Sifting: My Method For Embracing Messy Chapters

photo via  Livvy Land

photo via Livvy Land

I’m terrible at following recipes.

I love to cook, I love to eat. Food is my love language, it’s my family’s love language. We don’t just visit new places, we eat our way through them. I find comfort in watching Barefoot Contessa reruns on Youtube (her voice is so soothing!).

That being said, I simply cannot follow a recipe. My cooking style is much like my mother’s, a pinch of this, a dash of that, a devil may care attitude towards cook times and temperatures. With her, it becomes this beautiful, organic experience that always - and I mean always - ends in success. Does my mother own a cookbook? Of course she does. However that doesn’t mean that they are used for more than kitchen decor.

And so, I lack the ability to follow a recipe. It actually works out for me 99.9% of the time. When it doesn’t work, it isn’t that the food is inedible. It’s simply that it’s underdone, there’s something lacking. The recipe wasn’t followed to the letter, so the meal isn’t at its full potential.

I love the idea of an organic, spontaneous recipe that is felt rather than followed. There’s something almost romantic about it to me.

You know what doesn’t sound remotely romantic to me? Sifting. I mean what’s the point really? I truly can’t think of a bigger waste of my time when I could just haphazardly dump my dry ingredients together and call it “rustic,” when the texture is slightly askew.

And you see, that’s the thing. Sure, the muffins taste the same, but something is off. Something isn’t being delivered as perfectly as it was intended. I have no room to be disappointed of course because it was my decision not to allow the all important process of refining, of sifting, my ingredients.

My approach to life, is a lot like my approach to cooking.

I love life. I want to experience every single glorious inch of it. I work hard so that my life can have the best ingredients possible. I’m not a microwave-freezer-dinner-life kind of gal. I’m pasta with white wine sauce. My dreams and goals are extravagant and often come at great personal cost. But it’s worth it, at least that’s what I tell myself when I get sticker shock.

Sifting isn’t a glorious process. It’s mundane, and seems pointless. And it’s time consuming, especially when you throw all of your ingredients in at once instead of in smaller batches.

But sometimes you don’t have a choice. Sometimes things have to be sifted even if it seems pointless and time consuming and at times painful. It’s so much easier to cling on to what feels familiar even if it’s something that’s preventing us from moving to the next phase in our journey.

Sifting through the ingredients of life can mean a lot of things. It can mean moving away from a place that was once comfortable but no longer provides what you need for the next step. Sifting can mean shaking away friendships that you’ve been holding onto but have ceased to provide the positivity to foster your goals. Sifting is also letting go of past ideals and preconceived notions for things that you’ve failed to consider as possibilities.

Now, I don’t want this to come across as a battle cry to let go of everything and suddenly turn your back on those around you. The last thing I want you to think is that we need to fight for our goals and dreams ourselves. Quite the opposite. We need a strong team around us to fall back on, to encourage us through our journey and at times carry us when the journey seems beyond our own strength.

I had a group of friends that I thought I needed in order to keep a certain part of my life alive. We were roommates actually, and our house felt like the set of the Golden Girls.  What I was really clinging to was a memory, a piece of my life that was beautiful in the moment but could not follow me into the next. And can I tell you, figuring that out had to be one of the most painful things. I grieved for that part of my life, it seemed so perfect.

But that chapter closed, so that I could turn the page. So that I could find a new place to live, with new friends and move on to the next part of my life. So that I could look beyond my little clan and see all the people around me willing to stick by me in the good times and the bad. So that I could learn that we’re never truly alone, though it sure does feel that way sometimes.

In writing this I’ve also realized that what I’m suggesting is also called pruning–something I’m equally bad at. I love gardening but I’m honestly so, so awful when it comes to remembering to water and prune my plants. Pruning, like sifting, is a necessary, less-than-glamorous evil. It’s time consuming, but by clipping away the dead pieces–pieces that no longer provide an environment for healthy growth–I preserve the plant. I give it room to breathe, room to grow. And of course, when I see the new beautiful blooms, my mind does not immediately refer back to the memory of clipping off the dead branches. It simply sees the beauty of the moment.