“Don’t pat the feet! We need them to be dry!”
Those were the stern words that the abbot of a forest monastery said to me as I was drying his feet and the feet of monks who had just cleansed them with water before entering the meditation hall.
Drying the feet of monastics was the task I accepted that day at the monastery, and I had made an intention to carefully think through what would be the best way to do so.
I intended to gently pat the monks’ feet dry because I thought that was what a kind, mindful person would do — avoid causing unnecessary discomfort to a monk by rubbing his feet too hard.
I was wrong.
Sometimes a simple, forceful action is the wisest, most compassionate action — like pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming car.
If a monk’s feet were still wet, he could slip, fall and even injure himself when walking into the hall.
Residual water could also be slippery and dangerous for lay supporters entering the space.
Rubbing a person’s feet dry does cause some level of discomfort for the person whose feet are being rubbed.
But that minor discomfort is worth enduring if it prevents physical injury.
In process of drying monastics’ feet, I learned that wisdom isn’t only about good intentions and acting with sincerity.
It’s also about being sensitive to what a situation calls for — knowing how to apply virtue in an effective way that benefits everyone involved.