“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.”
It begins with the simplest of things. Water, yeast, flour, and salt are combined with time and heat to create something greater than these basic parts. From simple to complex and from basic to profound, the journey that you take to arrive at a crackling loaf of homemade bread mirrors the journey to an authentic life.
You see, bread – like life – is an everyday miracle. Bread is far-reaching in its effect, yet easy to overlook or forget because its essential nature makes it seem commonplace. Yet bread is anything but commonplace. Its smell is evocative of home. Its taste is uncomplicated, yet redolent of abundance. It has fed humanity for millennia and in some sense, everything we see around us is connected to it or dependent on it. Sharing it with family and friends is an ancient symbol of love and connection, as well as of the bonds of hospitality, fidelity, and trust. As Cervantes said, all sorrows are less with bread.
We obviously associate bread with abundance and prosperity. Someone who earns money for a family is said to be a breadwinner. Bread and butter symbolize someone’s income. Upper-crust is another term for wealth and success. In fact, both dough and bread are slang terms for money. Even though we may take it for granted, bread carries a great deal of importance for our species.
I love bread and I bake it as often as possible. Usually I bake a simple boule, but sometimes it’s a rich brioche or a hearty rye. It’s a gift I give myself and those I love. I bake it for the smell. I bake it for the taste. I bake it for the looks on my family’s face when they’re enjoying it. And of course, I bake it so that I can have a slice (or three) for myself. However, for me, baking bread is not only about the sensual.
I also consider baking bread to be a spiritual practice. It’s a reminder to slow down, be in the moment. It’s a practice in making every action precise. It is meditation made tactile and physical. It is science and art combined. As a result, I’ve learned that baking bread gives us the recipe to use patience, gratitude, and courage to achieve the authentic. Like all recipes, this one starts with the ingredients.
Potential is Everything
Bread starts with water, the universal solvent. Water is the base to which all the other ingredients are added. It dissolves the yeast and salt into solution. It moistens the flour, allowing it to bind together into workable dough. It permeates the loaf as steam, keeping the bread moist. Yet, in the end, the water itself remains completely adaptable, yet essentially unchanged. In a way, water is the potential for the miracle that is bread. Without that potential, there is no bread.
The same things holds true in life for each of us. We all have within us the potential for limitless happiness and balance. Every one of us is divine and a miracle of creation. This potential is the base upon which everything else can be built. All it takes to start the process is a belief that with the proper ingredients and care, we can achieve a life that is beautiful, nourishing, and above all, naturally a part of our essential selves.
The Necessity of Change
When we eat raw grains right off the plant, our guts have trouble breaking down the bran. This means that we don’t get the maximum nutrition contained in the grain. In order to get the full nutritional benefit from grains, they have to be changed into a form that is digestible.
That’s why raw whole grains (the only type you should be using) are ground, changing them into flour. This whole flour contains all of the nutrition inherent in the original grain, transformed into a form that can be used to create a delicious and beautiful loaf of bread. Without this change, there can be no bread.
A similar process occurs in life. In order to obtain a life that has meaning and joy, you need to be able take advantage of the numerous opportunities that life presents on a regular basis. The problem is that all of these opportunities involve change in one form or another, and change can be frightening. Change means altering the status quo. Change implies movement. Change will be, by necessity, different.
Avoiding change can seem to be the easier option. There is less potential for upset. There is a lower risk that you’ll have to confront and deal with problems. The fear of change can make it feel like it’s easier to endlessly chew away at a life that doesn’t give you what you need.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to live the life that you deserve, you have to have the courage to break the bonds of the habits that hold you back. Accepting a life that is spiritually and experientially deficient may seem easier, but in the long run you will starve because of what that life lacks.
Grain changes from a seed to flour in order to ultimately become bread. You likewise must embrace change in order to realize the true miracle of your existence.
The Alchemy of Growth
Yeast is magical. When added to flour and water, it begins a transformation that elevates these two simple ingredients to a higher plane. The yeast initiates a metamorphosis that literally creates the loaf of bread. To set the dough aside to rise and come back to find it more than doubled in size is a magic act that never fails to amaze me. Without yeast, the dough will not rise and the bread remains flat. Without yeast, there is no growth.
An authentic life must be leavened with personal growth. Without that growth, your full potential cannot be reached. Without growth, your life will be less full and less satisfying. Like unleavened bread, it will remain flat.
Growth is the inevitable result of change, just as rising dough is the inevitable result of adding yeast to flour and water. When change is accepted, even sought out, the result is a life that begins to expand, overflowing with possibility and potential. Embrace growth as a natural byproduct of change. It is a sign that you are moving in the right direction, following the recipe if you will. The result will be a life that is full, delicious, and satisfying.
The Flavor of Experience
All bread needs salt, otherwise it would be tasteless. Salt brings necessary flavor to the bread, making the experience of eating it more enjoyable. Yet salt by itself is not a sought-after culinary experience. Salt only has value when it used to add a dimension of flavor. At the same time, its absence in a dish is always noted. Without salt, the experience of bread would be lessened.
Like salt, your experiences in life bring added depth. By themselves, some of these experiences were far from enjoyable. However, each one of them adds something to who you are as a human being. The bitter and the sour serve to make life more agreeable, more satisfying, and ultimately, more marvelous. Your tears are salty for a reason. They flavor your life, allowing you to create an existence that is meaningful, joyful, and authentically yours.
Patience is Essential
Baking bread is essentially an act of patience. The rules of the recipe have to be observed. The ingredients must be carefully measured and weighed. The process of mixing, kneading, rising, and baking proceeds at its own pace. Nothing can be rushed. There are no shortcuts. You cannot demand to have a loaf of home-baked bread on your schedule. In order to achieve the result, you have to put in the time.
As always, the same holds true for life. Reclaiming your dreams is also an act of patience. You have to carefully do the preliminary work that allows that dream to become reality. That work is necessary. Without the prep work, your dream is nothing more than a wish.
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When you realize the power of your potential, you take a step towards the end result. When you have the courage to embrace change and the growth it initiates, you are closer to your goal. When you accept that all of your experiences, good and bad, have given you the strength to be who you were meant to be, you move towards the light.
You stand at the ready, preparing to create your most authentic life. And like a good loaf, it is warm, welcoming and necessary. It is a gift that you give yourself and share with those around you. It is a combination of ingredients, all in balance, that in the end produces something so wonderful, so beautiful and so you.
What every day experiences have you elevated to become your spiritual practice? Tell me how it’s helping you create your most authentic life! I can’t wait to hear from you.