When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings.
Thich Nhat Hanh

A hug is such a simple act.  And it goes without saying that when we embrace another person with love, it’s one of the most heartwarming gestures we can give. And yet most people refrain from giving each other this precious gift.Interestingly, it was Thich Nhat Hanh who cognised the practice of “hugging meditation”. It began in the most innocent way, thanks to a friend who dropped him off at the Atlanta airport in 1966.

” When we were saying good-bye she asked, “Is it all right to hug a Buddhist monk?” In my country, we’re not used to expressing ourselves that way, but I thought, “I’m a Zen teacher. It should be no problem for me to do that.” So I said, “Why not?” and she hugged me, but I was quite stiff. While on the plane, I decided that if I wanted to work with friends in the West, I would have to learn the culture of the West.”

Of course, it should come as no surprise that his hesitation to share a hug was because it was not common from the culture he hailed from (Vietnam).  To overcome this cultural barrier of communication, Nhat Hanh devised a practice he called “hugging meditation” which is essentially universal human language for what everybody needs. And there’s more to it than you think.  To really hug the person you are holding, we are letting ourselves be seen, connecting with our fellow human beings with open hearted vulnerability. This is how it works.

“According to the practice, you have to really hug the person you are holding. You have to make him or her very real in your arms, not just for the sake of appearances, patting him on the back to pretend you are there, but breathing consciously and hugging with all your body, spirit, and heart. Hugging meditation is a practice of mindfulness. “Breathing in, I know my dear one is in my arms, alive. Breathing out, she is so precious to me.” If you breathe deeply like that, holding the person you love, the energy of your care and appreciation will penetrate into that person and she will be nourished and bloom like a flower.”

                 Art by Simona Ciraolo from Hug Me
At the heart of hugging meditation, are the core Zen principles of interconnectedness and “interbeing,” with each other, as well as with the universe. Hugging with intention and loving attention can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness. Beyond the action, the most important part is that hugging requires our absolute presence with the other and being completely caught up in the moment.  



“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.

Before hugging, stand facing each other as you follow your breathing and establish your true presence. Then open your arms and hug your loved one. During the first in-breath and out-breath, become aware that you and your beloved are both alive; with the second in-breath and out-breath, think of where you will both be three hundred years from now; and with the third in-breath and out-breath, be aware of how precious it is that you are both still alive.

When you hug this way, the other person becomes real and alive. You don’t need to wait until one of you is ready to depart for a trip; you may hug right now and receive the warmth and stability of your friend in the present moment.”


x Kimberley

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