I make a lot of challah. The retreat center I live at often engages in a specific process involving challah, and I’m lucky enough to sometimes get to be the chef for the weekend, which means I’m the one responsible for making said challah.
I could probably write a whole book about challah, and maybe someday I will. It’s a truly magical bread, and the making of it is a potent process.
Sometimes I cook with friends; sometimes they make the challah; sometimes I do…sometimes we create it together. Sometimes the kitchen is full of chaos and noise while I’m kneading the dough and braiding it. Sometimes I’m happy; sometimes I’m sad. Every challah is perfect, even the imperfect ones, and every challah-making experience is a ritual in its own right and comes with its own challenges and lessons.
Every once in a while, things line up so that I am all alone in the kitchen with my music and my challah. I tend to pick specific songs for each challah making process – songs that remind me of my truest self; songs that reflect the energy of the retreat that has gathered; songs that speak of joy and grief and longing and delight. Those times making challah alone are perhaps my favorite; it’s as if I can tune into the dough in a deeper way; truly feel it in my body, and I walk away feeling so nourished by the process, at a soul level.
When I make challah alone, I always cry into the dough. I can’t help it. There’s a particular moment in the process – the dough has come into being from disparate elements; it’s been beaten and punched to strengthen it; it’s rested in a warm cocoon to allow its aliveness to bubble up and grow…and then comes the moment of tearing. I split the dough into 3 separate strands, to be rolled out and braided together. And there’s something about the act of separating the pieces of dough from each other, that takes me right into the universal pain of separation – an illusive pain, to be sure, and a necessary one, for how could we self-realize if we were never separate from the One?
A braided challah is more intricate and beautiful than a single blob of challah could ever be. It has more character; more personality. But there’s no way to get from the Undifferentiated One to the Woven Intricate without going through the pain of separation. It is a poignant metaphor, and letting my tears flow freely as I move through it is a holy remembrance – that this illusion of separation is painful; that it is chosen pain; that it is pain that serves us well.
The relief I feel when braiding the strands together is palpable; my tears clear, my smile breaks free, my shoulders relax and my hips start to sway. Grace, soft and slow, permeates the kitchen; the pleasure of it enhanced and defined by the pain of the moments before.
Often, in my life, I shy away from pain. Often I try to close myself off, in an effort to protect. The challah reminds me that when I close my heart, I am separate, and that separation is the true source of pain…because it reminds me of the pain of feeling separate from All That Is. The challah reminds me to step into the pain; to feel it deeply; to let my heart break, over and over…and trust that it will heal. It will have gained elasticity from being kneaded; grace and artistry from having been broken apart and woven back together. It will be a more nourishing heart in the world. Its intricacy and complexity will be far beyond anything I could have become had I not allowed my heartbreak.
The challah reminds me that pain and joy go hand in hand; the tears in the dough produce some kind of gorgeous alchemy that makes the bread sweeter, and not in a saccharine way, just as the pain of living and loving in this world makes life sweeter in a rich and deep way, like saffron or cinnamon.
I want to engage my life the way I engage my challah. To love it, and let it break my heart, and trust that the bread of my body and the juice of my tears will alchemize the pain of heartbreak into the pure delight full aliveness. So often I fall short; so often I try to run from the pain. But my heart is determined; it never lets me stay in the illusion of separation for very long.
News from my World:
It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged! It feels so good to be back; I’ve missed it. Transitioning into my new life has been quite the process, and navigating the questions of “what does it mean to live in community?” and “who am I in the context of other people?” has been a rich and challenging experiment. Because my time is so limited, I’m lining up some guest bloggers to come in and share their awesomeness with you in between my posts; if any of you are interested in blogging on this site, or there’s someone you’d like to read, let me know!
I’ve been doing quite a bit of other (non-blog) type writing… I have to write a short paper each week for the program I’m in, but beyond that there’s a little dharma book in the works all about delight, and I’m always working on my longer, fiction project that moves along in fits and starts. I’m excited about what I’m creating, and looking forward to sharing it with all of you sometime in the future. 🙂 I’m also about halfway through finally creating an Introduction to Tantra ecourse, which I’ll be releasing on Udemy, so stay tuned.
Additionally, I’ve re-released my memoir, Metanoia, as an ebook on Amazon which has been very exciting, and I’ve been giving myself an education about marketing for authors: diving into social media in a new way (I’m now on Twitter and Tumblr and Reddit and Goodreads and LibraryThing…come follow me!), making a book trailer…and having so much fun with it I decided to make a second one, reading a lot about what other authors do, and experimenting to see what works. Its a whole fascinating world I haven’t really engaged with much before, and I’m learning a lot.
Thanks for reading! As always, I love reading your comments.