There’s a story that I share a lot in my classes and it seems to really resonate with people, so I wanted to share it here. It’s a simple story, but it really seems to connect with people. It’s a story about one of the retreats that I went on, I believe it was one of my 10 day silent retreats where we couldn’t speak. And in those retreats there’s also what’s called the courtesy of the eyes. So you can’t make eye contact with other people or a gesture in any way. No nonverbal communication. In these retreats, you have a lot of time to look internally. I realized a lot about how routinized I am, how much of a routine I get myself into and what happens to me if people disrupt that routine. Part of the ritual or the routine of the retreat was they would ring a bell to initiate that it was breakfast time and I would walk to the dining hall and after a few days I got into this rhythm or this routine of eating the whole wheat bread there with peanut butter on it and I would have two pieces of whole wheat bread. I would toast it in the same toaster and I would put the same amount of peanut butter on it and I would put salt and they’d have some oat milk and I’d sit down and enjoy my toast with peanut butter and oat milk. And it really became something that was my routine. I found comfort in it and thinking about it now, I think it was because in the beginning of that retreat I was missing home a lot and I think I was missing the comfort in routine and a familiarity of home. So I found familiarity in this meal that I would eat over and over and it was sort of way to soothe myself, comfort myself.
I think it was maybe around the seventh day or a sixth or seventh day of the retreat that I was standing in line to get to the whole wheat bread that I was eating. And there was a gentleman in front of me and there were three pieces of whole wheat toast left. He took all of the pieces of toast and I was thinking to myself (as I retracted internally and became very, I guess I’ll say angry) “this jerk took all of my bread”. At that time I had identified it as “my” bread, not the community bread for the people on this retreat, this was my bread. I thought they should know this is my bread because I had been eating it every day, even though they can’t look at me, they should just be able to sense that that it’s my bread.
So he took the last three pieces of bread and I had anger and now that I’m thinking about it in retrospect, it was probably some sort of threat to the familiarity and the comfort that I had created there. And I became very upset about it. But what I was forced to do was try different types of bread. The bread that I had to try was the sourdough bread. I had to put the peanut butter on the sourdough bread. I wasn’t really happy about it, but I sat down and I ate it. I put the salt on just the same and I ate it. And it was delicious. It was even more delicious than the whole wheat bread with the peanut butter. It turns out that the sourdough bread, (I learned this later) has certain good bacteria in it, so it actually helped my digestive system as well.
The sourdough bread was something that I had closed myself off in my routine of whole wheat bread with peanut butter. And, from something that seemed to be a negative event, somebody taking what I was identifying as my bread, I was forced to step out of my box, out of my routine. I realized there were some positives in this experience. One, was the realization that I think sourdough bread is more delicious than whole wheat bread, and that’s something may not have discovered. Also, my digestive track, well, improved when I ate the sourdough bread. That’s something that I’ve taken with me going forward into my life now. Every once in a while I’ll go to the bakery to get some sourdough bread and it really does help my digestive system, if I’m paying attention.
I think what I learned from this and what resonates with people is that when we close off to an idea, we sort of stop learning. I may not have ever learned these benefits about sourdough bread and how delicious it really was if I hadn’t been forced into this situation where I had to come out of my comfort zone.
I think it also connects very strongly with something I learned from a teacher in Grad school. She asked, have you ever had a time in your life where you grew that wasn’t first preceded by a conflict?
You can take some time to think about that. But it’s a question that I had to think about at that time. And the answer for me was, no, there hasn’t really ever been a time of growth in my life that wasn’t first preceded by conflict. The sourdough bread, somebody “stealing” “my” sourdough bread felt like a conflict at the time. But then there was a growing experience that followed it. It’s a simple little example which makes it easier to connect with. But this is happening in large scales in our life. There are things that we become comfortable with and they become routine. We do them over and over and there’s comfort and familiarity in it. But we stop learning.
And then there’s also the recognition that almost anything that has ever happened in my life that has caused me to grow was first preceded by conflict. It changed my relationship with conflict. I’m not so avoidant to conflict anymore because I know that on the other side of the conflict there is growth. Now I know that conflict or tension is not separate from growth. All right. That’s it for today. Have a nice one.