Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Doughlai Lama

I recently took up drinking water as a hobby, and I am happy to report that it has improved the transit of my moods, among other things, swiftly spiriting the nasty ones out and the agreeable ones in. I know it sounds strange, the fact that one would consider drinking water a hobby, but I've been plodding along like a camel for longer than I can remember, taking mere sips to fuel the dusty stretches of my life, and begrudgingly so. It's martyrdom at its most ostentatious, and I must admit, there have been moments here and there where I've sworn I could feel the prick of thorns at my brow and the timber of indecision threaded across my shoulders.

Enough hyperbole. And frankly, it's not even my faith.

The truth is, I'm not certain why I resist drinking water. Water = life. Yeah? So it got me t’ thinking: maybe I'm resisting life?  With expedience, my mind viciously regurgitated a panorama of all the terrible little ways I've gotten in my own way over the past few years, and with more zeal than I appreciated. No one likes to be reminded of their deficiencies, especially by thine own self, and particularly when the imagery is a winding and endless stream.

To be honest, all this cutting in front of myself has been getting on my nerves, which is probably what spurred this fresh revelation not too far in the past: You need more water grasshopper. It was the voice. You know, the epiphanic one. For my dough? I just assumed, since bread of late has consumed me metaphorically, tangibly, and fundamentally. Not only for your dough, but for your soul

I set out to do research, and here’s what I found: It would seem the amount of H2O that one needs for sustainability is controverted. There is a theory that we all need relatively the same, within a small range, there is another that one should base his/her own needs on body weight and other factors like diet, which is the one I like, because it helps me to validate my shame. Evidently, if you’re a regular at Mother Nature’s salad bar, it contributes to your daily water quota.  Since I’m fairly small and eat a criminal amount of fruits and vegetables, I had for years assumed that all of those figs and kale were adding up to some pretty impressive numbers in the hydration department. After all, I haven’t died yet nor withered into a sentient prune, and my water consumption has been admittedly abysmal for a length of time too embarrassing to declare (does coffee count?). It turns out, no matter how juicy the pluot, there is no substitution for an old-fashioned glass of water. I will confess that I learned this the hard way and leave it at that.

I also uncovered that among the countless detriments of dehydration, for instance, atrophy of the brain, stagnation of the nether regions and sandpaper skin, drinking adequate aqua pura can improve one’s mood. As habitually parched as I’ve been this past decade, I could not help but envision my emaciated brain bouncing around my skull like a lottery ball. I would imagine that all that agitation cannot contribute to high spirits. And to complicate matters, the quality of water can mean the difference between effervescence and an early grave.

Here's where my interest was piqued.

As it turns out, wild yeast starters are rather prima donna when it comes to the quality of their water too. And since all roads lead to bread for me these days, their stunted progress was one of the first things that popped into my mind. You see, they had been snailing along without any logical explanation for longer than they 'should' have, my impatience aside. I was doing all the right things to ensure their growth; feeding them in a timely manner and giving them the right sort of food, but evidently what I was not giving them was the right quality water. And finally I felt that I was onto something. For Los Angeles tap tastes and smells like the chlorinated waters of public swimming pools, a chemical that healthy yeasts have a violent aversion to.

I began thinking about my own oft mercurial mood (no water = skinny brain), how the mood of my starter was more slouchy than perky (bad water = no reason to live) and how, selfishly, it was delaying my inaugural loaf. Could I somehow be delaying the progress of my own life from a seed state to full self-actualization? Or could my recent epiphany mean that I am making the natural and timely graduation from the lower order necessities toward self-actualization with due method. After all, one cannot evolve to higher levels of awareness until one advances along a hierarchical path whose success builds upon a systematic progression of understanding.

So, if the quality of water + flour = the quality of my starter’s mood, I could only imagine how this would also translate to my future dough; dough being equivalent my essential self. Dry dough, then, is like a foul mood. A perfectly hydrated dough is like a good mood. You get the point. I don’t think I’m being dramatic in announcing that my starter has become my new guru. I think I’ll follow it to hear what it has to say.

Here are some snapshots to sort it all out:

There are actually many factors that changed my languid starter into an effervescent one (the path of the spirit is never one-dimensional, is it?).

Here is the starter using Los Angeles tap:

Just kidding. Those are old coffee grounds. If starter = soul, that would be, like, Charles Manson’s.


Notice the lovely fermentation happening here, good bubbles...

But I never got much loft. You’ll see what I mean by that as the pictures progress.

I began using bottled water, and things started to perk up.

But still, the WWW abounds with lay people’s starters gushing over lips of containers like friggin Niagra falls. Big showoffs.

Bear with me for a minute. I am totally aware that this has all gotten a little hippie here:

If starter = me, then I would be wise to think about those moments on my own path that led to accelerated growth and apply those same methods to my starters to see what affect it might have on theirs. While improving the quality of my water (which was like switching from the crappy money-grubbing guru who offers ill-quality spiritual advice to one who doesn’t withhold illumination until your next paycheck), definitely shed some light, it was only the cracking of the door. I recollected that I had made my own best spiritual strides when I was all warm and safe-feeling. That was it! Warmth! My starters were forced to bear the cold, cruel world of the kitchen counter, and what wretched soul could grow under those wintry conditions? I don’t think it’s any secret that advancement of the self has never benefited from harsh environs, and since I have personally never found any virtue in tough love, I put my starters in a snuggly cabinet above the refrigerator, one that was completely empty because its location is inconvenient. You can probably imagine that the spiritual corollary here is just about too much for me to endure. I'm practically bursting at the seams keeping myself from going on a tangent. It's a blog post, not a sermon, it's a blog post, not a sermon...

My starters began growing consistently and reaching lofts that they in the past had not. Have a look.

Even still, the revelations abound.

When I first moved to Los Angeles to deepen my self-awareness - I know, it seems paradoxical to come from the Bay Area, a place famous for its grounded milieu, to the seat of superficiality – I sandwiched myself into a one-bedroom apartment, when for the past five years I had been virtually swimming around in a 1,500 square foot loft. Think about it: when we are given too much space in our surroundings, it ceases to be nurturing and dilutes our purpose. We fill the spaces with nonessential things that take the place of the real work of going inward. We become lazy in our efforts to grow because there is no challenge or impetus to continue the peeling back of layers. Why, when things are so easy, would we opt to bare ourselves in any way that might cause discomfort, even if reconciling with it is for our very own good and might foster a heightened level of awareness that could lead to the enhancement of our lives in a real way. To be sure, there is a definitive difference between feeling safe enough to move ahead on our path in the comfort and non-negotiable trust of earned self-faith, and an illusory sense of security that is created by the purchase of accouterments that trick us into feeling worthy. Here is my motto: if you can purchase it, it probably won't lead to any meaningful avenue in your self growth. It is a fact that we are intrinsically hedonist, and because of this, it is relatively easy to make the choice to spurn opportunities for growth because illusory comfort can be terribly opiatic, even though in the stagnant waters of that very same false comfort, we may find ourselves at risk of drowning. We oftentimes take our chances and hope that in some way we can have it all: the ability to maintain a false sense of security, and somehow find the determination to grow, even though there is no easy incentive to.

Sometimes what we need is to excise the surplus, get back to basics, draw the walls in a little more. Excess is not always what we need, and seldom when the chosen path is self-awareness. Los Angeles has forced me to go deeper within by sheer virtue of contrast to my goals of self-awareness. Being here and finding myself faced with contrary values has allowed me to absolutely define my own. Los Angeles has been my drawing in of the walls, and as I did the same for my starters, this is what occurred:

Within a couple of hours my starters with their pristine waters, their warm surroundings, and the walls drawn in and simplified, they flourished.

And so it's time to make my first loaf of bread.

To the staff of life!

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