The Benevolence of Bread: The Self-Compassionate Way Back to the Present


I once knew a man named Willie in what seems to be a past life now.  I was a server in a restaurant, and Willie worked kitchen prep.  Every day, as I started my shift I would acknowledge the wry smile and wispy salt and pepper beard of Willie, while he told me stories about growing up in Chicago and gave me advice.  Willie knew things like how to get to the end of the week on $10; why people make themselves so crazy; how amazing it is that you can’t grow up until you have your own kids to raise; and for me he always had a simple phrase about how I might get through the shift I was working.

Like the barber or the bartender, Willie dealt in people’s problems, their hopes, their dreams, and whatever lies in between.  If I scrunch my eyes long enough, I can still see him pulling on his beard, wrinkling his brow in thought or laughing at how little I seemed to know about women. He would say, “I hope you haven’t dated them all by the time you figure it out.”

Whatever the story I had for Willie, he would often defer to these words, “Just cut the bread one piece at a time.”  Of course, it made sense because he literally spent several months teaching me how to cut our freshly baked bread, so that the presentation matched the buttery, flaky flavor.  It also stands to reason that he was helping me bring kindness to my experience by quieting my worries and wishes with small, deeply cut slices of bread.

As an adult with a lot of responsibilities, I do my best to be consistent with my meditation and self-compassion practice.  I also take care of friends, family, work to grow a business, and try to take some time each day to remind my girlfriend that she is amongst the planet’s most loved and precious creatures.  In these many ventures, a certain rhythm of striving or imbalance in work versus rest can take place.  When I am long for my therapeutic and compassion based techniques, I remember Willie’s words, “Just cut the bread one piece at a time.” 

The truth is I loved Willie like the uncle I never had, so the phrase does more than remind me to focus on the present.  It is a loving reminder that I am enough, that what is most important is what we do together, and that remembering those two things I will always be ok and be able to cut some pretty damn good slices of bread.

If you find yourself caught in a striving cycle and your body and relationships are telling you to take a break, spend some time with the people you love doing the simple things with great focus and attention.  Be kind to yourself, and remember to cut the bread one slice at a time.

365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 22.  In the Books.