The Tao te Ching, written about 2,500 years ago by Lao Tzu, speaks to us about living with ease, and how wise people empty their minds instead of overwhelming them.
It seemed less difficult to follow these ancient teachings when I was a kid. Every May, my mother would take us to a local shoe shop to buy new sneakers for spring. I loved both U.S. Keds and P.F. Flyers. Red or navy blue. Sometimes they had white rubber on the toe and sometimes they didn’t. Those were my choices. Red. Navy. Toe bumpers or not. Keds or Flyers. Uncomplicated.
Remember how stressless moving the body used to be? At age 10, I hula-hooped for a full hour, on the hips, up to the waist, scooting the huge plastic ring up to my neck, dropping it to my ankles, getting fancy with it at my elbows and wrists. Always in Keds or Flyers. Simple.
As much as I love sneakers, I won a hula-hoop competition a while back, with no sneakers at all. We were on a cruise ship. Hundreds of high-heeled and boat-shoed cruise competitors dropped their hoops one by one. Their feet stuck to the deck, they said. Maybe I won because of my bare feet, or what the Taoists might call “the natural way.”
Cruise ships aside, most of the time I prefer to wear sneakers. In my Flyers and Keds, I loved pogo-sticking and jump-rope-double-dutching on the girls’ side of the Nathan Clifford School playground. Simple memories from simpler times.
Consistent with the unfussiness of my Keds and Flyers and the fun in childhood games, I like the Taoist idea that keeping our lives simple allows serenity to follow. Taoists tell us to uncloud and still the mind.
I try. But life today seems so complex. This May I took my adult self to a local shoe shop to buy new sneakers for spring. I looked at the wall display which spanned one whole side of the store. Nike, Mizuno, New Balance, Adidas, Brooks, Saucony, Asics, Sketchers, Puma, Reebok, Converse, Top Siders, each with at least a hundred styles per brand, in pastels, neons, shimmering golds and silvers, strong heel counters or flexible, neutral or rigid lasts.
The young sales girl asked me, “Do you want a walking shoe, a running flat or a cross-trainer?”
I said, “I want a sneaker.”
The questions built from there. “Do you want to sprint fast? Walk steady? Be powerful in the gym? Play tennis? High tops are not good for break-dancing, for example. It matters what you plan to do in your athletic wear,” she told me.
The Taoist saying came to me, “Empty and be full. Have much and be confused.”
I was confused, overwhelmed. “Mostly I clean house in my sneakers,” I told her. “Or I move boxes into my car after I spring clean.”
The salesgirl stared at me. At the risk of sounding old-school, how can anyone’s mind be quiet when having to choose between fuchsia Pump-Jumpers and lavender No-Sox-Cool-Man mesh gloves for feet?
I did a little Taoist centering and remembered a few words from Ursula Le Guin’s translation of the Tao te Ching: “To know enough’s enough is enough to know.”
I didn’t buy any shoes that day. I decided to do my housework barefoot for a while. Simple. My Taoist friends might like the serenity in that choice.
Susan Lebel Young, MSEd, MSC, is a retired psychotherapist. Her new book is “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers.”