It was a week for an unusual amount of baking. For me, this week, there was baking for co-workers, and baking for students, and baking for classroom guests.
Amongst these was baking as part of a thank you gift for a group of four nurses who had traveled to give a talk to one of my classes on campus. They had had a full day, and a hard day, in their hospital workplace before driving the two hours to spend time with me and my students. They would then drive two hours home, after our night class.
As part of their thank you gift – one of several thank you gifts I baked this week - there was a gift bag full of a series of treats, as - with the help of Angela Liddon from Oh She Glows - I continued to experiment with the new paradigm: it doesn't have to be bad to be good.
So, there were vegan, and gluten free, refined sugar-free, “real food containing only”: dream bars, and cookie dough snacking squares, and brownies, and peanut butter truffles, and a really fun little jar of caramel sauce.
In one case this week, I made a batch for a work colleague, knowing that peanut butter/chocolate treats were among the favorite treats of his wife. So, there was the box for him, and the box for him to give away to her. It was just so lovely to observe that one of the best gifts I could give to him was something he can give and to her.
Sweetness - it can be easy to forget, and sometimes hard to see
- is the antidote to bitterness, in the same way that kindness is the antidote to aggression or humility the antidote to pride.
Hard things happen. They can leave a bad taste in the mouth. It can be good to know the intentional skill of how to make things sweet again. It can be an exercise in paying attention, and awareness, to know how to distinguish, and choose, the kind of sweetness that will actually nourish.
Perhaps that's why I enjoy the playfulness of the vegan, gluten free, refined sugar-free, so- healthy-it-hurts, utterly easy to make and yummy delights from Oh She Glows: it doesn't have to be bad to be good. It can just be “all good”.
What actually is this sweetness that can help us to feel that good taste in our mouths again, and help to bring us back to a place of relative balance when we're working with hard things?
I'm here in eastern Canada, in the north, so perhaps it's like asking the question “can we choose maple syrup over white sugar?”; “can we choose something that's real over something ‘wrapped in plastic’, that might look good but is likely to actually cause us pain?”.
Part of what happens, in the beginning of the beginning of spring in the north, as we've explored together, is that the sap of the trees begins to flow again. The sap will pull deep into the trees through the depth of the long winter, and part of coming out of that period of cold and darkness is the time when the sap begins to flow again.
Here on the east coast, in Maritime region of Canada, in about February or early March, it's possible to put a tap inside of a maple tree, and to draw out the sweetness of that maple sap. It is then boiled, and condensed, to make the sweetness of maple syrup, then transformed into any amount of breakfast – and other - works of magic.
It can be useful to observe that tapping into sweetness like that is part of how we can get our own sap to start flowing again.
In my experience, when hard things happen, it can be possible to pull deep inside ourselves, and to somewhat cut-off: like having nicks, and corners, and parts of ourselves where our own juiciness has somehow spilled out onto the ground, or hardened deep inside, like a tree shivering its way through the winter.
Hard things happen.
It can leave a bad taste and become frozen slightly like that. It can be hard to wake our way out of it again, the way that our trees do in the spring.
So it becomes an exercise in remembering how to reach deep inside of our inside worlds, or how to reach deep inside of our outside worlds, and get our juices flowing again.
Can we reach in, and touch once again, the sap or the juiciness of life itself, to once again begin to feel more alive?
Most often I drink my tea black. An uncle, now several decades deceased, used to tell me it was because I was sweet enough. From time to time, it does happen that it's good to put milk and honey - and often some ginger in that tea to warm me up again - and bring back some sweetness after hard times.
Where does that sweetness come from? How do we reach in and touch that juiciness of life again?
It is actually like the sun in the sky. The sun might be covered by clouds. For a time we might feel like there is no sun. We can say to ourselves, “there is no sun out today”, when in fact the sun doesn't go anywhere. It is the earth that moves. The clouds are not as solid they appear. They are not really real. They come, and they go.
It's an old Buddhist metaphor for the nature of mind, which is said to be - like the sky – clear, bright, warm and wise, radiant, intelligent and aware. Thought and emotions: they come, and they go, like the clouds. The sun is constant.
It's a older metaphor of the Indian subcontinent that life itself is - in its nature - juicy, and rich in sapfulness. It's a word we've seen, called “rasa”. This vitality and vibrancy, richness and delight, like maple syrup or honey: it is the basic taste of life itself, and it is always possible to discover it again, even if it may feel - from time to time - that instead of honey in that tea there is lemon.
How do we find that sweetness again?
That sweetness hasn't gone anywhere. It is constant. That sweetness is the nature of life itself. Yet sometimes we do need to remind ourselves of this.
So let me tell you about the visiting nurses, who were my guests in class this week. They had had a hard day in the clinic at the hospital. They had worked very intensely, especially with one woman who was in a very difficult domestic situation. By virtue of their role, the nurses had offered: counsel and support, information and advice, and a safe place to come to where this person could shape some perspective, and work through the process of perhaps choosing to make different choices, helping her situation to become more safe, more respectful, and more kind.
That particular day, one day among many - when that client at the clinic may choose to do something very different tomorrow - they had had to watch the client return home, knowing it was likely to be an environment that was unsafe, disrespectful, and unkind. They talked about how hard it was to watch her go home.
Then they came, and spent time with my students and I, and there was such joy in the quality of the companionship that they had amongst themselves that it was utterly contagious. So we shared in that joy, and delight in the companionship, as we met each other as friends of a common friend.
They were so happy to talk to the students. The students were so happy to talk to them, and there was sweetness in that exchange that was medicine of a kind that is real, even if it’s not prescribed by doctors or sold. There was sweetness, that was medicine, in the quality of the companionship, and delight in the company one with the other.
Knowing that they were coming - and boldly experimenting the new paradigm that yummy treats don't have to be bad to be good - part of their thank-you gift was: dream bars, and cookie dough squares, almond brownies, and peanut butter truffles, and magic no-cook caramel sauce: creations by Angela Liddon, the Canadian Food artist behind “Oh She Glows”.
There was something delightful in that exchange of sweetness, the delight of the companionship communicated in the gesture that somehow embodies the sweetness of life itself: no refined sugar, but a touch of maple syrup, and the sweetness of the laughter and the warmth, the support and the care, the honor and the respect of one and the other.
What is this sweetness, this delight that is the antidote to bitterness?
The love and the kindness, the warmth and the friendship, the compassion and the care, the humor and delight, the wisdom and the patience, the forgiveness and the generosity: the sweetness of life itself that we offer to one another all the time.
It is our basic nature. Sometimes it comes in a gift bag with tissue paper. More often it comes with a hug.
It is obvious as the space in the room, as obvious as the warmth of the blood in our veins, so obvious we can forget how to see it, so obvious it can be hard to notice.
Why are there gifts on birthdays? Chocolate and flowers on Valentine's Day? Why do we celebrate with feasting?
The flowers, the chocolate, the feasting, the gifts: they are ways that the inherent natural sweetness that is life itself symbolically takes form, shifting and moving from one to the other.
It is warmth, and kindness, respect and love that moves from one to the other, through the offering of sweetness. It moves between us as humans – from one to the other – in the way that the sap that is life itself moves through the many branches of a single tree.
Sweetness: it is the antidote to bitterness.
There are, perhaps, ways that we can try to explore this that arguably hurt us more than help. It is possible, I'm told, to take refuge in a box of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, wishing to numb away the troubles of the world, in the way that one might do with alcohol or drugs, choosing a processed “what appears to be real, but isn't really real” kind of sweetness, the kind that will hurt instead of heal, and be poison instead of medicine.
Yet, the sapfullness, the sweetness of life itself - vitality and dynamism, kindness, compassion, warmth and well-being, generosity and open-heartedness: this moves, in many vehicles, from one to the other, making all of our lives richer and stronger.
We know how to make juice out of our lemons, how to handle the hard things and overcome them. We can also put honey in our tea.
An old Indian tradition, the sweetness of life itself - the sapfulness called “rasa”- was not so much described in terms of maple syrup. South Asia isn't a land of the big red-leafed maple trees like Canada.
This “rasa”, or the sapfulness of life itself, is embodied in the classical Hindu offerings that humans give to each other, and that humans offer to the gods in the context of temple ritual practice. So it's flowers and fruit, rice, milk and ghee, and this often symbolized by the sweetness of honey.
So let me offer you a passage from the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad, one of the early works of philosophy in ancient Indian tradition, dating from the Axial Age of human philosophy, in about 500 B.C. From the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad, Book 2, Chapter 5:
“This earth is the honey of all beings, and all beings are the honey of this earth. The radiant and immortal person in the earth, and, in the case of the body, the radiant and immortal person residing in the physical body. They are both one's self. It is the immortal. It is life itself. It is the whole. (1)
The wind is the honey of all beings, and all beings are the honey of this wind. The radiant and immortal person in the wind, and, in the case of the body, the radiant and immortal person residing in breath. They are both one's self. It is the immortal. It is life itself. It is the whole. (4)
The sun is the honey of all beings, and all beings are the honey of this sun. The radiant and immortal person in the sun, and, in the case of the body, the radiant and immortal person residing in sight. They are both one's self. It is the immortal. It is life itself. It is the whole. (5)
This space is the honey of all beings, and all beings are the honey of this space. The radiant and immortal person in space, and, in the case of the body, the radiant and immortal person residing in this space within the heart. They are both one's self. It is the immortal. It is life itself. It is the whole.” (10)
Sweetness is the antidote to bitterness. If we're feeling torn apart, reconnecting with that sweetness of life itself can help to make us feel whole again.
I offer you some sweet treats to try from Canadian food artist Angela Liddon’s “Oh She Glows”. Here is her vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, grain free, freezer-friendly, five minute Magic No-Cook Caramel Sauce.
1/3 cup (75 ml) virgin coconut oil softened
½ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup smooth raw cashew butter (home ground from nuts or store bought)(you use peanut butter instead, if you wish, for peanut caramel sauce).
2 tablespoons raw coconut nector [for best flavor and caramel colour. You can swap 2 tablespoons (30 ml) brown rice syrup and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) fresh lemon juice, if needed.]
¼ to ¾ teaspoon (1 to 4 ml) fine sea salt, to taste
1. Process ingredients in a food processor.
2. Spoon them into a jar (makes 1 cup or 250 ml).
3. Serve immediately, chill in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or freeze for 1-2 months. It will firm up when chilled; it will easily melt heated over low heat on the stove top.
4. Serve over dairy or non-dairy ice cream, with nuts if you wish, use as a fruit dip, or otherwise enjoy according to your imagination.
May you enjoy the sweetness of life.
Copyright © Adela Sandness