Monday, July 13, 2009


My husband’s morning meeting was cancelled last Thursday, so he decided to go see a professional hugger. She was in Manhattan for a three-day stint – part of her North American Tour. I was on the tennis court when he texted me at 9:45: " I’m waiting for my hug from Amma." I don’t think he received it until close to noon.

Mata Amritanandamayi, more commonly known as Amma, is known as the Hugging Saint. People come from far and wide to fall into her arms. She’s devoted her life to soothing the suffering of all living beings. I fancy myself a good hugger, so at first I was a little miffed that Scott felt the need to see a pro. In fact, hugging is one of the very few things I do particularly well. But after reading her credentials, I have to concede: we are not in the same league.

Some days, when I’m all about finding my spiritual purpose, I reflect on the principle that every spiritual teacher brings you back to: that the path to fulfillment is in serving others. The key to happiness is to stop thinking about yourself.

I confess: I find this incredibly difficult. It takes all my stamina and a good deal of my reserve to spend even 15 minutes not thinking about myself. What I need… how I feel…whether my hair is cooperating.

Serving humanity seems so complicated. There’s something very alluring about the idea of simply doling out hugs to serve your higher purpose. But, unlike me, Amma hugs everyone. Not just those she’s taken with at the moment.

I used to consider myself a World Class Hugger. The period of my life between middle school and college was spent doing little else. Amma, however, has hugged over 20 million people. Even without counting, I know she has me beat.

Years ago, when I started working in an office, hugging began to feel unnatural. I remember throwing my arms around one of my coworkers after he’d said something especially endearing and his squirming out of my arms. “I don’t really hug,” he said.

You don’t hug? I was in my twenties at the time and that sentence didn’t even compute.

Twenty years later, I can count on one hand the people I hug regularly, and the list does not include some of my closest friends. One believes she is too bony for hugging. Another simply doesn’t like to be touched. There are the germaphobes and the personal-space extremists. Even I have turned into a person who finds social hugging sort of awkward and uncomfortable.

It makes me wonder whether we spend our entire adulthood learning how to let our fears and our suffering stand in the way of getting what we truly crave?

Sometimes, though, a hug is unavoidable. We see each other’s pain and, clavicles and bacteria be damned, we hold onto each other. But I imagine Amma’s hug as something even sweeter; a big wonderful woman to fall into – quietly and without much fanfare. A woman whose only purpose is to hold you together, even if she doesn’t know how it’s come to be that you’ve fallen apart.


  1. I enjoy being hugged and hugging, and have no problem with physical space issues or boniness. And a hug can certainly be pleasurable just in and of itself. But when a hug is meant to comfort, to put me back together if I've fallen apart, I have to feel that the hugger has some idea what my problem is. I don't get comforted by generic hugs. If I've lost a loved one it doesn't comfort me to be hugged by someone who has no idea about my loss.

  2. I suggest an HRO weekend for some of your "non-hugging" friends Jess.

  3. when i moved back to new york city after living in hawaii for a few years, i hugged everyone I met, in greeting and in parting. they were received stiffly, barely tolerated by the person on the receiving end who was just waiting for me to disentangle myself from their self. I persevered, thinking that new yorkers should not be exclusive of hugs, even ones of tropical origins.