Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dry Goods

This new bread-baking enterprise of mine is nicely illustrating the difference between a materialistic mindset and a spiritual mindset.

In the materialistic mindset, it's the final product, the commodity, that matters.  In the materialistic mindset, the less expense, be it in capital or be it in effort, it takes to achieve the end result, the more profitable the outcome.  Why bake a cake from scratch when you can buy cake mix, just add eggs and water, and, voila, a cake?  Why spend hours mixing and measuring and weighing when you can get a cake in half the time for half the effort?  Sure, there might be some trade-offs in the quality of a homemade cake versus that from a retail mix, but the point of materialism is that there's a balance between the expense and the product, and if you want a better product, you better be ready to spend a little more money or effort.

In the spiritual mindset, the final product is beside the point and its the quality of the effort that matters.   On doesn't kneel down to pray to get to the final "Amen" as quickly as possible, or in a non-theistic example, one doesn't sit down to meditate in order to reach the closing bell (or whatever signal is used to indicate the end of the period).  The point of hiking the Appalachian Trail is not to get to the end of the trail, but to experience the hike itself.  In the spiritual mindset, the baked good isn't the point of the baking, it's the actual quality of the experience.  It might even sound a little perverse, but the more difficult and challenging the effort, the more obstacles overcome and questions resolved, the more rewarding the spiritual effort, regardless of the end product.

So if all I was interested in was having a homemade loaf of bread, I'd be well advised to buy the latest bread-making gadgets, get some recipes, and follow the instructions as efficiently as possible.  But I don't care about the bread, other than it's something to share with others and a means to practice generosity.  I'm interested in using a challenging (at least to me) endeavor to focus my full attention upon, and the more hands-on participation I can manage, the better.  It's similar to my decision not to replace my dishwasher when it broke down, but to instead engage in the more tedious, and somewhat outdated, practice of washing my dishes by hand.

So, today, after buying the necessary mixer, the hardware if you will, I went out and bought the software.  Yes, I suppose I could mix the batter by hand if I wanted to be so damned primitive about it all, but if I go too far with that train of thought I'm going to be growing my own wheat first.  The initial recipes I'm looking at (not for actual breads yet, but little bakery warm-ups to get me started) call for both baking soda and baking powder (I didn't know they were two separate things); both granulated and brown sugar; flour, lots of flour; and sugar, eggs, butter, and so on, none of which I had in my kitchen.  So, after spending some quality time on the baking aisle of the supermarket, I have what I think are the necessary ingredients to start my first project.

But the spiritual approach isn't about instant gratification or easy entertainment.  While I'm tempted to jump right in and start making a big mess in the kitchen right now, I'm instead going to step back and wait a little, try to visualize the whole process first and how I would go about it, and then maybe, just maybe, actually start in on it tomorrow.  First prepare the mind, as Dogen would advise.

I once attended a calligraphy demonstration by modern master Keido Fukishima Roshi, who said that his secret was to first rehearse the lettering without a paintbrush in his hand to see where the characters would fit on the page and the motions his hand would have to make, and then repeating the process, but with brush and ink.  "That way," he said, "I never make a mistake."  That's a bold statement, "I never make a mistake," but his reputation as a calligraphy master supports his claim. I'm not going to go so far as to rehearse all of the motions of my first baking experiment before firing up the oven, but I am going to visualize it a little more, first.

It's the path, I remind myself, not the destination.

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