The Enlightened Hugger

Last week’s post (“The Hug Manifesto: Hold On for Dear Life”) promoted hugging to comfort and connect with others; this week I suggest ways you can use hugs to transform relationships and expand your mindfulness practice.

Deeper Emotional Connections

It’s so easy to fall into a routine and fail to connect with the people we love. Even though I exchange daily doses of hugs with my friends and family, sometimes I’m guilty of going through the motions without much awareness of the moment. So every now and then I try to step back, slow down, and appreciate these expressions of love more fully. In one memorable instance, I used the “hugging until relaxed” technique to forge a deeper connection with my Mom.

I ran across David Schnarch’s “hugging until relaxed” exercise while reading Passionate Marriage for a counseling class. This technique extends hug time beyond the cursory embrace so that participants move beyond self-consciousness to relax into one another.

In addition to the technique’s application within a marriage, Schnarch writes about the impact of hugs in other relationships. One of his examples pertained to hugging his father twenty years ago, which he compared to “embracing a tree trunk.” As the years passed, Schnarch’s father softened by degrees. At the same time, he gradually became more relaxed when hugging his son. As the duration and relaxation of their hugs increased, they fostered a more open and affectionate relationship. The hugs both reflected and contributed to their growing closeness.

While I’m all for hugging tree trunks (see below), I’m thankful that my Mom’s hugs were never wooden; instead, they were energetic and smiling—but brief. After reading about Schnarch’s experience with his father, I wondered if our hugs could be something more. So as my Mom walked me to my car after a visit, I proposed that we try “hugging until relaxed” and explained how the extended-version hug worked. She agreed to try it.

I took a deep breath and hugged her. At first there was the familiar stiffness and urge to pull away that accompanies most hugs that extend beyond the comfort zone of one person or the other. But after a few more seconds, I felt our bodies relax and a warm, nurturing energy flowed between us.

It was like a physical version of unconditional love, exactly what I had hoped to feel. As I relaxed into my mother’s hug, I was touched by her willingness to risk the kind of intimacy that didn’t come naturally to us. It was worth the risk to ask her for what I needed, and our hugs have held new meaning ever since.

Spiritual Hugs

To me, “hugging until relaxed” resembles the mindfulness elements of slowing down and being in the moment. And its principles overlap with some other, more intentionally spiritual paths to hugging nirvana.
My favorite comes from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. In Peace Is Every Step, he introduces a Hugging Meditation, which combines hugging and mindfulness to convey love and gratitude or invite reconciliation. The meditation begins with deep breaths and peaceful intention and progresses through several stages of awareness of the moment and your fellow hugger.

Another option is the Chi Hug, which emphasizes the energy exchanged during a hug. In this extension of ChiWalking© techniques, you use grounded self-awareness as a base to give and receive caring energy in a hug.

Now here’s one you may not have tried: tree hugging. While Schnarch may consider trees hard and unyielding, many feel grounded by the experience of hugging a tree. It’s no coincidence that yoga features a tree pose and that Qigong martial arts also contains a move called “tree hugging.” Trees represent stability, strength, and the peaceful energy of nature. Especially if you enjoy solitude and the outdoors, a tree hug meditation might lend variety to your spiritual practice.

Your Next Hug

I challenge you to try one of these hug variations. And as always, I invite you to share your reactions through the Life Is Now comment link. Here are links to the resources mentioned in today’s blog:

* If you sign up for Google Book Search, you can preview Passionate Marriage to read more about David Schnarch’s hugging until relaxed technique. Simply sign up, search for the book, view the contents page, and click on the “Hugging Until Relaxed” chapter link.

* Try Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Hugging

* Feel the energy in a Chi Hug.

* Get in touch with nature with this tree hug meditation.

* Remember to consider the Hugs for Health
“Rules for Hugging.”

... And be sure to tell me about any new and unique hug variations you discover.


Sharon and Mike Williams said...

What a nice expression of how hug therapy has opened you to deeper levels of relationship with your mother. As I think about hugging the question comes to my mind "Exactly what is a hug supposed to accomplish?" "Why do I hug?" and "What message (if any) is a hug supposed to communicate?" It seems to me that it is sort of like a greeting. Often while on a walk when passing another a greeting is exchanged "How are you?" When this greeting is exchanged I don't think the person is actually seeking to know the inner condition of the other party; it more of an acknowledgement of recognition that the other exists. On the other hand when I see my son or daughter and ask "how are you?" I really am asking for more information and would like to hear about the condition of the one I care deeply for. Thus to me I would more likely exchange a handshake with most persons. A hug would carry deeper meaning about connection and engagement. Thus, for me, a hug is reserved for special people in special situations. What message are you trying to send when you offer or receive a hug?


Erin Kelley-Soderholm said...

Mike-- you offer some thought-provoking comments. I believe you said it well: that a hug is "reserved for special people in special situations." Perhaps the definition of "special" varies in broadness or specificity for each of us. I also appreciate your questions about the message and intention of hugs. It's important to consider those issues. At the same time, immersion in the process is equally important. For me, it's the very process of reaching out, making connection, and showing appreciation that both embody and transcend meaning for me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!