Today is Valentine’s Day.. But many of us now call it the Day of Love.. May we live each day, each moment, each second, feeling, receiving and transmitting pure love and compassion in breath, intention, thought, body and action..
So, honoring this day of love and loving, I wanted to offer “hugging meditation” as a practice. It is a practice introduced by dear Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh). I have not yet written about him, his teachings and my contact with them yet. For the time being, it is brewing in my heart and soul. The sharing will come I am sure at the right moment. Dear Thich Nhat Hanh who was an actual Zen Master, never called himself that and preferred to be called Thay (Teacher) by his students. In my understanding, he gave the world two main gifts: one was having Buddhism that was engaged in the world affairs (in social justice) with complete presence, equanimity and compassion. The second one was his adaptation of many of the Zen Buddhist teachings into everyday life of the West, be it in the form of songs, readings, little practice verses (Gatas) or calligraphy all in the local languages, in secular form, and doing so without oversimplifying the teachings. So he made Buddhist teachings, their core wisdom, accessible in secular form and easy to practice in everyday practice and transmitted these in elegance, beauty, wisdom and compassion. This kind of teaching /sharing with elegance and metaphor can also be seen in Zen paintings, calligraphy and architecture. The transmission of ideas is done using less of the logical mind and actually overriding the logical mind through metaphor, intuition, with the help of riddles as well. It is why for example the Japanese adore with deep love and respect Sakura, the cherry blossoms. Because Sakura is a beautiful, elegant reminder of transience, of impermenance.. The flowers bloom in full beauty and generosity (with no holding back), to be seen, touched, loved in full presence, till they are gone with the first rains.
It is from Dear Thich Nhat Hanh and Dipa Ma (an Indian woman Buddhist master), that I learned the everyday applications of teachings. Dipa Ma, a mother and wife herself, taught many householder women how to practice mindfulness while doing housework, breastfeeding and taking care of children. Meditation and mindfulness is not after all only to be practiced on the meditation cushion or during mindful movements like yoga, qiqong but, while these continue, one can keep expanding the awareness, a kind focus or compassionate awareness to many activities of every day life as we can.. As my MBSR teacher Wolfgang Schröder had said, mindfulness is like islands -I am thinking of volcanic islands in the sea 🙂 – and initially one or two pops up.. but as you keep practicing, more pop up and they become an Archipelago.. 🙂
Beautiful Calligraphy by Dear Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the everyday practices introduced by dear Thich Nhat Hanh is hugging meditation. He said that he introduced it based on his own life experience. While in the U.S., a woman practitioner had invited him to a city to lecture and then I think as he was leaving (or maybe when he arrived), she wanted to give him a hug. Being a monk and also not used to hugging, dear Thay found himself becoming very rigid in the embrace. But being a good practitioner who says “no mud, no lotus” and that transforming suffering and difficulty into compassion and understanding is always possible, he created a meditation out of this life experience, to be able to let go and be fully present in a hug.
How do we do it? We have our partner in crime :). A person, an animal friend, a tree friend to hug. Of course with each one, it is best to ask their willingness for a hug (same for trees and animal friends and children and adults)..
Then we recognize the presence of our beloved with love and joy and bow to them, or bow to each other. Then we take three long joyful conscious breaths to come fully to this moment (of connection). Then we open our arms and hug the person, tree, animal friend, holding each other in the gentle embrace for 3 inbreaths and 3 outbreaths. In the first breath, we are aware that we are present in this moment and we are happy. (“I am here with you, I am so happy”). With the second breath, we are aware that the other person, animal friend, tree is present in this moment, and we are again very happy that it is so. (“You are here with me, I am so happy”). In the third breath, we are aware that we are here together, right now on this earth and in this moment together, and we are happy as well. (“We are both here, I am so happy and grateful”). We may then release each other and bow and thank them.
Dear Thich Nhat Hanh says, the best thing we can give a loved one is our presence. If you are not there, you can’t love and if you are fully present with the other, what a gift it is.. Hugging meditation can be used to rejoice in our connection with a loved one in full presence as well as for reconciliation and healing. In Covid times, many of us got afraid (and were advised not) to make human contact, to hug and to kiss.. It was very difficult for most of us. A close friend of mine who went abroad during the time said she really missed hugs. I shared with her that if hugging people were not possible, maybe we can hug trees in the meantime. Here is a video the musician Tom Rosenthal made during Covid times. He asked people to send him videoclips of their hugs and 600 responded. Here is the very touching videoclip of this.
I hope you try this short and joyful meditation many times this week. And if so, please leave a comment below.
You can find here the description of hugging meditation and more practices at the Plum Village website. Here, brother Phap Lai from Plum Village guides children in this meditation.