A recent Times of India op-ed writer lamented that nobody hugged him when he was a child, when he really wanted it. And now everyone wants to hug him and he can’t stand it (psychologically speaking, the two are probably connected, but that’s not our story here).
The point is that hugging is definitely in – and in a big way. Everyone I see greets each other with a hug, however brief; colleagues shake hands on first meeting and hug every other time they gather out of the office. Even prime ministers and chair-people of huge nations do a rapid-fire hug for the cameras. It is a sign of these times that we are all more relaxed in our bodies and less guarded in our self protectiveness.
The hug is big.
Now, according to a recent study from the Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, hugging is deemed to be good for us.
Who’d’ve thought it?
Apparently, over the course of a fortnight, participants in a study of 404 people were asked about any arguments they had had and whether afterwards they had hugged the person they’d quarrelled with. It turns out that those who had done the hug thing were “more likely to feel positive after an argument than those who hadn’t’’.This proves, the study concluded, that the human touch works wonders.
Well, er, yes…
Touching old ladies
I recall my mother one day in her retirement home. There were many old ladies there, stuck in wheelchairs, often paralysed and unable to talk…
I arrived early one morning, only to see her, my mother, who by that time had severe dementia and could not make a coherent sentence, step out of the lift on the ground floor. She didn’t see me. Instead she turned towards three down-at-the-mouth people in wheelchairs sitting in the lobby, and one by one went to each of them, stroking their hair and cheeks, bending to kiss the backs of their hands, rubbing them down their arms, even kissing one on the forehead, and generally giving them the full touchy-feely once-over.
I stood back and watched what to me was an extraordinary scene. As she walked into the lobby, the ladies in question called to her by name, their eyes lit up, smiles appeared wherever smiles were possible, and she just went from one to the other with a kind of new-age version of a holy blessing.
The joy of touch!
Wobbly upper lips
The Victorians never hugged anyone (children were to be ‘seen and not heard’). They were told by the experts that it was bad for the child to be coddled in any way. And this chilly arms-length legacy in 19th century England made its way right to the late 20th century and beyond. Boys, especially, suffered. As soon as they could walk, they had to relinquish the warm touch of their mother, if indeed their mother had ever given them a warm touch, and grow up in a cold hugless world.
Now hugging is what we all do. And I like to think that it was Osho and his people, scattered all over the world, who, in the 1970s, invented it.
The ‘Poona One’ energy hug
Long ago, in our days living in the bewitching and chaotic ‘Poona One’ ashram*, hugging was de rigueur. We hugged each other all the time. We hugged people we didn’t know. We hugged people we wanted to know. We always hugged after a conflict. We hugged for exceptionally long durations (none of that quick peck on the cheek and brushing of shoulders – we actually hugged!)… We hugged to exchange energy and feel the heartbeat of the other.
When we did so, we shut our eyes. We took inside the feelings generated to a private place where we could use the circulating energy between two bodies to fire up a fresh rush of expansion and love.
These were not sexual encounters, although outsiders took them to be and were made uncomfortable by them. These long, loving, still-bodied hugs between both opposite and the same sex, were more like mini-tantric energy exchanges. The full-on embrace of the other’s body could plunge you into a kind of rapturous meditative space where you were quite happy to linger for as long as the other felt inclined.
Between men and women, of course, in a community who were almost as free about sharing sex as they were about sharing food, these hugs could lead to a suggestion of a date. “I like your energy,” was – and still is – an opening gambit for an encounter like that. Sometimes, if they weren’t strapped into a job they could not leave, the couple would choose then and there to head off to their room and enlarge on the experience. Or they might arrange to meet later.
But let me make it clear – nothing sexual would have been going on in the hug itself. Meditators are receptacles for ecstatic energy, and falling into that energy in a buddhafield**, as Osho’s was, was immediate.
Shock and horror!
This was something that observers could not understand. Sexually repressed minds everywhere shuffled from one foot to the other feeling all those sexual feelings of their own they had not been allowed to address – just like the Victorians and their absent touches – and projecting it onto these rapturous embraces.
In Osho’s world, this has been an on-going problem – a major misunderstanding that persists to this day. Outsiders see Osho’s sannyasins as sexually depraved group-sex junkies. But nothing could be further from the truth. Quite the reverse, they are natural human beings, free to express love, joy, sorrow and grief in whatever way works for them…. Apart from rare, but much publicised, organised, supervised group psychotherapy sessions, I have never, in my 40 years closely connected to them, heard of communal sex or even threesomes going on within the sannyas community. They may have existed, I don’t know. But most of this is myth made up by the minds of deprived onlookers.
In my recent book Dinner with Osho: Two Women’s Intimate Tales on the Path of Meditation***,Osho elaborates on these issues directly while addressing a group of Gandhians.
In distinction to all the rumours, Osho’s people largely take whatever life brings them. And they do it with awareness and honesty and generosity of heart. Just as they eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired, their god-given biological urges flow according to their inclinations and they remain lovingly respectful to each others’ needs without pretension or exploitation. This makes them some of the most sexually healthy Homo sapiens around, liberated from repressive social requirements or western pornographic fantasies and not inhibited by fear or guilt.
It was those outside observers who could not allow their own sexual wishes to express themselves who imprinted this completely false stamp on Osho’s work.
So what does something that is a natural human inroad to the meditative experience, such as is the lingering hug, mean in the world of energy transmission?
Find out for yourself!
Try a long hug with a friend who agrees to have a long hug with you. Close your eyes. Breathe. Go inside. Stay with the hug, immobile, relaxed. Just let whatever you feel arise in you.
You’d be surprised.
* ‘Poona One’ is the name Osho’s people give to a period between 1974 and 1981 when he presided over his controversial ashram in the Indian city now known as Pune.
** Buddhafield was the word Osho gave to the energy-field generated around an enlightened being
*** Dinner with Osho: Two Women’s Intimate Tales on the Path of Meditationwas published in January 2019.