Monday, August 16, 2010

Whole Wheat & Molasses Bread: Slowing Down

"Smile, breathe, and go slowly." Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen monk
Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread with Wildberry Jam and sunlight.
For those who know me well enough, you know that many times I go too fast, do too much. I know I'm not alone in this bad habit, and there are even days when I think I would defend my actions as a result of wanting to be my best, of accomplishing more for myself, but also for the world and community around me. But the more I consciously think about my actions and my quality of life, the more I want to slow down and be present and focused on the moment, the people before me, and my life.

Last week I spent some time with my grandparents. My grandma Mary Ann will turn 80 in November; my grandpa Bob will turn 90 in January. We are ideologically different. They blare FOX News at top volume, my grandma has signed me up for some conservative newsletter that arrives monthly to my mailbox, and she is always sweetly nudging me, her Rubenesque granddaughter, toward a healthier diet. In turn, I urge her to get the fish and chips already, to drink an ice cold beer while bowling at my nephew's 9th birthday party, and to appreciate one's imperfections (and ultimately beauty) lovingly, with no more guilt, self-loathing, or doubt. We balance each other nicely despite our heated political discussions...

One of the best moments of my visit was the hour before I boarded my train to St. Louis. I found my grandma resting on her giant quilted bed (she has troubles sleeping at night), so I joined her. I held  her hand as she told me stories, and I felt the world center in my heart. I knew that whatever happened next was negligible. That truly listening to my grandmother's voice and her life was the most important thing I could do that day. Time slowed down. I felt closer to her, less sad about my departure.

And here's the peculiar thing: I find that the more I slow down and really streamline my activities and my schedule, the more rested, happy and sated I feel, the more productive and thoughtful I am with work, hobbies and passions, and my family and friends.

I know other cultures and countries know that we Americans often move too fast. Sure, we're innovative, we're "cutting edge," and we're a nation that honors the adage, "time is money," but what would happen if we all slowed down on the interstates, our offices, at the grocery store or farmer's market, or with our loved ones and neighbors? How much healthier (mentally, emotionally and physically) would we be if we limited our choices and our time so that we were truly spending our lives with the people and pursuits we adore? What if we simply, politely, and firmly said no to people or demands that just couldn't be accommodated right this instant because the resulting actions would involve compromising one's well being?

I think we would be okay. I think the world, and Keats' "widening gyre," would keep on turning.

I'm just now realizing this concept at almost 32.

So, I've decided to bake my own bread from here on out, as an act of meditation and of slowing down. It's healthier, sure, and the smell of bread baking in my sunny apartment smells a thousand times better than the best French perfumes (and I love French perfumes). There's something we're missing in our culture when we fail to use our hands to create the food that nourishes our bodies and minds. I don't care how busy we all are. Bread can be baked. The pause button can be pushed. And if you don't believe me, read one of my favorite essays by Mark Slouka, "Quitting the Paint Factory: On the Virtues of Idleness," Harper's Magazine (November 2004).

So without further ado, I share a Mark Bittman recipe that's quick and the bread is heavy, hearty and delicious: Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread. I imagine it would be a great toasting bread if I owned a toaster. Today for breakfast I smeared my slice with wildberry jam and felt happy knowing that what I was eating came from my work and my oven.

I think baking my own bread from here on out is a resolution I can get behind. I also think I will finally win my battle against finding a delicious sourdough starter as well.

Hugs and high fives,

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