Mindfulness and Bread Making

by - October 10, 2012

Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-by Ian Britton
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to learn from a master artisan bread maker. Actually, I was with a group invited to share an evening at local bakery. The owner and his son are both master bakers as well as Zen mediation practitioners. The mini-workshop was to teach the experience baking bread as a mindful practice. 

This bakery is not the pastry type bakery. They are primarily a bread bakery (wholesale) that operates a cafe as well. 

Our evening began with a discussion of mindfulness, meditation and incorporating this into everyday life. The mini workshop was introduced with an essay by Edward Espe Brown called "When You Wash the Rice, Wash the Rice". The idea is that if you focus on what you are doing in the moment you can achieve moments of meditative quiet and peace. Frank (the owner) talked about the fact that the Western culture emphasizes the mental and emotional "self" with limited attention paid to physical and tactile experiences of life. The point of the mini-workshop is that you can choose to "be quiet" while you do your "work" and achieve mindfulness.

Aside: I am Christian. For me, meditation and mindfulness can be practiced by anyone of any faith. I think that everyone's experience of mindfulness is their own just as everyone's experience of faith is their own. Someone I'm close to worries that Eastern practices associated with Eastern religions cannot "mix" with the Christian faith. My feeling is that meditation can be used in prayer and "mindfulness" can be an approach to "Prayer without ceasing". 

Back to Baking Bread: 

The goal was to achieve a quiet mind before going into the kitchen to work with and knead our dough for bread. As you can imagine, the thought is that the rhythm of the kneading can be used as a way to enter mindfulness. We were to focus on the rhythm of kneading the dough as a way to maintain our mindful quietness. Focus on the tactile sensations of the dough as it changed with the kneading. 

We were led through several minutes of quietness before the kneading/baking experience  I must say just those few moments of quietness listening to the person reminding me to focus on my breath really did bring me into a quiet and calm state of mind. I think often when I am "quiet" my mind is not quiet so I do not feel refreshed afterwards. After the meditation (which for me was simply focused quietness) we were to enter the kitchen with the same "spirit of quietness" to begin to knead our dough. 

Reality of the Experience: 

The spell was broken immediately as the group moved from our sitting quietness to the kitchen. Chatter was immediate as people walked to the kitchen. I don't know if it was excitement or the Western culture that when you are in the company of others that you need to be talking. But one of the keys to mindfulness is to be able to stay quiet even when your surroundings are not quiet. So, I quietly stood back and waited for instruction and  tried not to break the spell that I had been under. 

In the kitchen, participants eagerly asked questions about the bread making process like: "What temperature is the oven?"; "What are the proportions of yeast?" These questions (and their answers) were not important to me. I have not real intention of baking bread on a regular basis. And if I do bake bread, I will be able to find the right recipe with the "how to steps". 

I suppose the same could be said of my personal goal to focus on the mindfulness portion of the workshop. I'm sure I can find a book with a "recipe for how to be mindful". But, some things have to be experienced. For me, the moments of quietness where my mind was not in a state of worry or problem solving was something I don't think I would have understood by simply reading the steps. And, like so many good things, doing is learning. 

I'm glad I went. 

I'd love you to share when you've found a new way to experience something or a new way to think about something. 

Have a happy Wednesday.

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8 comments

  1. I need to do something like this - my bread is always terrible.

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    1. I can't believe your bread isn't good. You seem to be a wonderful cook. I recently saw something about breadmaking in the crock pot. If I can find that again I may try it.

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  2. "The idea is that if you focus on what you are doing in the moment"... I try to remind myself of this everyday! I often get way too ahead of myself and then I start to stress out, once that happens I have to pause and remind myself to focus on the step I'm doing at that moment and worry about the rest as it comes! I might have learned this from the movie "What About Bob", I remember his therapist would always say "baby steps Bob, dont worry about whats outside the door simply worry about walking towards the door, then focus on opening the door, then walking through the door etc". :) Its been helping me for awhile now!

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    1. I love "What About Bob". I say "baby steps" all the time. It always helps me. :)

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  3. That sounds like such an interesting workshop. I love baking, and I know I need to quiet my mind pretty frequently to re-focus back on Jesus. This will be an exercise I'll be trying at home soon. I'll just have to ask the hubs to take our baby on a daddy date so I don't lose focus. Thanks for sharing. Found you from LiveLaughRowe.

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    1. So glad you stopped by. If you are an avid cook (which I am not) you will probably get in the "flow" easily. Everytime I'm in the kitchen I have trouble focusing on my current activity because it feels so foreign to me. I.E. I never mastered the art of cooking.

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  4. Sounds like a neat experience and interesting to try to really be present with the making of the bread.

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    1. I would like to try the experience again with a much smaller group to see if it enhances the experience. I feel I need another class as I do not make bread at home.

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