A Day in a Life: Fermentation

In containment...

For the past several months I have been studying the art of fermentation, an ancient process of preserving and transforming fresh raw food for later use. Most cultures around the world have some form of traditional fermented delicacy, whether eaten daily or looked forward to on special occasions. Even we Americans eat fermented foods all the time. Yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, sourdough breads, tofu and tamari, as well as wines and beers, are all made using a fermentation process that involves containment in an environment that is conducive to growth. Containment is key if new growth is to be achieved.

Chuck and I recently discussed the nature of the times we are living in. The whistle blowers have been telling the truths for decades and longer, telling us over and over again that we are destroying the planet, that we are poisoning our bodies, our food, our environment. But have we heeded their calls? No. And that brings us to the truth of where we are now. The world as we know it has reached a point of no return. There is no way that we will ever have what we once had. We humans, by our greed and negligence, have forever changed the life of our planet. This is clear. It is also clear to me that we can no longer look to others to do the right thing. We have been waiting for someone with means and power to wake up and carry us forward, but in spite of some fierce arguments and efforts, nothing is happening in the world outside of us. And so, the way I see it, it’s time to stop looking outwardly for transformation and go inward, which brings me to the subject of fermentation.

The practice of inner work, changing the self in a deep way in order to evolve the world outside of the self, has never been more crucial than now. In containment, we offer ourselves the opportunity to transform. The process of fermentation offers insight into this process of self-preservation and transformation in a very practical and methodical way, resulting in healthy life-giving sustenance and the opportunity for new life.

I gather cucumbers from the garden, wash them thoroughly, put them into a container, add garlic, dill, and peppercorns, and pour a solution of brine—water and sea salt—over them until the entire pot is filled. Adding a weight to keep the raw foods totally submerged, contained within the transformative solution, I cover the container with a cloth, allowing just the right amount of air to enter and begin the process of fermentation. And then I watch and wait. I must be patient, but it doesn’t take long before I see activity. Within a few hours bubbles begin to form and the fermentation process is under way. The next time I look I see that it is percolating nicely.

There is continuous activity within the container. How could it be otherwise? The temperature is right, the ingredients are right, and the solution is right, but the key is that all of these things are being contained—offered the opportunity to transform—single ingredients that by themselves are just that, lonely vegetables. I am looking for something new to emerge out of this process. I want my vegetables, the beautiful bounty of all my hard work, to evolve into something different, something lasting and delicious. Is this not the same thing we all want in our lives, our souls to transform into something everlastingly enticing?

Each day I must tend to my pots, skimming off what rises to the surface, accepting it for what it is, bacteria that has risen and become exposed to air, showing me that the process is functioning as perfectly as I intended. What is happening under the surface is that good bacteria are forming; the lactobacilli that we all know are so beneficial to our body’s health and immune systems. Transformative activity is taking place within my containers.

In the fermentation pot, all that is good and all that is bad go to work on each other. Forced containment means that one will win out over the other. In a balanced environment, with the right ingredients, the good bacteria take over and eat the bad bacteria. During the battle some bacteria rises to the surface and this is what I skim off. But I know that underneath, my intention to transform raw ingredients is well underway.

If we apply this process to the inner process of personal change, the same thing will happen. As we sit in containment, with the right ingredients of spirit and intent, and submerge ourselves in a transformative process, we will begin to see changes. Before long the real truths of the self, the good bacteria, awaken and overpower the untruths, the bad bacteria. That which we once valued and held onto but no longer find life-giving is allowed to release, perhaps thoughts, ideas, and lies that have held us in captivity, exposed for what they truly are. Once skimmed from our conscious awareness, we are free to return to our container, now filling up with good bacteria—new ideas, thoughts, and truths about ourselves—and before long we discover that something has happened to us on a very deep level; we are different. Without the old bad bacteria infecting our souls we now have the opportunity for the good bacteria to multiply and transform us into new healthy beings.

In allowing ourselves to be contained, in taking back our outer projections and need for others to fulfill our deepest needs and desires, we offer ourselves the opportunity for self-nurturance and self-love to blossom—the good bacteria that changes the very fibers of our beings—just as the raw vegetables change within the good fermentation solution.

Raw ingredients waiting for the process to begin...

Recapitulation is the process of fermentation, an intentional journey of change. We must remember that we are beings who already contain all the right ingredients. And the solution is the decision to turn inward and let them percolate. In containment we allow the ingredients that are our deepest selves to sit in the solution that is our intent to change, where they lie submerged, fermenting and changing. Eventually they will reemerge in new form.

It’s not that hard to get started—remember all the ingredients lie within—but it does take patience and fortitude to stay with the process, to stay contained while we go through the transformation that our spirits seek. Checking in each day, as we wrestle with our demons and our bad bacteria, we must remain aware that everything that arises, all the struggles for truth and good bacteria, are necessary parts of the process. I also know that if I open my pots too early I will not get the results I desire. And so I taste the ferment throughout the process, checking that it’s working right, that it smells good, but I know that I must be patient if I am to get what I desire. And so I turn everything back into the solution again, weigh it down, cover it over, and wait. When it’s done to my liking, I’ll know, because it will taste exactly right! Just as I know that my inner process has done its work, because I always feel exactly like the real me when I’m done!

Our inner work is always waiting for our inner process of transformation to begin. Though it may be too late for our planet, it’s never too late for that! We just have to turn inward and let the fermentation begin!

Thanks for reading, and good luck as you take the inward journey,

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