There is truly no greater gift to give someone than your full, pure presence. We intuitively know this to be true. Perhaps you can recall a time in your own life when you’ve had the experience of someone’s complete and undivided attention. What did it feel like? The feelings may have been profound or subtle, but are almost universally life-affirming.
How were they embodying that presence? We often recognize that the body is relaxed and quiet; the emotional energy is clear and focused. Their shared thoughts back to you reflect a deep state of listening.
Yet we also know this is a rare occurrence. How often do we really give our full attention to someone? Our child is sharing their day and we are only partially listening while we cook dinner, fold laundry, return a work text. We are having a conversation with a friend or a coworker and simultaneously remembering a task undone or impatiently waiting for them to finish so it’s ‘our turn’. This is a human tendency. Fortunately, we can choose to communicate in a more skillful, even transformative way.
Hugging Meditation is a powerful practice that encourages our ability to be fully present with another. This is truly an invitation to practice mindfulness as a means to connect with others, and ultimately with ourselves. This is something we can learn if it doesn’t come naturally at first. We may feel stiff or awkward particularly if our upbringing or personality cause us to be more resistant to demonstrative affection. Vulnerability is a vital part of intimacy but trust your own pace and who you feel comfortable hugging. You can try hugging your pet, your child, friend, and maybe even a colleague if they are amendable.
In his book How to Love, legendary Buddhist monk, teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to perform this act of generosity:
“Just before hugging, follow your breathing and establish your true presence. During the first in-breath and out-breath, become aware that you and your friend are both alive; with the second in-breath and out-breath, be simply present to the hug itself and how it is only available in this way in the present moment ; and with the third full breath, be aware of how precious life is.” No patting him on the back to pretend you are there, but breathing consciously and hugging with all your body, spirit, and heart. If you breathe deeply like that, holding the person with love, the energy of your care and appreciation will penetrate into that person and he or she will be nourished and bloom like a flower.
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 people to reconcile with each other.”
And science bears this out. Research at the University of Maryland in 2010 for the Society for Neuroscience found the hormone oxytocin did not just lay in the domain of romantic relationships. Studies demonstrated that hugs among friends and with pets had the power to release the hormone and boost happiness, trust and empathy.
But beyond the action itself, it is the intention to be absolutely present with the other that is most important. Nhat Hanh explains it in this way: “Hugging is a deep practice; you need to be totally present to do it correctly. When I drink a glass of water, I invest one hundred percent of myself in drinking it. You can train yourself to live every moment of your daily life like that.”