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Small Faces, a baker, and your dinner…

This entry first appeared at Crazy Sexy Life, Oct. 15, 2010


In an increasingly-obscure song by the Small Faces, circa 1968, a man follows his internal hunger and aching in order to fulfill his destiny.

He becomes a baker.

He sees the necessary elements around him: Wheat in the field, water in the stream, and salt in the mine. No longer able to just stand and wonder, he gives himself to the purpose that beckons him.

It’s obvious from the singer’s intensity, and the power in his simple words, that it’s not a job he just applied for. It’s an all-consuming purpose, which descended upon him in a flash of epiphany. He realizes that he can do nothing else. As he proclaims in the third stanza, “The baker will come, and the baker I’ll be.”

Ronnie Lane once stated that the song, in spite of its poetic life’s purpose and fulfillment, actually stemmed from the idea of “how hard you’ll work if you’re hungry.”

However, to me, “Song of a Baker” gives a very clear illustration of the concept of ‘right-livelihood,’ reflected not only in the means of income, but comprehensively in all that one does. It’s a full integration of belief, action, work, daily living, and meditation. The singer has chosen to ‘be,’ and through his ‘being,’ others will receive.

Also in the third stanza, he shows us the linchpin: “When thinking of love, love is thinking for me.”

This “thinking of love” begets a very legitimate offspring: Love will also think for us. It will serve as the powerful motivation behind all that we do. To allow love to determine our actions we must possess clarity, daily awareness, and the ability to let go of personal agendas. It requires non-attachment to outcome, and encourages being present in the moment.

At times it might seem that it requires relinquishing a goal. But then again, it can encourage the embracing of a different goal: That of always doing what love would do, in any situation. I’ve found that this goal supersedes any other that I can pursue.

Okay, so what do the Small Faces have to do with my dinner?

The culinary program I attended in Boulder was all about the ‘heart center.’ For all its culinary weaknesses—the Francophobic director scoffed at all things Escoffier–this one message came through loud and clear: Cook from the heart.

It’s not a new message, nor an obscure one. But it is one that is seldom seen in practice. It requires constant awareness, which is not really that compatible with commercial food production. When it is present, people notice it immediately.

For a short time, I operated my own small café in Denver. The menu was grounded in a soul food ethic, focused on nourishing, with lots of room for pleasure. There was one lady who came after work each day, always ordering the same plate: Grilled polenta cakes with tomato ragout, Anasazi beans with epazote, and steamed kale.

After a couple of weeks, I went to her table and introduced myself. I thanked her for her business, then politely expressed my curiosity at her consistent order.

Her answer was simple: “It makes me feel good. There’s love in this food.”

That’s something you don’t hear often in a commercial setting, but we were small enough to make it work. It’s the way I trained my staff. It was one facet of right-livelihood that I wanted them to have, just as much as I wanted to have it for myself.

But this idea, my thinking of love so that it can think for me, is bigger than food, and it’s bigger than a career. It expresses itself in personal matters, in all relationships, informing one’s life purpose. It’s a form of selflessness, but it is not self-sacrificing. It is malleable, fitting each scenario, allowing all participants to be nurtured. If I yield so another may flourish, I know that my strength, patience, presence, and love are growing. My own endeavors, as important as they might be to me, are not so important that I must hinder another person as they peacefully seek theirs. And vice-versa.

It’s the recipe for a wonderful world—and yes, it requires over-the-top idealism. But it’s quite simple, too. Our purpose, at a very basic level, is to nourish ourselves and our species so that we may grow. I maintain that our unique evolutionary position also encourages us to nourish the other species around us, or at a minimum, to do no harm to them. This is what love would do.

Sure, Ronnie Lane de-romanticized the song shortly after he sang it, but I’m willing to overlook his mundane interpretation. I much prefer the song’s grand philosophical view, of love growing through the tangible seed, water, and salt, coming together in the bread. Through this universal nourishment, love directs us into a life of purpose.

Is my view somewhat optimistic and fantastic? It certainly is. But I’m compelled to live that way.

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