Sometimes my husband and I fight.
I don’t understand where he is coming from and he doesn’t see my point of view. We always manage to talk through these misunderstandings, and afterwards we share a hug.
These hugs affirm our deeper connection to each other, beyond any temporary difference of opinion. They represent a bond that creates a willingness to try to understand the other’s experience, to briefly step into the other persons’ shoes. With this expanded perspective, we each are able to more easily reconcile what feels like opposition, thereby finding a solution that can work for both of us.
This deeper connection is one of the reasons I love giving and receiving free hugs. If we are open to this kind of connection, it has the potential to move each of us beyond a sense of separateness, beyond an “us versus them” mentality, and the misunderstandings that naturally occur when we cannot relate to each other from our common humanity and our common experiences.
When we share a hug—even if for only a few moments—we meet each other in a place beyond our individual identities.
It doesn’t matter if, on the surface, we have different philosophies about how to live life, different political opinions, or different religious or spiritual beliefs. It doesn’t matter our age difference, the color of our skin, how much money we have, what we do for a living or who we prefer in an intimate relationship. What matters is the heart-to-heart connection that can positively impact someone’s day or perspective, sending out ripples of positivity into the wider world.
Free hugs events have offered me a deeper level of connection that shows up in unexpected ways. During one event, the only man in our group wanted to get a video of us so he moved across the sidewalk with his camera while the rest of us continued to offer hugs. Without his presence in the group itself, I noticed that I was quickly feeling uncomfortable, like we were now four women on display, offering ourselves in a different way.
The vibe even seemed to change from the perspective of a guy who was passing by. He stopped to quite obviously look us over, pointing to each of us, deciding who he wanted to hug. It seemed to be done in good humor, yet a wave of shame passed through me even as I smiled and opened my arms to him. This was the first time in all the hugging that I felt like an object. I actually think it was the first time in my entire life that I felt this way, that I was simply something for a man to choose.
It was through this small set of moments that I suddenly felt a connection to every woman who has ever felt this way. I had unexpectedly walked a few steps in some shoes I had never tried on before. It was so far outside my normal realm of experience that it felt a little disorienting.
On another occasion, a series of hugs left me feeling somewhat physically battered, even if that had never been the intention. First, a rather large man gave me a very enthusiastic hug, holding me tight while shaking me vigorously from side to side. That was followed by a number of shoulders coming roughly and painfully into contact with my Adam’s apple.
This was, again, a new experience for me. I allowed myself to open to the feeling of being physically vulnerable in an unpredictable environment. I was aware of not wanting to put myself out there like this anymore and wanting to protect myself.
I walked a few more steps in unfamiliar shoes.
Before I started participating in them, I had assumed that free hugs events would always be positive experiences. However, it’s these edgier encounters that have broadened my perspective in ways I did not expect, creating a connection with those I haven’t hugged and haven’t even met.
I never know what will happen when I show up to hug, but I continue to do it. I am willing to experience the full range of emotions that comes with the wide variety of interactions that we have.
This willingness creates an even deeper level of connection, one to myself. When I openly acknowledge what is showing up for me, noticing my assumptions and my reactions without judgment or turning away, I truly experience what it is to walk in my own shoes.
It’s on this walk that the magic happens. Any unconscious hold these feelings have had over me begins to loosen. My stories about myself (such as being a victim or being unsafe) begin to fall away. I no longer relate to the world from inside of these identities. I connect to that part of myself that is beyond identities, allowing me to even more deeply meet others in this place. It’s a wonderful circle and I am discovering continually that reinforces itself in ever-deepening connection.
Image: Mr Seb at Flickr
Editors: Renée Picard; Caitlin Oriel