The walk up Mount Tabor has become a familiar old friend, and like an old friend it has its own moods. Normally, when I go walking through the park, it’s with an audiobook in my ears. The walk is for the fresh air and exercise, the book for entertainment and distraction- especially if I’m in a foul mood and need to clear my mind.
That was the case this afternoon as I decided I needed to get out of the house and write this blog, but not go to a bar or cafe. Money has been tight lately, so I need to find other spaces to be creative in. The weather is perfect if a bit chilly, and the park is free. Walking up to the top of a little hill near the summit, I have an Earthsea book in my ears. The breeze was blowing, kindly cooling me under the heat of the sun.
In my meditation lately, I’ve been trying to build on focus and mindfulness- being in each moment and appreciating where I am and what I’m doing. As I walked, I pulled the headphones from my ears.
A deep breath. A quiet moment between heartbeats. The smell of warm cedar, and someone practicing a bamboo flute nearby. Distant traffic. Bird song.
I kick aside a few fir cones, lay down my blanket, and start to feel everything.
The kitchen has been a bit of a wild ride lately. There’s been some confusion and careless errors. It’s partially been because I’ve been attempting to establish practices and processes that did not exist before and very much needed too, but far too many have just been classic cases of trying to hurry through things. Cases of not realizing that if you don’t have time to do a task right, you surely don’t have time to do it over.
I’ve always believed that the culture of a business comes from the top down. The leadership sets the tone of an enterprise and decides what is or is not acceptable. We’ve all been in jobs where we love and admire the people that we work with, but are endlessly frustrated by managers that don’t seem to “walk the talk” of the values their company claims to espouse. The first thing I wonder, then, is whether I’ve accidentally been encouraging hasty, “just get it done” behavior. In my efforts toward demonstrating servant leadership, I wonder if my tendency to bounce quickly from task to task is getting interpreted as “Look at how much Matt is hustling- we must be behind! Get it done quick and keep up!”
Practically all of my staff are new to the industry. I remember how many mistakes I’ve made (and sometimes still make) out of impatience. Cooking and baking are processes. Things take their own time, and the best you can do is arrange those things to your benefit. There’s no way to make a pie bake faster without changing the outcome- you can break some rules, but that means strictly obeying others.
It took me a long time to learn the concept of “festina lente”- “make haste slowly-” and that patience is one of the best skills a cook or baker can have. If things are finished the way they need to be, when they need to be, and in the places they need to be, how fast the task was performed is meaningless.
Good things take time. If I never have to correct a hastily-crimped pie crust or throw out a tray of meat pies that were left out overnight, I don’t mind so much how long it takes to fold them perfectly or clean up at the end of the shift. Part of that means slowing down myself, and letting things flow rather than trying to force everything a little farther along.
“Once, only once.” “Once in a lifetime.” The idea that a given moment, meeting of people, or event will never happen the same way again is not unique to Japan. The ancient Greek philosopher Heroclitus famously said “One can never step in the same river twice.” Japan, however, built much of their philosophy around this concept. We only ever get one chance at any given moment. When we succeed, we need to remember to honor it with humility. When we fail, we learn from it, accept the lesson and loss, and keep going. Once, only once.
Every now and then, I take a peek at some of the Google Reviews people leave about the bakery. I’m usually more concerned with reviews left since I took over, but every now and then I look at a few from earlier. There’s plenty more positive reviews to be sure, even if they aren’t always detailed, but some masochistic part of my brain seeks out the negative ones.
I’m not the type to beat myself up over a bad review, especially not ones written out of entitlement and ignorance (dude, I’m sorry you dropped a pie on the way out of the door and we weren’t able to just turn around and replace it the day before Thanksgiving. We offered to replace it the next day, but you “weren’t going to drive all the way out here against for a stupid pie.” Plenty of time to leave a bad review though apparently.)
What I DO get something out of are reviews that are good with qualifiers, or bad for specific reasons. Those tell me what I can improve and fix. Some of my predecessors responded to negative reviews with their own grievances. I don’t have time for that. I’d rather dedicate my time to learning from mistakes to create a better than tomorrow than fight against the past.
Breathing in the Silence
At some point, I feel like we as a culture have given up on the idea of mindfulness. I’m not about to blame technology and social media since they are simply tools, but they do encourage us toward snap judgments. We encouraged to have “hot takes” and opinions on things we don’t fully understand, and we are told that those malformed opinions as just as valid as more reasoned, well-researched ones because of a misunderstanding of democracy and “freedom of speech.”
Somewhere along the way, we lost gentle arts of patience, deliberation, seeking truth, and being wrong. Instead, we are guided by the loudest possible voices toward feeling like we are right instead of actually being right, or working toward the right answers regardless of whether or not they come from us.
If a busy chef can learn the value of stopping to consider, think, and breathe in the silence, I should think anyone can.