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Dough Rises and Falls

My new therapy is bubbling away in a jar on my countertop.

I am one of the many thousands of people who have taken up sourdough bread baking with obsessive glee. I’m a little late to the party — you probably recall the innumerable news articles about the popularity of sourdough during the height of the pandemic — but better late than never, right?

But 2022 has been a reset for me, a time of slowing down and taking stock, and like so many others I have found solace in sourdough.

I’ve watched YouTube videos on this sticky subject. I’ve taken a Masterclass.

I’ve read books and perused websites, noted tips from other bakers, spent hours researching flour-to-water ratios and ways to use the seemingly endless supply of discard starter. And along the way, I realized something important.

It’s not really about the sourdough.

When I add water and flour to my starter, I’m feeding a living and breathing entity. Sourdough starter is so simple and so alive: It just needs a little tending. The flour and water feed the natural yeast and bacteria that give sourdough bread its lift and tang. Within a few minutes, the fed starter begins to bubble and show signs of growth. By the end of the day, or the next day, I have a fresh, crusty loaf of sourdough bread.

That’s an incredibly short time when you think about it. And that’s where the therapeutic value comes in for me.

So much of my work is future-oriented. I help people rethink and envision their lives, I assist organizations as they create 3-5 year plans, I work on mission statements and collective visions. All of these efforts are satisfying, but they’re not immediate. Not like sourdough.

I’ve always been a fairly process-oriented person — if you could see my desk, you’d see lists of plans and ideas and to-dos. At first, I applied the same methodology to sourdough. I followed the advice of professional bakers so that I could achieve sourdough perfection. And it worked!

But then I started experimenting. I began loosening up. I began questioning the complications, then eliminating them and seeing if I could still come up with a loaf of worthy bread. And I did.

By getting my hands dirty, slowing down, and reconnecting with one of the most ancient foods in the world, I found myself letting go.

I thought the point of baking bread would be the perfect loaf.

Instead, I’m finding perfection in the process of messing up. Trusting that life, in the form of tiny particles of yeast and flour and water, will know what to do. I just need to work with it, now, in the moment.

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