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November 4, 2010

So I’ve been baking bread lately.

Yesterday, I made this black bread from Smitten Kitchen. It went surprisingly well!

When I first took up this new interest, my good friend Rick said “It is a primal sort of activity.”

I like that. Because even though traditions have mutated and changed, even though I use a big stand mixer and ingredients like instant espresso powder, that feels true. Baking bread is primal. It is a thing humans have been doing, and will continue to do, for thousands of years.

I’m drawn to traditions. I’m drawn to the idea that we do some things because they have been done for thousands of years. But in the end, I’ll always be pragmatic.  I can’t get behind the notion that we should willfully ignore a changing tradition just because it’s not exactly the same as it was a thousand years ago.

The world is in a constant state of change.  I don’t bake bread purely for sustenance.  I bake it because it’s a pleasurable activity for me.  Each generation comes to a tradition on its own terms, and that generation will naturally hold onto the pieces that resonate most strongly with its experience of the wider world.  To accept that change is to create a living tradition that will never truly be lost.

Such is the case with yoga. The physical asana poses as practiced in the Western world do not go back all that far into history.  They come primarily from the teachings of the late Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, born in 1888.  But they are a thread, a piece of a tradition that reaches all the way back to Patanjali and the Mahabharata. We find the piece that works for us, and that leads us to the wider tradition.

If you insist that a tradition must never change, you never give your children (both physical and metaphorical) a chance to join on their terms, to contribute their unique insight.  And some will never join the tradition at all.  If I had to hand mix the dough, and build a stone oven in which to bake it, I’d never make bread.

It’s much the same with me and organized religion.  I’m pulled to the tradition, but I’ll never rank doctrine over personal experience.

And that’s a post for another day.

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