I recently began baking bread at home. Many of you know I have from time to time been a baker for work. Adjusting my methods from a commercial bakery to a very small home kitchen bakery took some thought and considerable math (at least for me). I have not baked in about two years. My mixing and shaping skills had left my finger tips. Mixing and shaping is a challenge made all the more difficult by changing environmental conditions and nuance in ingredient consistency.
In the beginning of bringing my home bakery to life there was the excitement of working with the dough again. Also the realization of the commitment and work that it would entail. Baking with a live culture is like inviting a stranger to room with you.
That new roommate has needs, for warmth, consistent feeding, and much care. It all seemed very difficult and took some time to get encouraging results. After about three weeks of mixing and baking two loaves, three times a week, I was beginning to feel that those skills I once practiced daily were coming back to me. Mostly in the form of “oh ya don’t do that.”
In time my starter has found a spot to live comfortably through the winter. Next summer will bring a whole new challenge. I have refined my routines and technique so that I am much more efficient with my time. My technique of dough shaping and handling on a small scale is working. I have had to adjust my daily schedule to include the needs of the bread and the starter. I have had to reduce the number of mixes and bakes I do each week from three to two. Three was just too much to add to my schedule and eating habits.
Why do I bring this up other than yes I really do enjoy baking (and eating) bread?
Many of you are coming back onto the mat after extended summer vacations or injuries or just life that has kept you off the mat. It is always difficult to return to something after a break. We forget about all the good stuff that happens that keeps us coming each week. We also loose skills that we worked hard to understand. Perishable yes, but not forgotten.
The hard part is the first step back on the mat just like the first time you ever got on the mat. Once back on the mat you will feel the life of the dough you hold in your hands. You will once again discover the excitement of your movements giving loft and substance to your loaf. Your personality and energy of the moment giving color and texture. Yes with practice you feel good again about your discoveries and progress on the mat.
There are no magic wands or spells to attain those moments of joy when you see and feel the efforts you are putting in grow into something bigger. There is only the daily intentional practice that will lead to joys of success and the energizing effects of a new challenge.
Now I get up each morning early to start work on the bread needs. It is a three day process to mix and bake the bread. Each day a small step done just so at just the right time. All leading to the unveiling after spending an hour in a covered Dutch oven at some 500 degrees. If all was done well a fine loaf will appear. If any one step was less than well done the loaf will be deficient and not filled with the joy of the potential it held.
This is the same challenge we have in our Aikido training. In order for each of us to reach for that joy of reaching for our potential we must all hold to our consistent training. This is true of any endeavor. Because of the immediate feedback from our partners in Aikido this lesson is often severe, just as in taking the cover off the pan to see a fallen flat loaf.
The good news about that lesson is that we can always mix another batch and work to do it better. The baker I worked with would often say “it’s just bread” . Three simple ingredients that when combined and comforted in just the right way produce a life sustaining meal. “It’s just bread.”
It’s just Aikido. A bunch of movements given substance by our intentional practice. All to bake a better person that reaches for their potential. An art that is for me a life sustaining meal. The bakery and the Aikido mat are both places we can strive to be the best examples of who we are to the world and to ourselves.
See you on the mat where we can heat the dojo up and bake some excellent, growing, compassionate people.