How a Bowl of Bread Dough Can Teach Us the Way to Live

Weekend Meditation

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The other day it occurred to me that all the delicious things in life — bread, cheese, wine, beer, pickles, kraut, just-cooked meats — become more delicious because of rest, because built into their process is a time where they sit quietly and do nothing. Actually, that's not quite true. They are doing something: yeasts are eating sugars and burping carbon dioxide, juices are being absorbed, fermentation is being initiated, etc. But from the point of view of the cook, we are leaving it alone. We are taking our hands off of the process and allowing the wild and uncontrolled elements to take their turn. 

What would happen if we did the same thing for ourselves, in our own lives?

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Everyone knows soups and stews taste better after they've spent a day in the fridge. Fruit is astonishing in its flavor and sweetness when it's allowed to ripen to its absolute fullest. Vinegars, cured meats like ham and sausage, cured fish, salted lemons, soy and fish sauces — all our favorite foods benefit from some quiet time, from a period of rest.

All this leads me to thinking about people and how we seldom give ourselves resting time. It can be a little alarming, this pace at which we are living our lives. How often do we allow ourselves to rest, to just stop? We chase about here and there, tense, worried, full of stress, too busy to notice what's happening around us as we whizz through the scenery, on to the next thing before we're even through with what's in front of us. How can we absorb and process our experiences when we've barely had time to register them?

And even when it is possible, many of us find it hard to stop. Maybe this is because to some degree, our self-worth and identity has become defined by our busyness.  Who would be if we weren't so busy? What would happen if we were to slow down some?   

The bowl of bread dough, the cheese, the bottle of wine teach us that so much magic happens when we stop and rest. Flavor and depth develop, texture, medicine, nuance, transformation. For people, this is the time when we integrate all the experiences, all the input we've taken in throughout the day. Rest is the time when we sift through and digest and transform. This isn't about sleep. This is about sitting still for a while, alert but quiet, allowing an internal process to take over, allowing something that's not a product of our thinking and our actions to have influence.  

When we stop our busyness, we settle more into our experiences, into our own skin. What does that feel like? Is it uncomfortable, is it delightful? Strange? Familiar? Resting is a time to tune in, to reflect, to fully own and live in our lives. This is where we can ferment, transform, cure. This is where the magic happens.

Resting can be a period of meditation, or 15 minutes spent gazing out the window of your commuter train or bus. It can be lying flat on your back in the grass and watching the clouds, or the stars. Swing low in a hammock, sip a cup or glass of something while sitting in a chair, stretch out on the floor and watch the dust filter through a sunbeam. Rest is available to us everywhere. Where will you find it?

Try it.  Just stop.  Just rest.  Let the magic happen. 

(Images: Dana Velden)

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Dana Velden has just finished writing her first book: Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Meditations and Recipes from a Mindful Cook which is based on her Weekend Meditation posts from The Kitchn. (Rodale Press, Fall, 2015) She lives in Oakland, CA.