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Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Hugging Story

Johanna's recent post, Hugging Is Now Illegal, and Alex's Free Hugs inspired some thoughts of my own. I think most of us who read Johanna's post had a sinking feeling of what's going on here?!!

The story described in Johanna's post unfortunately is not the first incident in Illinois. Apparently other states have tried to avoid "harassment" by banning holding hands and hugging in schools ("inappropriate displays of affection"), as further detailed in this article published in Time magazine. One would think that school districts had more important things to worry about.

On the flip side, a study published by the BBC outlined the physiological health benefits of hugging. Of course, for those who are used to and enjoy a regular embrace, and I'm definitely including a tango embrace in this as well, this information shouldn't be much of a surprise. Other studies and books written on the effect of Hug Therapy and how important it is for infants to receive hugs is common knowledge.

So how can governments, both local and national, decide when a hug is not beneficial? Or that the danger of harassment is more serious than the friendship and comraderie displayed in a junior high school setting?

Our priorities seem so sadly misplaced.

Which brings me to the subject in the photo above, and a vibrant memory and experience of hugging.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine invited me to go with her to an ashram in San Ramon to see her guru, Amma. I had no idea who this guru was, or really what I was going to see, but my friend really wanted me to go, so I did. My only instructions were to wear a skirt, and preferably dress in light colors, which I did.

We drove for at least an hour to get to our destination and the traffic to the place surprised me. When we drove onto the property, the beautiful wooden buildings, gardens and the crowds of people surprised me even more. We walked past several immaculate gardens, some full of roses and others full of vegetables, and all were obviously tended with a lot of care and attention.

We were directed to a large barn-like building and we sat amongst a lively but orderly crowd of devotees. Hundreds of people were there--and everyone was so happy. There was a definite buzz in the air. But for what? I seemed to be the only one who didn't really know what to expect.

We were really packed in to the place. Everyone sat cross-legged (or as best they could) on the floor. Overhead fans whirled in the summer heat. After a while some Indian musicians came onto the stage and played some ragas, and everyone in the crowd began to chant in unison. The words were repeated over and over, so even I was able to join in the singing too.

And then, finally, maybe an hour or two later, Amma appeared. The electricity in the air of the big hall was all around us. A middle-aged, motherly figured Indian woman, all dressed in white and surrounded by attendants, made her way down the main aisle to the dais in the front. And the orderly procession for the hundreds of people in the room to receive their hug from the Hugging Saint began.

We all waited patiently for our hug. We waited a long time. Even while I waited, I was wondering why so many people would endure the long hours of sitting and waiting for a few seconds of an embrace? I didn't understand until it was my turn.

Amma is a woman. A human being, whom some believe is a saint. I have no opinion on the matter and am not a devotee or disciple. What I can say is that this soft, warm person wears an easy smile and smells like the most delicate flower, despite sitting for hours in the heat without moving, just hugging every single person that comes before her.

She holds you in a way that can only be described as how your mother held you when you were born and you've forgotten how that feels until now. She rocks you, she sings softly into your ear, and then she releases you. Her assistant gives you a blessed Hershey's kiss as you leave Amma's embrace. You leave the dais woozy and blissful and a little discombobulated. And then you wish you could get back in line again and you'd wait for another hour just for that hug. That night all I dreamed about was Amma, her voice in my ear and I could feel her hugging me all night as I slept. I awoke the next day full of wonder.

The following year, you bet I was back again.

A tango embrace is different but brings a similar feeling of fulfillment. I'm happy for those of us who can receive a hug daily, whether from a loved one, a dance parter, or a saint.

But I worry about the children who can't, or aren't allowed to, embrace. What kind of world are we creating for them?


For those of you who are interested, here is an article about Amma in the Christian Science Monitor.


Tina November 16, 2007 at 9:04 AM  

That was an amazing, important story. I am without words, to be honest...

caroline November 16, 2007 at 9:30 AM  

I heard about this woman a couple of years ago. I remember reading an article by a journalist who wrote of her fame in India, how men would travel for miles, hundreds of miles, by foot, to receive a hug from her.
Great post.

Anonymous November 16, 2007 at 9:30 AM  

"She wants womanly qualities to rise up and take their rightful place in the world."

This is the bottom line of it all.

Thank you for this amazing post. I want my hug :-)

studio wellspring November 16, 2007 at 10:05 AM  

i am in love with this lady {and her wise words} already and i've never even met her.
thank you, tangobaby.

tangobaby November 16, 2007 at 10:43 AM  

Hi Tina,

It's really about Amma, not me. It's hard to imagine a person who does what she does every day, but she's real. I'm glad I had the opportunity to be near her because it did change my world.

Hi Caroline,

I've been amazed (and now not surprised) to see how popular Amma is throughout the world. Obviously there are thousands and thousands of people in the world who believe in the power of a hug. Thank you for reading...I love your blog!

Hi Johanna,

We should check her site and see when her next tour is. I don't know how often she is in the U.S. but it might be worth a trip up here (and to see me, too!).

Hi Ms. Wellspring,

Let's go together next time. You can't help but love her. This was one of the happiest days I can remember, besides my some of my blessed tango moments.

mayomé November 16, 2007 at 11:43 AM  

Hi, my name is Mayomé, i'm a singer from Chile. I came to your blog just for casual way, but i think that it's interesting your article about Ms amma. She was in Chile not long time. It's nice that you`re live in San Francisco. One find day i'll want to know that beautifull place.
my blog is: www.lagatabajolalluvia.blogspot.com
(if you speak some spanish league)
good luck.

tangobaby November 17, 2007 at 12:58 PM  

Hello Mayomé,

Thank you for reading my blog. I'm glad to know that Amma was visiting Chile as well. She certainly gets around! I did have a chance to see your blog but unfortunately I do not read Spanish. Perhaps some of my other readers will look at it.

You should definitely visit San Francisco someday. It is a city with a lot of charm. Bring a coat, though, because it's a lot colder here than where you live, I am sure.