In 2011, two years before I left academia, I embraced creativity. I took a poetry course, a self-portraiture class, and a path-finder tutorial that included daily writing and exploration. I dove into these experiences. They helped me understand and see myself differently. They awakened my heart.
I created a “life list.” This wasn’t the standard “bucket list.” Instead, it was a broad-ranging declaration of ordinary ideas and adventures. Experiencing the life-list was a joyful way to attend inward. I understood my needs and met them for myself, all of this outside the realm of academia. My life was far more full and abundant than just my job.
I didn’t keep the list. It was a worthwhile exercise but then I let it go, except for one item: Give 1000 hugs to 1000 people. At first, my little notebook of hugs quickly filled (I’m a hugger!) yet the process slowed. Though I hug my friends each time I see them, this counted as only 1 hug. I wanted to reach 1000 people. On July 11, I wrote the last name in my book.
Mark asked, “What’s next? 5000?” I shook my head: “Nope, I’m done.” Surprised, he looked at me, “You’re not going to hug anymore?” I smiled, “Of course I’m going to hug! I love hugs. But I’m done with the list.” My curiosity had been sated. How long does it take to hug 1000 different people? For me, it took almost 8 years. My recording wasn’t perfect, so maybe it took only 7 years, but I got the gist. Reaching 1000 different people, gaining their trust, and giving each person a hug: this takes time.
As I look through my list, I see meaningful events: Lawrence graduations, meditation retreats, leaving Lawrence, last week of mindfulness classes, various reunions, election day 2018, and my mom’s visitation and funeral. I also see ordinary, daily moments of connecting with a neighbor, teacher, or new friend.
I remember one of my mindfulness students staying after class, declaring she wasn’t a hugger, yet in that moment she needed a hug. I wrapped her in my arms, squeezed her with love, and gently rubbed her back. Hugs might not change the world, but they do make a difference. If we’re willing to be open and trusting, if we’re willing to both give and receive, then a safe, loving, beautiful space is created in a hug. Enough space to relax and release, and to recognize: In this moment, everything is okay.