The role of repetition in prayer is long standing across different traditions.
Sometimes it is a repetitive action or movement, sometimes it is linguistic. Mantras, rosaries, sets of yoga poses…all assist both in focusing and in letting go… The act of repetitive behavior itself has a role in that way. Any prayer that happens while we are participating in that act may or may not bear the desired…or even tangible, recognizable…fruit. The good is sometimes simply in the practice. We are calmer and more engaged because we have participated in something that allows us to lift away a bit, loosen the bonds, and recalibrate. The practice takes us to a place of freedom. How that place is decorated is unique to each of us… And can’t people around us tell when we’ve spent time there?
Decorative touches for me include pens and paper, books, sometimes bowls, an apron, and a clear countertop. While ambling in that particular arena this evening, I made a lovely batch of chocolate…mortar. The unrealized intention was mousse. And yet, my time was not wasted nor did my efforts fail.
Never had I pictured exactly how much 7 ounces of rock hard chocolate is until the time came to chop it. It was more than I imagined…and as it turns out, deconstructing it was one of the most meditative thing I’ve done in a good while! The rocking of the knife, the shaving off of chocolate curls, the two handed scoop of the airy accumulating pile to put it in the makeshift double boiler…both wonderfully repetitive and decidedly satisfying. The amount to chop meant that I could take my time…adjust the ways I did it…I could pay attention…enjoy the process and the purpose.
I also whisked egg whites into mountain tops. By hand. The determination to get there kept me going, as did the stages along the way…liquid whites to bubbles forming…to foamy…to droopy peaks…to summit worthy. All along the way, I had questions about the method, about the efficacy of one way of doing this over another, about how much and which particulars of the process were ultimately the most important… The answer I learned? All of it. The paying attention was what mattered.
I did not wake up thinking about nor have I recently seen, a mousse. I recently read a memoir about a pastry chef in Paris, the chapters had recipes as illustrations, and there was a tucked away box of baking chocolate in the cupboard, unearthed in a search for something else. I have been keen of late to master different basic recipes and here was an opportunity! Twenty minutes until I was looking at goodness in a bowl! Except, funny thing… the recipe was wrong. The prescribed formula had me add water to melting chocolate. 5 tablespoons of water based liquid, to be precise. Which caused the chocolate to seize up and yield a bowl of bricklayer’s paradise.
Disappointing for sure, but not a failure nor uninformative. When I doubt my own instinct or am bound solely to a specific formula and there is no room for either further consult or adaptation, it could be problematic. And the same when I put paper above people with knowledge based on the doing of a thing—to her credit, a friend did try and suggest that based on her experience I might want to look into another recipe; and a different friend said Remember the movie, Like Water for Chocolate? There’s a reason it’s called that!
Regardless, it was an evening of time spent loosely. Of time put into activity that allowed me to relax, smooth out interior wrinkles, let go, open, and focus.
Not unlike the best fruit of prayer.
I will return to that place, for sure, and bring what I learned along the way. And I might yet see mousse in the refrigerator. Or not. It’s the attention given and the doing of the thing that yields the most long-term discernible results.