In the 1960’s Thich Nhat Hanh came to the US to speak out against the war raging in his country, Vietnam. One of the people he influenced was Martin Luther King, who did go on to oppose the war. Dr. King later nominated Thay (pronounced Tie, meaning teacher) for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thay spent some time with Dr. King and his extended community, a warm group of affectionate people who liked to hug each other. Being a Buddhist monk, Thay was not supposed to touch people, especially women, but kindness is also an important trait to cultivate, so he felt uncomfortable whether he hugged or not.
After the Peace Accords (which he attended) led to the end of the war, Thay went on extended retreat and contemplated what to do about this dilemma. He came up with Hugging Meditation! There are several versions. Here is a paraphrase of the one I learned:
Breathing in and out, I hold you in my arms;
Breathing in and out, I feel you holding me;
Breathing in and out, we are here alive and together.
While I only rarely practice formal hugging meditation these days, I am usually very conscious of the preciousness of the moment of hugging someone and the importance of bringing my whole presence to that person and feeling them holding me.
Photos: Thay’s senior student Sister Annabel practicing hugging meditation; Thich Nhat Hanh at his retreat center in France, Plum Village, 1989