I woke this morning thinking of the power of hugs, deep, meaningful, heart-to-heart hugs.  Yesterday my Sensory Awareness group met at Fort Mason. I received hugs that moved through me, and reverberate now.  

As we gathered and sensed, I began to cough and cough.  Since I couldn’t stop, I left the room to get some water and when I returned I still coughed.   I couldn’t stop and because I knew I didn’t have a cold, I could feel how my throat had tightened to “stuff down” my feelings of grief.  Though I’d cried buckets and received hugs, still there was something coming up from my heart that was caught by a clasp at the throat. Slowly, my throat began to release which is not to say there isn’t still a clamp but it’s softer now, more accepting.  Shaking pours tenderness through pain and grief.

I was sitting with all this at seven this morning when my sister-in-law, my brother’s wife, called. She wanted to share that she’d received a message from a high school best friend of my brother, Bill Belt. He and my brother had spoken in December and Gar made no mention of his illness.  Therefore, Bill was in shock to learn of his death. Gar was best man at Bill’s wedding and still he protected his friend from what he was going through. My brother was clear to the end that he was not a whiner and didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. I honor and respect that and I honor and respect that I was raised in the same way, and  …

What is it now I wish to say?

We no longer live in tribes where men come together to hunt mastodons and women gather berries.  We can share our vulnerability, transition, and fear.

My brother lived a good life and knew it. He had come to accept his death.  He also knew the pain we, our mother, brother and I, endured when our father died in a motorcycle accident in 1969.  My brother’s concern was for those of us still here, and so he and his wife have planned a lovely memorial where we will gather together and comfort each other in the circle of love he leaves behind.

When my sister-in-law called this morning, she sobbed, “Everyone says I am so strong.”  And she is strong and she can honor her softness too.  We can be tender with ourselves. It is okay.

In the book I’m bringing forth I look at the stoicism with which I was raised and which I’ve worked hard to poke a few holes in so more energy and support can pour through.

I’m grateful I have a place to feel the clamp on my throat that is unconscious but is still there, a clamp of protection so I don’t appear weak, but I know now I am both strong and weak, and weak, what a word, no, I am tender. Tenderly, I allow the fullness of feeling both joy and sorrow at one time, the tender place in the heart where both come together to hug and comfort as they meet.

Like a fern frond uncoiling, a snail shell moving, cell by cell, my throat releases and becomes a fountain flowing.

Fern frond unfolding

Vision of Hildegard of Bingen


Yesterday, my beloved friend Anna spoke of and demonstrated what she calls “celestial gravity”. She allowed her arms to rise over her head, in a prayer of reception, connection, openness, and grace.  

This morning these words of David Whyte come my way.

But for now, you are alone

with the transfiguration

and ask no healing for your self,

but look down as if looking through time,

as if looking through a rent veil from the other

side of the question you’ve refused to ask.

And you remember now, that clear stream

of generosity from which you drank,

how as a child your arms could rise,

and your palms turn out to take

the blessing of the world.

From Tobar Phodraic

In RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems

© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

The leaf supported from above and below

I’m also with a little book my dear friend Sandy gave me last week How to Love by  Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. He suggests using hugs as meditation.

He writes, “When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings.”  He continues, “Hugging is a deep practice: you need to be totally present to do it correctly.  When I drink a glass of water, I invest one hundred percent of myself in drinking it. You can train yourself to live every moment of your daily life like that.”

“Before hugging, stand facing each other as you follow your breathing and establish your true presence. Then open your arms and hug your loved one. During the first in-breath and out-breath, become aware that you and your beloved are both alive; with the second in-breath and out-breath, think of where you will both three three-hundred years from now, and with the third in-breath and out-breath be aware of how precious it is that you are both still alive.”

Yesterday I sat by the water of the bay and a gull sat with me. Well, he stood and stayed. I asked if I could take his or her picture, and clearly he/she said yes.

View of Angel Island from Fort Mason

My gull friend and support

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