Being English, I have my own experience with hugging. True to my race, I spent most of the first thirty or so years of my life avoiding, what I deemed unnecessary, physical contact. For an Englishman, the most important goal in life is to get through it with the minimum amount of embarrassment. This is very closely followed by the second goal which is to be touched the minimum number of times. Hundreds of years of ‘stiff upper lips’ has made us world experts in hiding our emotions.

Imagine my horror therefore, when I first arrived in the US in 1975 and people I’d never meet before would call me by my first name, everyone wanted me to “Have a nice day”, and then there was the constant touching. It seemed as if people were lunging at me from all sides trying to shake my hand, take my arm, pat my back and punch my ribs. Even total strangers would often sit so close that physical contact could not be avoided. How would I survive?

I did survive, but mostly through an armor of strong British reserve, keeping my hands firmly planted in my pockets and a fair amount of internal cringing. I learned to adjust and tolerate a situation with which I could never, I thought, feel comfortable. But, never say never!

Well a few years later, I was invited to go to Latin America to teach some courses. Never having been in that part of the world, I jumped at the chance, not realizing how this would change my life. Any of you who have ever been ‘south of the border’ or know anyone from there, will know what I was in for. I, on the other hand, had no idea and left home in total innocence. As soon as I stepped off the plane it began and for the next two weeks I was hugged, kissed, squeezed and held constantly. If I stepped back to avoid one, I landed right in the arms of another. There was no alternative except to surrender to it. It was clear that these people had never heard of reserve. The first day, I was in total shock, not even sure what planet I was on. Then an interesting thing happened, I had the thought, “This is fun”. By the end of the first week I was really starting to enjoy it and looked forward to leaving my room each morning for my daily hugs. By the end of the second week, I was really into it and, believe it or not, was actually giving hugs. By the time I returned to the US, I was a born again hugger!

My recommendation is to not wait forty years and have to take a trip to Latin America (as much fun as it was) to try out hugging. If you’re not a ‘touching’ person, start. It will change your life. Remember, when we open our arms, we open our hearts.

Story 2

When I first started teaching meditation, I was invited to teach a course in the large home of some friends of mine. This couple had a blonde, blue-eyed son who was around three years old at the time and full of curiosity and wonder.

The course progressed well and after I had personally instructed each person in the meditation technique, I would have them practice it on their own in one of the bedrooms. Later I would meet with each person to discuss their experiences.

The couple who owned the house had gone out for the day, leaving me to it, only returning in the late afternoon as it was beginning to grow dark. The last course participant, an elderly gentleman, was finishing his meditation in the bedroom as I collected up my things while waiting for him. Nobody paid much attention to the little boy is he wandered around the house interested in what had been happening there. I didn’t give him a second thought as I continued tidying up and, after about twenty more minutes, went to tell the meditator that it was time to stop.

As I usually do, I asked the man if he had enjoyed his meditation. “Oh, it was wonderful”, he replied, “Half way through, I felt as though someone was in the room with me and opened my eyes. There, in the shadows, I saw a beautiful vision of an angelic little boy just standing there smiling at me. He didn’t say anything or do anything, just smiled. I closed my eyes and when I open them again a moment later, he had completely disappeared, it was wonderful”.

I made a mental note that if I ever taught in that home again, I need to keep a close eye on that little boy.