Gratitude is all the rage in popular culture right now.
And it's all the rage for good reason. Gratitude, or being thankful for what you currently have, is beneficial to your physical health, emotional wellbeing, and mental strength. Physical, you say? Yup, people that practice gratitude have fewer aches and pains as ungrateful folks. And I'm sure that the lack of aggression and increase in compassion and empathy (that gratitude provides) help stave off physical altercations. The mind is strengthened from the stance of resilience - having gratitude seems to help in the recovery process post-traumatic events.
Although gratitude is a "hot" topic now, it's a bazillion-years-old; in every religion, there are teachings on the act of being grateful. In the Bible alone, there are over 35 scriptures on thankfulness. That said, because of gratitude's longevity and popularity, we are going to skip the long conversation on the practice in itself. And let's chat about a cool way to practice gratitude with a partner.
SIDENOTE: One pop culture trend on gratitude that is quite negative - is the "at least" folks (Person A: I'm sad. Person B: At least the sky is blue). The "well, at least you..." response gives off a lack of empathy. It can also create guilt and anxiety for Person A - "you shouldn't feel that way, at least you have..." This Brene Brown video is my favorite on empathy. You're welcome.
"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." - "How To Do Hugging Mediation"
Recently, I read a book called The Mindful Day. It is a good book (with plenty of nuggets), but there was a practice that stood out to me in a crazy way: Hugging Meditation.
In 1966, Zen Master and Buddist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, discovered the power of a hug after he was given a stiff casual Western hug. When he thought about the hug, he realized the importance of that moment and how using Eastern philosophies of deep breathing, being present, and being grateful for that moment could make the practice one of healing.
For me, hugging meditation is this brilliant dance between being aware of the present moment, while also realizing that the future is not guaranteed. It's about being fully mindful that this could be our last embrace on earth.
For my health-nuts (<3), according to Yoga Journal, "Hugging is good for more than just our relationships. In fact, the scientific community has long touted its many health benefits. For one, experts say interpersonal touching decreases stress levels by slowing down our heart rate and production of the stress hormone cortisol. During cold and flu season, making time for regular hugs may keep you healthy, as they appear to boost immune function and protect against the common cold. Hugging is also thought to simultaneously calm our fears and alleviate feelings of loneliness."
How do you practice Hugging Meditation:
Let's hop into the good stuff - how do you do it!
Become present - like genuinely present. Take a moment to take a breath into your lungs and focus your attention on the moment. Let go of all the previous mess.
Bow, have a saying, open your arms. Acknowledge the other person and welcome them into your embrace. Allow for them to give you the signs that they, too, are ready to be present at the moment.
Embrace. In the words of the Zen-Master, "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."
Release. Some folks bow after the release, others may give a little hand tug, but a smile and departure are just fine.
Whether you practice this mediation daily or post-COVID-19, I pray that you find the beauty of being mindful in a loved one's embrace. There are so many studies that we can dive into. Nevertheless, being a safe space for another human (even if for three breathes) is beyond science, deeper than studies, it's divine.
May you provide a warm embrace.