For those of us in the North, we’re descending into the dark time of the year. It is a natural and rich time to explore the depths within us, including the depths of our relationship with food and sugar. In the stillness and the darkness, I invite you to consider the soulful gift that sugar brings.
That it is a time of holidays and holy days – times of celebration, harvesting, gathering, and drawing nigh to those near and dear – also prompts an opportunity for a deeper knowing.
These things often intertwine, food and family gatherings. Our longings for food – for comfort, pleasure, satiation, relaxation, and connection – can mirror our longings for what we most yearn for in our relationships. During the holidays, the potential to be near both food and family comes forth, triggering fear and unease. So we dread this time of year because of the uncomfortable feelings, cravings and potential consequences – weight gain and overeating – that are evoked by these twins of food and family.
In response, we often try to clamp down on our cravings. We minimize, argue away, and deny our loneliness, hurt, or pain; we tell ourselves all the ways it’s not that bad or why we shouldn’t be feeling what we’re feeling. Or, we say “What the hell!” and go numb, indulging for a time in sugar and food, vowing to “get back on track” come January.
Viewing sugar through the eyes of the soul
Whether we’re numb to our experience of longing or we’re trying to argue ourselves out of it, in both cases, we’re not allowing it to exist. Our actual, fleshy, visceral experience – our craving for food, our longing for love – is a forlorn, abandoned thing. This breaks the heart, and rightly so, for it is a denial of the very life that is moving through us in this moment.
There is an alternative to this painful scenario, and one that brings an opportunity for healing. But to open to this healing, we first need to change how we see this thing called sugar, and this thing called food.
We need to go down, to view sugar through the eyes of the soul.
We typically cast soul out of the conversation – and at great cost. When soul is lost, we view and define sugar from a place of fear, anxiety and neurosis. From this vantage point, sugar is the enemy. It’s a treat, a bad habit, something we love, something we hate, how we celebrate, or something unhealthy or addictive of which we’re trying to be more conscious.
It’s no wonder that we dread food, sugar, sugar cravings, and the holidays!
But when we view sugar from the eyes of the soul, from the eyes of blessing and love, we see differently. That’s because the soul, like all things holy, brings gifts. Sugar’s particular gift is this: it beckons us to heal the shame we carry about needing love.
Sugar is a relationship
In the eyes of soul, sugar is a relationship. Sugar is a mirror that reveals how we typically relate to our neediness, to our pain and vulnerability; to our emotions (particularly our “negative emotions,”) sadness, and loneliness; to our experiences of loss, grief and separation; and to our preeminent need for love, in all its forms: belonging, attunement, connection, and closeness. It is a metaphor for how we relate to our humanity itself.
Sugar brings our feelings of emptiness, our hungers and longings up to the surface, to conscious awareness. The degree of comfort we feel about craving sugar reveals the degree of comfort we feel about craving care, nurturing, and affection. The way we respond to a longing for sugar reveals the way we respond to a longing for love. Our willingness to feel vulnerable and desire sugar reveals our willingness to feel vulnerable and desire any form of joy, pleasure, or satiation.
Sugar reveals the ways in which we long after love, and this revelation can bring up feelings of shame and vulnerability. If there’s no room for this yearning in our relationship with ourselves, with each other, or with life itself, we may transfer this longing onto sugar. So sugar becomes the desired thing that we crave. But we often fight against that longing, too, and vow to submit it with diets, sugar detoxes, and psychological strategies.
In our attempt to tame our longing, we are attempting to eliminate both the pain of longing and the accompanying vulnerability, guilt, shame or embarrassment that it brings. We feel guilty or needy or unevolved or childish or immature because we long for love. In response, sugar, the benevolent lover, the giving mirror, the tender parent asks us, over and over: will you allow your simple needing, your human longing, your cry for love to exist?
Beyond the veil, what sugar whispers to us is this: your longing is not the shameful thing you think it is, what you take it to be. When we allow ourselves to fully engage with this thing called sugar, when we go right to the heart of it, the meat of it, we discover that it’s not the terrifying thing that we’ve feared.
Longing is a form of love
Longing is not a signal of weakness or deficiency, but an ingrained, intentional part of our human hardwiring. Longing is the feminine form of eros, the heart’s cry and call for love. It’s an opening to intimacy, asking us to enter and engage. It is what leads us to connection: to life, to love, to each other.
It’s not something we should – or possibly could – control or manage so that we don’t feel its tug and call. In fact, the tug and call for love arises from the soul, from the depths. To be needless for love is not to be enlightened or evolved or independent or mature, but to be closed down, closed off, numbed out.
To cease to long is to cease to love. To turn off our longing we would have to close down our hearts. We would have to cut ourselves off from our love of this life, of each other, of our world.
Here in the United States, it’s Thanksgiving. This past weekend my family was sitting at breakfast, talking about our upcoming holiday. For much of my children’s childhood, they spent Thanksgiving at a table groaning with extended family. This year we won’t be at home to spend the day with our Montana family, something that arises sadness.
We spoke of our desire to be gathered around the collected table with aunts and cousins and grandma and grandpa, to feel the cold and snow, to be tucked into those rituals, the memories of what is done year after year, and the comfort that is found therein. We allowed ourselves to miss, to long, to grieve, to remember. It is a bittersweet, grief-soaked form of love, and it is love, nonetheless.
So in our longing, we will name it, we will collectively honor it by stating it out loud, a bold and tender declaration: I miss.
We’ll go one step further and celebrate this missing: today we’ll cook the cranberries as we cooked them in Montana; we’ll drink the same sparkling cider; later, we’ll eat the same leftover turkey and cranberry sandwiches while watching Little Women in the late hours of the night, the post-Thanksgiving tradition that was begun a decade ago by my children’s aunties. We will do these things in remembrance, to hold love close, to bring a part of the love around the Montana table into our own home.
In doing these things, we won’t feel so separate. We will honor our longing for the love that it is.
Be a servant of your longings
This holiday season, longings will also arise in you – longings for loved ones, for connection, for belonging. Longings to be seen, to be known, to be understood. Longings for celebration and joy. This is good and proper and fitting, and not something shameful or wrong that you could’ve or should’ve prevented.
These longings may show up in the form of sugar, in the form of a loved one, or in the form of a tradition. They may show up as cravings. Whatever their form, your longing is sacred, a worthy thing. This is essential, for it is the unacknowledged, unwitnessed, uninvited, and shamed longing that seeks comfort in a sugar, alcohol, or shopping binge.
So this, then, is your healing response. Your longings for sugar and your longings for love (for they are one and the same) are simply asking for a warm embrace: the full permission to exist. Rather than moving to eradicate, control, or overpower this longing, invite it in with a candle of welcome. Set a place at your table for your longing, for it is the angel that you entertain unaware.
Then take care of it. Answer its call. Maybe you bake the pie that your grandmother used to make, or you tell the same stories, or you cobble together a family of friends to bless your table if blood relatives are absent. Maybe you grieve. Maybe you celebrate. The answer to longing is often a mixture of both.
How we respond to our longings and cravings will be different for each of us. But if we listen, and if we invite its presence, we can discover a way to esteem rather than shame our longing, to be a humble servant of this tender form of love.
In so doing, we reap our blessing. The carrier of this longing – I’m speaking of you, food, and you, sugar – is no longer the dreaded messenger, shamed outcast, or hated enemy, but transforms into something holy, benevolent, and kind. And we, the recipients of their messages, no longer feel so embarrassed, judged or punished by their appearance.