Among the many beautiful and practical teachings of the venerable Thich Nhat Hahn, an all-time favorite of mine is Hugging Meditation.
When I first learned about this, I was a mother with 3 little boys, running her own business, cooking, and caring for her family. It was, let’s face it, hectic! I loved listening to cassette tapes of Thich Nhat Hahn, and one of the segments was on Hugging Meditation. He said something along the lines of, when you hug your child don’t do it half-heartedly, thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner or worrying over the call you have to make in an hour. Be fully present to your child and do it with your whole heart.
I instantly felt guilty! Knowing full well that all too often, I had been only half present, on the fly, partially preoccupied.
At the very next opportunity, I got down on my knees and hugged my middle son, Arran, 100%, wrapping my arms around him, hugging him to my heart and consciously breathing in and out, offering him love, love, love. Oh my gosh! The little guy almost startled in response! Then leaned in and hugged right back, 100%. If he had been a cat he would have been purring. It was as if he said out loud, Boy! I needed that! It was unforgettable.
Today when my dear dharma-buddies arrive at or leave early morning meditation class, we hug each other, fully present, appreciative of all that we share. It’s a marvelous feeling! To express lovingkindness without words, saying, I care about you! I’m here for you.
Thich Nhat Hahn says,
“When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness. The practice of mindful hugging has helped so many to reconcile with each other- fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friends and friends, and so many others.
We may practice hugging meditation with a friend, our daughter, our father, our partner or even with a tree. To practice, we first bow and recognize the presence of each other. Then we can enjoy three deep conscious breaths to bring ourselves fully there. We then may open your arms and begin hugging. Holding each other for three in-and-out breaths. With the first breath, we are aware that we are present in this very moment and we are happy. With the second breath, we are aware that the other is present in this moment and we are happy as well. With the third breath, we are aware that we are here together, right now on this earth, and we feel deep gratitude and happiness for our togetherness. We then may release the other person and bow to each other to show our thanks.
When we hug in such a way, the other person becomes real and alive. We do not need to wait until one of us is ready to depart for a trip, we may hug right now and receive the warmth and stability of our friend in the present moment. Hugging can be a deep practice of reconciliation. During the silent hugging, the message can come out very clear: “Darling, you are precious to me. I am sorry I have not been mindful and considerate. I have made mistakes. Allow me to begin anew. I Promise.”
Try hugging meditation!
I don’t, actually, do the bowing part, though by all means do if that feels right to you. Bowing is a rare gesture in Western culture. But I find that the intention expressed in conscious, 100% hugging is immensely powerful and comforting, both to the hugger and the hugee. And the holidays are the perfect time to slow down, savor the season of light, the joy, the music, the fragrances, and the love we have for one another.
Let’s enjoy our precious time on this earth together!