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