Last night I dreamed that I was at an event with a group of friends. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and I saw that a line had formed in front of an old man. He was African, in his 80s, and wearing a long, dark green robe. He had a dark green turban wrapped around his head and a huge smile on his face.
Everyone was lining up to give him hugs. I stepped in line and watched him hug people, one by one. When it was my turn, I wrapped my arms around him, settled my head into his chest and thought, “I’m going to send him so much love.”
I could feel his love return to me and we both held on tighter and started lifting off the floor. At that point, I became aware that I was dreaming (called a lucid dream), and I consciously put more love into the hug. I knew this was a visit from an ancestor or spirit guide, and I knew it was for my healing. As we lifted away from the ground, we laughed and laughed. I felt energy (tingles) throughout my body, especially in my heart and root chakras. We eventually drifted down, and we both said thank you with our eyes.
My dreams after that were downright weird (think hard-spraying hoses, cats of mine who have been dead for years, television sets that were actually stages for plays, and chocolate chip cookies sitting on lit burners in the refrigerator. Yes, I’m busy analyzing today), but this one left me thinking of the magic of hugs.
Hugs are gracious expressions of intensive magic. They connect people. They reveal people’s humanity. They infuse interactions with kindness and care. Giving good hugs is a powerful art, and one we can use for healing at all levels.
I’ve enjoyed amazing hugs in my life. One of my favorite hugs arrived when I was walking through a township in South Africa. A woman walked out of a school, walked down the sidewalk, literally grabbed me and pulled me into her, and laughed as she hugged me. I hugged her back and cried. Then, as soon as it had started, it was over, and she left. We never spoke a word.
Another one of my favorite hugs arrived on my recent trip to Kenya. A fellow-participant in our course walked up to me and asked if he could give me a hug. Being a hug-enthusiast, I of course said yes. We put down our things, and we hugged. He wrapped his arms tightly around me, and I could feel his love. That hug led to the beginning of our friendship. It grows in depth everyday.
Then there are all of the other great hugs. I am lucky to be surrounded by great huggers. When I hug someone and they hug me, I feel safe, held, and known. I feel like everything is ok. Pretty rad for something so simple.
So what makes for a great hug? I thought about this on my morning walk, and here’s what I came up with. In great hugs:
- People soften into each other. When I hug someone, I let my body soften and drift into theirs. As I feel them do the same, I let my body soften more to meet them. Great huggers, I think, give each other this gift of melting into one another. They meet each other, melt, by melt, until they’ve drifted into one body held together by arms.
- The hugger listens. They “listen” to what the other person needs, and they hug accordingly. They pay attention. They notice if the person needs a tight hold or a gentle one. They notice if the person needs a hand on their back or the back of their head. They notice if the person needs soothing touch or just to be held. They notice when it’s time for the hug to start and time for the hug to end. If you want to give someone a great hug, listen to their signals and give them exactly what they need. If you’re not sure what they need, ask them.
- The hugger breathes. A great hug is a bit like holding an awesome yoga pose. You’re present. Paying attention. Being intentional. Holding your body in a particular shape. Just as you don’t want to be rigid in yoga, you don’t want to be rigid in hugging. You want to breathe into the hug. Let go. Release. Soften. At the same time, be there. Be present. Be strong in your love for the person being hugged.
- The hugger infuses the hug with love and selfless intention. When I hug people, I do it for them. It ends up being wonderful for me too, but I pay attention to what they need, and I send them love. I give them a hug as a pure gift—one that does not extract obligation or require exchange. I hug someone until the intention is fulfilled, and then I let go. People can sense, whether consciously or not, whether a hug is a hug or someone holding on for selfish reasons. People can also sense when a hug’s moment has ended and the hug itself has not. Hug it out and let it go.
- The well-practiced and present hugger can generate presence and intention in any moment of a hug. Let’s say someone gives this hugger a hug, and he or she can sense that the hug is selfish or not conscious. He or she can use their masterful hugging skills to infuse the interaction with exactly what it needs. Maybe the “selfish” person needs extra attention or to know that they are held. Maybe they don’t know what they need or how to ask for it. The present hugger can work with that and infuse the interaction with love, intention, and purpose. Hugs give us an opportunity to come out of our own worlds and into the worlds of others. This is where the magic happens.
Hugs are funny because they’re somewhere between a handshake and sex. Have you noticed that? I think we sometimes think that if we hug too intimately, we’re essentially having sex with someone. In some ways, that’s true. When we hug authentically, we make love to another person. We connect our bodies and we say with our hearts, “I love you and I’m here with you.” That’s a bit like making love, isn’t it?
But it’s not intercourse. It’s not an invitation into bed. It’s not an invitation into penetration. It’s an exchange of love and presence.
Perhaps because of a hug’s intimacy, we sometimes give bullshit hugs. We hug with one arm or with lots of distance between our bodies (I’m all of a sudden concerned about all of you reading this who give those kinds of hugs. I don’t mean to call your hugs bullshit. It’s just that they’re more like full body handshakes than hugs, that’s all). We bring people close but we don’t let them in. We give them our bodies but not our heart’s.
And that makes sense. Hugs are intimate. Hugs make connections. Hugs start relationships. Hugs are magic, and magic is crazy-making (in the best of ways).
Let’s all give more hugs. Let’s connect ourselves with others and let ourselves be seen.
In love and hugability,