Ode to Hugs (written 2004)
Why are hugs better than kisses? Because when they're real they involve your whole body. I like the strength of hugs. Shared body heat. Encircling a loved-one, beng encircled. The pulling together. The feel of muscles moving, working. Breath shared. I cannot feel blue in the midst of a hug. Even wounded, crying, hurt, I am pulled in and healed.
Some of the best hugs I get are from my young son. He throws himself at me. It can hurt. He's heavy and rough and intense. He doesn't check to see if Im ready, my feet balanced, my head raised enough to avoid collision. He just crashes into me and crushes me in close and usually he giggles. And all that energy and intensity and love penetrates me, body and soul, and I feel joyous. It lingers. That feeling of joy. He breaks through my solitude somehow. I am reminded of connection, of what is good in me and the world.
I know this is love of a “particular”. It comes with the trailing strings of entangled attachment. His love for me and mine for him. But the physical generosity of it is also liberating. It opens for me into metta, a love that expands and includes the world. How is there room for ill will in a heart so brimming with joy and love?
This is another of the gifts of innocence...what children and animals offer as teachings in our lives. The dhamma of ordinary life. To love without reserve in this way. Not to be wary and judgmental or seeking acceptance. Just to give and give and give.
I hear in my son's giggle and see in the sparkle in his eyes that his generous expression of love in these enthusiastic physical hugs is wholesome and good for him too. No giving then without also receiving. When I laugh in surprise and wrap my arms around him, sometimes lifting him off his feet. When we bump heads and groan between our sputtering chuckles, we share something wholesome and good and larger than us.
We learn from what we experience. “Wet” is what it's like to stand in the rain or dive in a lake. “Sad” is what I feel when my best friend moves away, or when I lose the “lucky stone” I've been carrying around in my pocket. “Love” is what it feels like to be hugged hard and long, or to share laughter in a moment of connection. When something is felt this way at a visceral level, it becomes real and alive, more than a dry concept. Moving toward the realization of an intention of metta is only possible when we begin from what is known.
Teachers tell us to access this personal feeling or experience as we begin to put effort in the wholesome direction of the skillful development of metta, lovingkindness directed to all living beings. The physical memory of these hugs shared with my ten year old child are seeds for the universal love I intend to cultivate.