I want you to notice, really take time to notice that signs of change are here. It still feels like winter most days but the sun is stronger, days are longer and the sap is starting to run from the maple trees. While it is “mud season” here in Vermont, many people make maple syrup. Sugaring is an activity, which has been done for centuries, beginning with Native American Vermonters. Vermonters sugar to bridge the gap between winter and spring, making a messy, muddy season more bearable, while they join friends for the work and play that is sugaring. We become again, like the communities that once existed, in the old farming tradition, where we need each others help to get a big job done. We share meals and talk about the weather in the sugar house in between gathering sap, boiling it and canning the syrup. It is a deeply sweet experience all together.
Vermont is not much different than any other rural area, where people were once very connected as a way of survival in a harsh climate. Neighbors looked in on neighbors and helped whenever needed. Helping gave people a strong sense of belonging and purpose while receiving help gave people the feeling that they were cared for and worthy. We now live in ways that separate us more than ever and have all but done away with needing one another. We seldom ask for help and hesitate to give our help believing that someone would rather we mind our own business, or that they would ask if they needed help. Not reaching out keeps us separate and we are not meant to be separate as healthy human being. Sugaring season is a great reminder of how we enhance our neighbor’s lives and our own by being connected.
During sugaring we notice, the slow, slight changes begin between the periods of freezing and thawing. We begin to see spring green showing under the snow. We watch the beginning of turkeys strutting, practicing their ballroom/mating dance, which will happen in May. We begin to see the swell of the buds on the trees as the air warms, bringing the arrival of leaves. We smell the smoke of the fire, the sweet air of the sap boiling, and the dark, rich smell of the musty mud. It is a feast for all of the senses. And the senses are what it is all about.
When we want to reduce stress, we can do it quickly just by noticing the information coming through our senses. We can do this through something called “Treasuring”. Treasuring can calm an anxious nervous system and allow for deep rest in the midst of a busy day. It works by focusing your attention on your senses and uses your imagination to recreate a beloved time or experience in your life. While you are in this place in your mind of noticing and remembering, you shut down the stress response. You can think of it as a mini vacation. I like to use sugaring for treasuring myself, and I can loan it to you if you would like! If you have ever been involved in sugaring, then you know it is rich in sensory information for your brain. Feel free to use another memory you love to revisit for your own treasuring experience, but for now let’s engage all of our senses and list them here that involve sugaring. As you read them, the more you allow yourself to feel them as real, the more you affect your brain function and so your nervous system function as well. Our brain cannot tell the difference from an imagined experience and a real one, so take advantage of this vacation!
Smell: sweet sap, fire wood burning, mud
Feel: slight warm breeze, cold of the metal buckets, bark of trees, ground under foot, warmth of the newly filled syrup containers on my hands
Hearing: light hearted chatter of those gathering sap, buckets clinking while being emptied, crunch of snow or leaves under foot, dog barking, evaporator running
Sight: People about the job of gathering sap, Dad manning the evaporator in the sugar house, children coming in for their shot glass of warm syrup to taste, canned syrup lined up on the counter top, smiling faces,
Taste: warm, liquid gold syrup on my tongue, pickles to counter the sweet, coffee, donuts.
I could go on and on, as I am sure you could as well about a well loved, well remembered experience in your life. To receive the full effect, try holding all of these sensual experiences present in your mind having adding them one at a time. Stay in this experience for several minutes.
How was your vacation? Mine was lovely, thanks.
I am so happy to share this and many other tricks to escape stress in the months to come. These experiences are all deeply sweet and deeply healing. You are not only affecting your brain, but your cells are receiving the message loud and clear that you are resting and taking in this sweet experience.