|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.