I begun my initial structured and pragmatic attempts at the “home bakery” a while back in university with the assistance of a bread machine. I later decided that short and wide loaves of bread made sandwiches that were large and awkward to eat, never mind much more than what I should consume in one sitting. The slices did not fit the toaster I had either, but it was all predictable and made me feel like a baker, with my face in a book. Once I started to pull the dough out of the machine to bake inside a clay pan in the oven, things changed and the machine was quickly ditched for the big beautiful mixer with the dough hook attachment, a Christmas present fit for a new baker mom.
I progressed to homemade bread that followed other recipes using commercial yeast, which came with the mixer, in a little booklet that became my bread commandments. Those recipes were, like the bread machine, predictable, structured, and easy to follow.
I worked all the recipe times between my babies’ naps, mom and baby swimming lessons and play dates. During my maternity leaves, I made almost all the bread we ate and enough to give away to other carb lovers that came by to visit. Being a new mom was intense work, but the world still stopped somehow. The “real world”, I guess…
Then many years of store bought bread went by; but before COVID-19 hit the ground, I had recently taken a class at an artisan bakery nearby. As always, I took copious notes and tried to replicate the magic, but magic I had not. The potion required two ingredients I never wrote down: slowing down and surrender.
Also before the pandemic hit, into my therapy office came a wonderfully dynamic lady who was speedy in every way I could think of, but her artisan bread baking. She spoke of making a loaf of sourdough as a spiritual practice of some kind, the slowing of the moment, her grounding, or some form of prayer. I admired it but decided to avoid the challenge by explaining to myself that she was born a baker. My excuse met its demise when the same lovely lady gifted me a loaf of sourdough bread to bring home. I looked at it before I cut it with my family. The colour, the crust, the smell. I cut into the bread and the whole thing was gone in a collective inhale, as my babies have grown into teens. That was it! I knew I had to take whatever time learning required (into my old age rings a bell). That loaf of bread was extraordinary because of the ordinary art of baking and I, ordinary myself, had to figure ordinary out. I knew I had to transcend structure, and stop making the bread fit my schedule because the yeast and the weather are always doing their own darn thing and teaching me life lessons on control.
Come to think of it, it is no surprise that I always “upped my bread game” when my world stopped and this pandemic was no different. There was no commercial yeast to be found anyway, so I moved the live yeast from fridge to counter and brought it to health. I looked at it between clients, fed it, waited and learned. I noticed its peaks and worked around them. I fed it the right flour and noticed everything from moisture to temperature and called out for help. Bakers are wonderful people. They support you generously and offer you every tip you need, cheer you on and exchange pictures. From my neighbourhood baker who gave me “Herb” when I ruined “Hilda” (yes, baker’s yeast is often older than you and have traditional names), to a lovely lady that gave me the best directions via social media messenger, I could not believe the gifts and also the learning curve of such a simple 4 ingredient process.
Similarly to writing a thesis or having a new baby or two, the pandemic has had me working non stop, but in the confinement of my four walls, separated from the “real world” again. It actually seems to have put that world in a different dimension for now. In some ways, the same clock that keeps moving around and tiring me has simultaneously stopped. It erased the personal calendars. Not really in a restful way, but in a changing way, an ordinary, simple and surrendering way: those bread ingredients I have forgotten to notice before . I have been here and nowhere else in the tiring and frustrating experiential learning. And as such, the learning clock sped up. There is much more the pandemic has taught me, but we are sticking to bread right now. The loaves you see in these photos are the first two that I made following a long and traditional method that takes two days from start to table, and require that you check on it from time to time, something they used to do years ago at the farm. I usually work at an office, thanks!
Experiential learning may seem like such a “waste of time” in this rushed reality were were used to. This “normal” we seem to want to go back to. We prefer to talk about the things that we want to learn, over stopping to stumble and try, touch and taste them so we can actually learn. Our fast routines are so tiring we dream of the “easy button” and desperately seek step by step directions to anything resembling happiness. Oh we run so tired… We often talk about breathing, meditating and greet each other with “we should get together” in passing at the grocery store, but we don’t.“Tell me how to…”, people say in counselling. “Let’s try it now”, I say, suggesting we just take a few minutes to breathe. It can seem like such a strange invitation to pause with so much to say; however pausing is the start of learning anything new and making it intentional.
Mindfulness, grounding, being present and connected are like a loaf of bread. You have to surrender and accept it for what it is, the ordinary you seek to make life feel extraordinary for a moment. You have to stop that clock that keeps on running and lock the now, having nowhere else to be. Only then, does yeast rise, does the heart slow down and the soul fill up, for bread is eatable love. Just like that. When the clock stops, learning speeds up, through hands on experience, the best teacher of all. Hard, tiring, frustrating, simple and non-magical experience. Practice that makes it better but never perfect. And I beg to say the same goes for all the meaningful things we live to learn.
This pandemic has brought up shocking change. Much of it excruciatingly hard. We are collectively grieving the world that we knew.
As counsellors, we are here in this journey with you, to offer support and encouragement, as you surrender to learning, as you grieve change and search for new meaning, both creating and recreating your goals.
At Synergy Counselling, we are here to slow down with you too. You never know, you may get there faster. As we always say, we are here to help you reach your goals!