike the rocky, dry mountains back home, a new challenge. When you’re walking somewhere you’ve never been, you listen to the advice of those familiar with the journey. “You may just want to go barefoot,” they said.
The winding path is wet, slippery, thick mud. Maunawili, Twisted Mountain.
I begin the journey with my sandals. I should have at least some foot protection, I think. Direct contact with the Earth on a hike up a mountain doesn’t make sense to my logical mind. The muddy path rises and falls. With every step, my feet sink into the Earth. The cheap flipflops sometimes get suctioned from my feet when I pull my leg up to take the next step, buried in the wet mud, and I retrieve them. I fall down as the mud traps my sandals and sucks them away from my feet. I fall down as I bend over and dig in the mud to retrieve them. I fall down as I try to plant my feet on solid ground and slip instead.
After a few minutes on the trek I am barefoot, mud-caked sandals in a small backpack, mud-caked legs and feet beneath me, still trying to find their footing in the soft ground. The journey was hard because there was nothing hard about it – nowhere solid for my feet to find stability, just soft, wet mud to slip in and sink into. The muddy Earth covered my feet, my legs, my hands. And I continued.
Here I am, ten years later, still fighting the mud. Still trying not to sink into the Earth, but to keep going. I carry a heavy load on this journey, much heavier than my mud-encased flipflops. And this season has made me heavier still; so much loss, so many people looking to me for help, for answers, so much pain. I am stressed out, burnt out, “running on fumes,” as they say.
But still running, or trying to, that is. Beneath the weight of heavy burdens, my feet sink. I’m in muddy Earth up to my knees. And I try to unearth my feet and take another step, fighting the sinking, fighting the burial, trying to go on.
I hear my Ancestors calling me to stop, slow down, rest. Rest for those before me who never could, rest to heal for those after me.
If I’m being honest, I am a bit scared to stop, even if it is an intentional rest. I’ve been pressing on for as long as I can remember. I don’t rest, I don’t sit with my feelings and experiences, I don’t sit with my grief. And so I have become a shell of myself, working like a machine, continuing on no matter the cost.
But what if I didn’t?
If I just stopped, how far would I sink? Would my feet and legs get stuck in the mud? Would I sink so the mud covered all of me, an earthy baptism? Would I keep sinking deeper and deeper, into the heart of the mountain? What will I find there?
What might I birth if I take the time to slow down, stop, sink?
I pause, deep breath, ready to go under, to go deep. I am not buried to die, but buried to be planted, to take root, to be reborn.
Who will I be when I reemerge?