“So…we’re having pancakes again,” whispered Chris.
“Yup. I think we are on Day 17,” I whispered back.
We sat and watched our son make pancakes for breakfast for the 17th day straight and for the next two weeks after that.
A MONTH of pancakes. Hold that thought for a moment.
Let’s take a trip to Japan.
In Japan, there is the concept of “Ensō.” It is a sacred symbol in the Zen school of Buddhism and is one of the most common subjects of Japanese calligraphy, even though it is a symbol and not a character.
Creation of an ensō symbolizes a moment in time in the life of the artist when the mind is free to simply let the spirit create through the physical body. Ensō is a fascinating expression of individuality as expressed by variations in ink tones, brushstroke thickness, shape of the circle and even the positioning of the single point where the circle begins and ends.
Back to pancakes…
One day, before his month-long journey of pancake-making, my son asked me to make pancakes.
I hate making pancakes. I did it for a good number of years because, you know, moms are supposed to make pancakes and then I realized that moms are supposed to be happy too. Upon that realization, I quickly announced my retirement in 2012.
I encouraged him to ask his sisters to make pancakes since they all know how but he said they always said no. Of course they said no. After they learned how to make pancakes, they hated making them too.
I told him, “Because I love you, I will make pancakes again, just this once. But pay close attention. In the event you want pancakes again, you will probably have to make it yourself.”
We made pancakes together that morning. I showed him how to flip them and when they would be ready to flip. I eyeball all the ingredients so I could see him concentrating on how much of what item I added to the batter.
For the first few times, he asked a lot of questions and we had many misshapen pancakes, some burnt on the bottom. Then some were too wet in the middle because he became afraid of burning them. Some had too much salt. (Ugh, I remember those.)
And just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore experimental pancakes, he served me a plate of them with a grin on his face and I knew that he did it. He figured out the pancake. His dad and his sisters were impressed because it was better than any pancake they had made themselves.
One sister said with a little trepidation, “I think this is better than mom’s.”
A hush fell over the crowd, forks were dropped, and they all looked at me as I took my first bite. It was good. Really good.
I smiled at him and said, “You did it buddy. Nicely done.”
He used up the last of the batter to make his plate of pancakes after serving us first. Then he sat by himself on the hammock enjoying each bite (and his sisters washing up for him in appreciation.)
After that day, he became more daring with his recipe. He tested different flours, milks, and consistencies. He even made different shapes. Sometimes he invented a completely new thing like the yuca dumpling he inadvertently made in coconut oil. We loved it and were also grossed out by it.
Sometimes there were failures where the dogs wouldn’t even eat it. He would show up again the next day and make his go-to pancake. The one that he mastered.
Back to Japan.
Enso is a practice and not just a single moment. The form and void are interdependent of each other – the success and the failure are interdependent. Without one, we can’t know the other. And we know them through practice.When we show up and practice whatever it is, we make a commitment to this process of success and failure.
Even if it’s just pancakes.
“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” ― Martha Graham
- Draw Enso. Only one try. No erasing. Don’t overthink.
- Copy the Martha Graham quote on practice.
- What would you practice every day to get better at if you had the insert constraint here (E.g. time, money, empty house, etc.)?