10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) is a program to help us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. ~Aristotle
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was a back to the land hippie. I lived in the mountains of northwest Montana, far from neighbors, with a view of Glacier National Park from the front porch of the little shack I called home. Without electricity or running water, life revolved around getting water from the spring nearby and wood for cooking and heat. I hiked miles through the woods with my dogs, and watched the big Montana sky. Life was good.
I prided myself on my self-sufficiency, learning about foods and medicines that grew wild all around me. I learned to cook on the wood stove and fixed some pretty tasty meals, if I do say so myself.
But baking bread was something I just couldn’t seem to master. I bought wheat from a farmer, ground my own flour with a hand cranked mill, and meticulously followed countless recipes. The hard loaves I produced were more useful as weapons or doorstops than for eating.
Finally a woman from a ranch in the next valley took pity on me. She invited me over one day to make bread. First, she taught me the right water temperature for activating the yeast. She taught me by having me put my hand in the water when it was just right. Then she added flour until the dough was ready for kneading. She didn’t measure anything. She just knew from experience. She had me feel the dough and knead it when it was just right.
At every step she had me looking, touching, poking, kneading, pressing, smelling, teaching me not by words in a book and precise measures, but by sight and feel, by the experience rather than intellect. The bread finally came out of the oven. Perfect. We sliced off steaming pieces and slathered them with home churned butter. I think I ate a whole loaf all by myself.
From that day on, I baked delicious bread, all kinds of bread. I never looked at another recipe.
Now I’m not saying that recipes are bad, and I certainly needed instruction, but I couldn’t learn how to bake bread until I could feel it.
Sometimes I look at all the books I have on my bookshelves about happiness, meditation, forgiveness, martial arts, mindfulness, grace, bring present. I’m looking at them right now, in fact. How many more books do I think I need?
Billionaire Rockefeller was once asked how much more money he thought he needed. Just a little more, he replied. I get that. Perhaps I need just one more book.
But I can’t read myself into inner peace unless I practice, just like you can’t read about running and then go run a marathon. I need to actually have the experience of meditating, forgiving, practicing martial arts, whatever. I need to feel the dough.
The doorbell rang just a few minutes ago. Oh good, my new book on tai chi just arrived.
Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham
Posted by Galen Pearl at 4:36 PM
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I can practically smell that bread! :-) Your experience learning to make bread is such a wonderful example for us. I wonder if fear of failing keeps us "in the book" and away from the experience?ReplyDelete
Tina, I think you are onto something there. It's much easier and less risky to read about meditation, for example, than to sit down and spend some time doing it. Thanks for your added insight.Delete
Making/baking the bread speaks volumes to me, Galen. When my kids were young, I never had trouble reproducing this one recipe I'd relied upon. Every time I've tried it since being with Danny, it's just been a flop. I can't figure that out. Maybe, my focus is wrong now? Maybe, God just wants me to find another recipe for His goodness?ReplyDelete
I'll still have faith and will try bread once again, praying that it is meant as the Bread of Life.
Martha, How interesting that a recipe that worked for years now doesn't. I like your metaphor about finding another recipe for goodness. Maybe the idea is to get a "feel" for it through and open trust rather than looking for a recipe. Hmm, you've got me thinking. Thanks for your comment.Delete
I think the recipe to success is not being afraid of failing, be it bread baking or bigger things. Like you say, one needs to try, feel and sometimes fail at first in order to have success. Pam xxReplyDelete
Pam, The many loaves of bread I threw out attest to the truth of your comment! Thanks.Delete
I can't get over how similar our stories are! :))) You make me happy. :) thank you for blogging.ReplyDelete
monika, I'd love to hear more about your story. In what ways are our stories similar? Thanks for the kind words.Delete
Galen, I have a strong sense of deja vu. I've had a similar experience. And ironically, while downloading a couple of books last week, I smiled at myself cynically, thinking how I promised myself each time..that I would read a book a day. Ha. Not impossible, but just does not happen. I keep joking with my folks that I have enough books to read until I am no more.ReplyDelete
Half an hour ago, I was busy working on something when the sudden urge to bake a cake overwhelmed me. I just gave in to the urge...and am enjoying the rewards of my labor, in the form of my people's appreciation.
I want to learn to bake bread. I don't know how.:-)
I am in love with your post, dear Galen. Hugs!
Vidya, I will teach you to bake bread the same way I was taught. You are welcome in my kitchen anytime! Thanks for your comment, my friend.Delete
Oh my goodness it's so nice to hear you have so many books of personal growth on your shelf too - Right now I'm reading Ram Dass Grist for the Mill. I have them all and like Esther Hicks stated through Abraham - "The teachers have led us to our insight and now we have it and that trumps everything."ReplyDelete
Words don't teach - experiences do and obviously your experience of bread making worked!
Nancy, "Words don't teach -- experiences do." Exactly! Thanks for your comment.Delete
After retirement I began baking bread and buns -- partly because I didn't want to continue eating bakery bread with too much sodium content and partly because I remember the great home made bread that my mother produced. When I mix and knead and watch the dough rising, it feels like a sacrament to life. There is a reverence and a spiritual connection in every loaf that I produce. Thanks for reminding us that life needs to be experienced and not imagined.ReplyDelete
Jeanette, There is something special about baking bread, isn't there? It can't be rushed or forced. Glad you are enjoying it. I haven't baked bread in a long time, but now I think I will soon. Thanks for commenting.Delete
I love the photo of the fresh bread...unfortunately I have difficulty with gluten so I don't eat much bread anymore. I do love it though especially when it is fresh from the oven. You story had me salivating.
RE: Books....I love books and read constantly. Now that I have a Kindle I don't worry about where I'm going to store them so that has given me the freedom to read more.
I do see your point about "reading one more book on"....(fill in the blank) though. My take on it is this; as long as you aren't reading to procrastinate against taking action then it is okay. If you read to "hide" from life and tell yourself you don't know enough yet to act until you read just one more book then it is detrimental.
I love our conversations!
Angela, Well said. I find great inspiration and teaching in books, so I doubt I'll give it up. But as you say, sometimes I use reading instead of doing. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Lol, I too will TRY to forgive you for making me think about freshly baked bread that I can't eat. But I'm definitely the try-it-yourself type, and I actually prefer not to have too much information about anything before giving it a go myself, because the results tend to be more innovative and personal that way. I usually only go looking for help when I get stuck, which is what you did here, so good for you! :)ReplyDelete
Jennifer, I've gotten more willing to try things myself as I've gotten older. I've always tended to be a follow the instructions kind of person. Now I'm more likely to follow my instincts. Thanks for commenting.Delete
There is an expression one of my friends uses when he wants to talk about spending too much time preparing for something rather than doing it: having too much head knowledge while neglecting the heart knowledge.ReplyDelete
There is a time to read and a time to act. Your post today captures that perfectly.
Bob, As a person who lived almost exclusively in her head for much of her life, I am the perfect example of that! Working on that heart knowledge now. Thanks for commenting. (Great paraphrase of Ecclesiastes!)Delete
Galen, I love the vision of you as a young hippie chick, with your Danskin top and wraparound India print cotton skirt, walking barefoot along a path in the mountains with your dogs running ahead. What a happy visual.ReplyDelete
I love to bake...pies, breads, cookies, cakes. I just love it. And I understand what it means to "feel" the dough. I too have shelves of books on baking, but there is a certain groove one feels when you are in practice with the process.
I also have many volumes on enlightenment but I go first to my life, my heart, my inner voice and then I listen to others. Sometimes their voices confirm the inner promptings and at other times they conflict. Without a personal practice we leave ourselves vulnerable to the advice of others. We give ourselves away because we don't trust or believe in ourselves.
Great post Galen. Thank you!
Leah, That's a pretty accurate vision! I did indeed run around in the mountains barefoot with my dogs. I appreciate your observation about leaving ourselves vulnerable when we look only outside ourselves for wisdom. Thanks for your comment.Delete
I love your humor. The corners of my mouth turned up when I read your description of your bread (weapon of destruction!). This lesson is just so, so true. I still read books on spirituality but not nearly as much as before. I'm game for more practice!ReplyDelete
Sandra, Humor is easy when it's true! Those loaves were dangerous! Thanks for commenting.Delete
Flour that you ground and butter you had churned yourself!?!?! I can't imagine how good that bread tasted!ReplyDelete
What a beautiful metaphor for life. We can't learn by reading or even by doing unless either of those brings us to feeling.
I bake bread. Just this past weekend, our Thanksgiving weekend, I taught my goddaughter how to make bread! I measure some of it but I too was getting her to feel the temperature of the water and knead the dough :-)
Lori, Isn't baking bread a wonderful thing to do with someone? And it's great alone, too--very meditative.Thanks for commenting.Delete
I loved reading about your life in Montana. I think I would love that kind of life for at least a short moment of time. I enjoyed your analogy with bread making and other points of life. You are amazing at putting these profound thoughts together for me to be enlightened by.ReplyDelete
LeAnn, It was great for the years I was there. I wouldn't want to live that way now, but I have tried to capture some of the feel of it by having a mountain cabin that I retreat to often. Only this one has plumbing and electricity! No phone, TV, or internet, though. That's nice.Delete
Thank you for your very kind words.
What a wonderful post. It brought me back to my first attempt at baking bread. It was edible but not so great. I was encouraged enough to give it another try and eventually was making some pretty good bread. I was about 23 on my first attempt. I got a little tiny book that my sister sent me, probably from the inside of a flour sack. I still have that book and still make bread with those recipes.
You are so right, you can read and read about how to do something but if you never put into action you can't do it.
Mary, All this talk about bread has made me want to go bake some! I'm ready to put this into action instead of writing about it--ha! Thanks for your comment.Delete
Bread, like life, needs to be practiced, not read about :) Love this insight Galen and the metaphor of bread to life. We have all the tools we need and we have the master teacher and book, life.ReplyDelete
When life throws us the ups and downs, we have that very moment to put into effect everything we've learned, read and know. Life is the teacher and the lesson master and we are regularly presented with exams testing how far we've come along on our personal growth process.
As far as recipes though and instructions. I probably should learn to follow one and successfully cook or bake something. I usually take the 'I'll figure it out approach" to find dishes which are a far ways from what the recipe-writer or creator intended:)
Vishnu, Thanks for taking this metaphor to new levels of insight. Love it.Delete
When I ran into that dilemma years ago, I donated most of my library to charity, then started over. It's time to donate again.ReplyDelete
As a former 'back to the lander', I really appreciated your post - particularly the part about bread. For me, bread became a sort of spiritual thing. I love the creating and watching something form. If I did everything right, this big wonderful tasty thing filled my kitchen with the most awesome smell. If I messed up - well, I learned how to make some really good cakes and even hard bread for dressing! I also tolerated a bad marriage by taking all my frustration out on the dough that I kneaded. On a really bad day, that bread was so well kneaded it could have floated away as it was so lite. I used to laugh and wonder how many pioneer families survived because mom had to make bread every day! Anyhow, I enjoy your blog.ReplyDelete
Ingrid, I feel the same way about the bread. I haven't baked any in a long time, but maybe I'll get back to it. It was definitely a central part of my back to the land time. We should compare notes about that! For you, I can see that the bread was also therapeutic. Funny comment about the pioneer women.Delete
Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I am not posting any new material on it now--taking an indefinite break. But I'm glad folks still read it and enjoy it. All the best to you.