Friends, here we find ourselves in the last month of the year, deeply immersed in the holiday season and all the rituals, traditions, and celebrations that the season brings.
This often includes many opportunities for the festive partaking of food and delicious treats. If you’ve wrestled with any kind of overdoing with food, this time of year can bring up the most dread or fear.
It can feel really, really vulnerable.
Our minds and hearts are so tender. Because of our tenderness, this softness at our core, we may guard ourselves from things that we believe will bring discomfort or pain.
So when sugar cravings arise, or when you come upon a particularly fantastic dessert, it’s easy to tighten up and tense, as if awaiting a foe. You may feel a sense of danger, or alarm, and even frustration or disgust. I often hear this when people tell me they ‘hate sugar.’
Whew – there’s a deep well of vulnerability underneath these feelings.
A ‘sign of the love we bear for ourselves’
In truth, our humanity is both tender, and intelligent, and resilient.
As an Indian sage, Sri Nisargadatta, said, our pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain “is a sign of the love that we bear for ourselves.”
So when we experience pain or discomfort, our minds and brains – being problem solving machines – are quick to think of solutions – what they think will stop or protect us from pain.
If sugar has worked to soften our pain in the past, it makes sense that when we feel some tingle of discomfort, that the impulse to eat sugar can co-arise alongside these uncomfortable sensations and feelings.
On some level, we’re thinking – “Sugar is the solution to my problem, what will make this pain and discomfort go away.”
Slowing down to see what’s there
This is where it’s helpful to slow down our process, to invite curiosity, and to ask with a ‘willingness to be surprised,’ as one of my teachers says.
For if we can pause and be with the longing for sugar, we may discover that it’s pointing to something different than what we think it is.
When sugar is asking you to feel
Sometimes we use sugar to numb or distract ourselves from pain or some anxiety that feels too much to bear. In this case, we’re using sugar to not feel something.
But at other times we can use sugar as a way to feel something. Often, it’s not sugar itself that we’re needing – rather, we’re longing for the quality that sugar evokes in us.
When I began studying the Sufi qualities – the 99 qualities of the Divine – I was struck by the quality Shakur, which I’ve heard translated as ‘thankful’ and ‘grateful.’ Etymologically, the roots of the word Shakur are also kin to the words sugar, praise, gratitude and acknowledgement.
This made me wonder – perhaps a craving for sugar is a longing, a messenger, a carrier for this quality of Shakur. When sugar cravings arise we may mishear or misunderstand this hunger, misinterpreting its message as a literal call for sugar.
But in truth, our hunger may be for something else: for praise, appreciation, and grateful love.
“Everythings wants to be loved”
What in your life longs to be loved? What in your life is asking for appreciation – perhaps starting with your own tender self?
While I was writing this article, my son paused in his weekend chores and peeked over my shoulder. He began reading the words aloud to me, in a teasing, light tone.
In that moment I had a choice: do I view his pause as an interruption? Or do I honor this moment and my son, taking this opportunity to connect with him here on this December Saturday?
I know I can forget to appreciate the Gift and gifts of life and love. It’s easy for me to put my head down and do what needs to be done – to keep on cooking the meals and running the errands and answering the emails, tending the fires of life, but forgetting to savor its inherent sweetness.
When I spend too much time in this ‘doing’ mode, I start to feel dry and barren; anxious, and irritable. I can feel irritated by my loved ones’ interruptions and by my body’s craving for sugar. I feel off.
The craving is a cry for connection
The irritation, the cravings, the dryness: they are all signs of thirst, they are all cries for connection.
Sugar cravings are not here to do us harm: they are an opportunity for intimacy. They whisper to us, “Come closer. Sit beside me and put your arm around my shoulder. For I have much to tell you.”
Then they whisper their secrets to us, and they remind us: look around. Love what surrounds you. See what is really here.
The piercing beauty of life
I remember, about seven Christmases ago now, when I was visiting my parents’ Ohio home for the holidays. My brother and his family were there, too, and my children and his children – seven in all – were piled together in the basement craft room, in a giant bed we had made on the floor for all these little ones.
The room was a sea of blankets and pillows and cuddlies and clothes – various stuffed animals and blankies and socks and night lights and the special fan my nephew uses to sleep.
As I watched them settle into sleep from the doorway, my heart was pierced by this scene and all these accoutrements of love – the ways each of these children expressed their being in the world – and all these things – like this particular moment in time – that I knew would pass, and has.
As Shug Avery says in The Color Purple, “Everything wants to be loved.”
This holiday season, when sugar cravings call and call and call, rather than fearing their presence, turn towards them, and honor their invitation.
See if something in your life is longing for that sweet, sweet presence of noticing, of appreciation and gratitude.
Perhaps you begin or rekindle a ritual that embodies this presence – whether it’s lighting a candle, or saying a blessing over a meal, or singing praise to your loved ones, or simply slowing down to savor the small moments of a particular day.
To deepen this experience, you can invite others to join you in this ritual – or bring them into ritual with you, by honoring the memories and relationships and people that are a part of you.
See if honoring the cravings for sugar as a craving for connection both softens the fear of sugar, deepens your pleasure when a dessert or treat is called for, and heightens your joy, your appreciation for the soft, tender, sweetness of life.