Excerpted with permission from "Bread Upon the Waters: A Pilgrimage Toward Self-Discovery and Spiritual Truth." Courtesy of Perseus Publishing.

It is difficult for me to discuss going deeply into the process of spiritual unfoldment without doing so in the context of bread baking--that's how intertwined they have become for me. In the very first lecture/demo that I give to new [baking] students I explain that there are three purposes for mixing bread dough. The first is to distribute the ingredients evenly; the second is to hydrate the ingredients so that the gluten can develop; and the third is to begin the fermentation through hydration of the yeast or leavening.

There are other principles of mixing that contribute to great bread, such as mixing only as long as it takes to get the job done, since overmixing can cause oxidation of the flour and perhaps damage the gluten. An axiom of serious bread bakers is to use only as much yeast as it takes to get the job done. Too much yeast causes the dough to ferment too quickly, which diminishes our ability to evoke the fullest flavors from the grain--it takes time for the starch molecules to unwind into simpler sugars.

[The prefermentation of bread] beautifully parallels the initiatory process of the unfolding soul in its advance from awakening to rebirth.

There are two kinds of mixing techniques: the direct and indirect methods. The direct method is also called the straight dough method, and the indirect method is sometimes called the sponge or preferment method. It's the preferment method that makes the best bread and has captured the interest of both home and professional bakers of late, because of its ability to evoke the fullest flavor from the grain. This method uses previously fermented bread dough as a preliminary stage towards the mixing of the final dough. The indirect method can be understood as a process of building dough in stages rather than simply mixing it all at one time, adding the earlier aged dough as a time capsule, full of flavor and leavening.

This building method beautifully parallels the initiatory process of the unfolding soul in its advance from awakening

to rebirth,

or the process of becoming a new person. Baptism is the Christian ritual associated with spiritual rebirth, while two prefiguring ritual initiations parallel it in Judaism--circumcision and bar or bat mitzvahs. The internal initiatory experience, or life-changing moment, does not always correspond with the formal external ritual but, in the life of a spiritual pilgrim, sooner or later they catch up to each other. Becoming a new person can be, and cannot help but be, a daily event and not just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Minor initiations often occur, as if reinforcements of the initiatory breakthrough or defining moment.

Everything I had done up to [my baptism in 1972] suddenly became a preferment, old knowledge, that was going to be the foundation for a new round of learning.

One of the most powerful techniques for releasing the flavors trapped in the starchy wheat molecules is to add old dough to the new dough. Prefermented dough, pate fermentee,

which is really just day-old fermented French bread dough, increases oven spring by an additional 10 percent, and quantum ages newly mixed dough.

There is a distinct difference between unleavened and leavened dough. Matzoh is unleavened; it has no yeast added to cause it to change. During Passover many Jewish families buy special kosher dough for Passover matzoh, made under the strictest supervision. It must be mixed, rolled out, and placed in the oven within 18 minutes from when the flour meets the water because the rabbinical council that decides such things determined that after 18 minutes the natural wild yeast living in the flour awakens and begins to ferment the dough. Once dough has been fermented it has, in a sense, passed through its awakening and been reborn as a new creature, ready to grow and become what it is ultimately going to be.

[In 1972,] when I was baptized from Doug to Peter [as a novice in the Holy Order of MANS], it was not only my name that changed. Everything I had done to that point in my life suddenly became a preferment, old knowledge, that was going to be the foundation for a new round of learning. I did not come to my baptism as unleavened matzoh, of that I am sure. I think my "18 minutes" of preleavened existence ended on Highway 80 [in the Rocky mountains where, as a young man in 1970, he had his first spiritual awakening]; that was when my yeastiness woke me up and I began the process of growing into pate fermentee,

developing and unwinding into something that would be changed again when I became Peter.

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