I always wanted to meet Dr Leo Buscaglia but he died before I could. It wasn’t just his extraordinary lectures that I wanted to experience firsthand; I wanted to line up after the lecture with thousands of others to experience a Buscaglia hug. He was a master and an advocate of the hug. He had this to say about hugging:
“Nine times out of ten, when you extend your arms to someone, they will step in, because basically they need precisely what you need.”
I don’t know if it grew out of his doctorial studies or the fact that he was Italian but he surely elevated the hug to an art form.
I love being hugged. Not the air hugs from those who lean in to hug you without actually touching you. No, I’m talking about the hugs that leave you breathless and just a little bit sore. Those are the hugs that cry out “Hey I want you to know that I’m here”. My nieces and nephew hug that way. Their hugs are exuberant and uninhibited and usually accompanied by a kiss and an “I love you Zia Nadia”. My gay friends hug that way. Their hugs say “Thank you for your acceptance and your love”. My relatives in Italy hug that way. Their hugs say “Why do have to live so far away… Oh my God you look just like your aunt Flora… why didn’t you phone, I would have made gnocchi… I didn’t think I’d live to see you come back and visit again”. There are Italian co-workers at the office that will stop me in the hall to give a hug when they haven’t seen me in a few months. Italians certainly don’t have the market on hugging. I recently discovered in our Costa Rican Service Centre that Costa Ricans will hug anybody and everybody. I felt right at home there.
The hugs give me comfort, they sustain me and they feel so good. Hugs don’t cost a cent and they are healing. Dr Harold Voth, psychiatrist has said: “Hugging can lift depression – enabling the body’s immune system to become tuned up. Hugging breathes fresh life into a tired body and makes you feel younger and more vibrant.”
HOW TO HUG
Hugging may sound like the simplest thing on earth, but it will help to keep a few things in mind. Non-hugs are no good. In his book Caring, Feeling, Touching, Dr Sidney Simon describes five non-hugs:
I. The A-frame hug, in which nothing but the huggers' heads touch.
2. The half-hug, where the huggers' upper bodies touch—while the other half twists away.
3. The chest-to-chest burp, in which the huggers pat each other on the back, defusing the physical contact by treating each other like infants being burped.
4. The wallet-rub, in which two people stand side-by-side and touch hips.
5. The jock-twirl, in which the hugger, who is stronger or bigger, lifts the other person off the ground and twirls him.
The real thing, the full body hug, touches all the bases. Dr Simon describes it like this: "The two people coming together take time to really look at each other. There is no evasion or ignoring that they are about to hug... You try as hard as you can to personalize and customize each hug you give... With a full body hug there is a sense of complete giving and fearless communication, one uncomplicated by words.”
So if you should meet me some day and open your arms, know that I will step right in for a hug. Dr Buscaglia and Dr Simon would approve.