Free Hugs 2.0 (or Not)

Posted by Vishesh Gupta on May 9, 2016
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I’ve been giving hugs every Thursday for the past quarter, but things have really gotten interesting when Kozo-ji encouraged me to do them blindfolded on his weekly Monday calls.

It’s been four weeks of doing the blindfold practice now, and I was inspired to do something a little different this week. Rather than just make hugs a practice of giving, I made it also a practice of inviting! I’ve wanted to do this for a while and go from hugs 1.0 (just me giving hugs) to hugs 2.0 (1-1 links between me and others doing similar practices), and everything lined up for this experiment, as you’ll see:

There were 11 hours of preparation that just happened (didn’t plan this) from 1PM -> 12AM on Wednesday, starting with Dr. Shariq. I went to go see him since he was back from his trip and he gave me some really, really amazing wisdom (subject of another post). We were mostly talking about my next year, in which I’m trying to study inner technology, and he said “well, you are the one telling me that experiencing inner technology is the only way you learned it, so then experience it!” In passing, he mentioned the idea of giving someone a scarf and inviting them to do the blindfold hugs with me, rather than trying to explain it with words. 1 in every 7-10 people ask me “Why are you doing this?” and I really have no good answer, so making it easy for someone else to experience for themselves seemed like it could be a good idea.

After this discussion I ended up being late for my next class (obviously), but even this class was important - it’s called “Finding Your Story” and the point of the class is to help you connect with your “genius” (the greek sense of the word, not high IQ). I actually had a lot of trouble focusing because I was so pumped from my discussion with Dr. Shariq, but things went in my brain even still. Today, we were talking about courage as it really is - specifically the words “let go of all the worlds, except the one to which you belong” and the question of “this takes courage, and how are you going to bring that to you?” We also talked a lot about attention (and the buddha story about luscious strawberries) and how it’s a kind of superpower we all have.
In the irony only the universe can provide, we also discussed the story “Cathredral” about a blind man and how that’s an archetype for someone who has intuitive perception rather than physical sight. Blind people appear in stories from all over the world, and Jonah told us about how depriving one sense (sight, in this case) was a way to allow oneself to connect to the other senses and experiences happening inside.

Then, I got in my car (that class is 3 hours long...) and drove with Marcus and Vy to Awakin! It’s amazing how having others in the car transforms that 40 minutes that otherwise feels like a “waste” into something tremendously enjoyable :) (of course, it’s not really a waste, since that empty time is also a great precursor to an hour of silence, but still). From all the energy I’d gotten from Dr. Shariq and my friends, I was even able to stay awake for the full hour of meditation :P

Snippets of wisdom from life mentors after Nimo’s performance all helped me orient myself to how I was going to do this:
First, Ari talked to me about his practice of welcoming, and how he believes that welcoming and invitation are practices that will be needed in the coming century, with the changes in the environment. Nimo then talked to me and reminded me of Jayesh-bhai’s way of living like a flashlight, and how “you just keep rollin” because there’s just no way to know the ripples of any of our actions. Very humbling perspective to keep in mind!
I was later talking to John about my project with the class I have in the mornings Thursdays, which is really important because I have been struggling with the implications of the project that we’re working on as a class.
Then I talked to Kozo-ji once again about my intention (which I’ll explain in a sec) and he said “Even the master meditators will get up if they are meditating and someone is coughing and give them a glass of water. You can also see the question “Why are you doing this?” as someone coughing and try to invite them to practice with you.”
By this point I was convinced it was worth a shot.
I later received an awesome hug from Nimo as he was leaving and further decided to dedicate Thursday’s hugs to his amazingness, and then of course Nipun-bhai fills me in that there are deeper-reasons: Nimo wore a blindfold for a day when he visited a school for the blind, just so he could experience what it was like to live that way.
Birju-bhai has been helping me improve my body, so he gives me a tub of almonds (and smoothie advice from him and Nimo the smoothie master)! And Anne-Marie-ji says: “I want more reflections!” (and gives me an amazing hug too) which is why I’m even writing about this.
After the ride back (Vy says: “My mouth hurts from smiling!”) both of my friends give me the last hugs before Thursday and I go to sleep.

So the stage is set.
Spacetime Coordinates: Lag Dining Hall, 12:15-1:15 Thursday May 5
The intention: When someone asks me “Why are you doing this” I tell them, then invite them to wear a blindfold themselves for 5 minutes if they would like.

In the morning, I go to the class that I’m struggling with, and one of the teaching staff who has never before asked me for a hug just hugs me without asking! Then she says, “You know, whenever I see that sign, I think to myself, ‘It’s Thursday already!?’ You’ve become a marker of Thursday!” This is quite an improvement from the first week of this class, when we did an assumptions exercise, and someone assumed I was “a bit eccentric and probably a hippie.”

Even though the class is difficult emotionally, I decided that this shift could not have happened at a better time, right before I was about to try a new practice!

This class ends at 11:50, so I walked back to my room, then put down my bag and picked up my scarf and made my way to the dining hall. Along the way I was feeling uneasy about it, because really who am I to invite anyone to do this? But, the intention was set, and my feet went there automatically even though my mind was doing whatever. I’ve noticed that if I just do the practice first and think about it later, there’s never any time to consider not doing it.

So here I am, blindfold on, arms open wide, sign hanging on me, waiting.

Within the first couple of minutes, I hear in a conversation behind me “That guy’s sign says free hugs.... I bet he only gets, like, 5.”
Oh boy, this meant I was really in for it! And sure enough I got so many hugs in the first 15 minutes I couldn't even count it.

Some time in the middle of that rush, the first person came to me and asked “Why are you doing this?” So I said that it was a practice of mine on Thursdays and I just found it fun and it was transforming me. Then he asked “Are you from Arroyo” because I was wearing my A-Love sweatshirt and I said yes, and the conversation got sidetracked. He said “bye” and left, and I kinda took the out and didn’t invite him to wear the blindfold with me.

After some more time, I got a hug and then:
“Do you know who I am?”
“It’s Jacqueline!” (a friend from arroyo, more irony given the above)
“Oh hi Jacqueline”
“Yo! What’s this about?”
Seemed close enough, so I said:
“it’s a practice, and I do it on Thursdays, and it’s fun to be open for everyone.”
Then I said,, “But you really want to know?”
“Behind me there are two scarfs. If you would like, you can wear one for 5 minutes, and experience it for yourself!”
“Uh..... I don’t have time, but nice seeing you.”
“Ok, thank you!”

Then I’m waiting and I get some more hugs, and after a while someone comes up and before giving me a hug asks “What is this for?”
And I say “It’s my practice on Thursdays, and I just do this to be open and present to everyone and it’s a lot of fun!”
And then I say: “Do you really want to know, though?” And he says “Yes” so I say:
“Behind me, there are two scarfs. If you would like, you can wear one for 5 minutes and experience it for yourself!”

He completely ignores it and says instead “You know, you should write why you’re doing this on your sign. Otherwise how am I supposed to know? I want to know what it’s for so I can decide whether or not to hug you! I mean, who knows what you’re doing this?”

I didn’t know what to say (and I was also having trouble hearing, it’s a very noisy dining hall) so I said “Ok, thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
He didn’t give me a hug, but walked away and I was feeling kind of bad about the interaction. But then he turns around and says “Do you want a chair? It must hurt to stand like that for an hour!”
Hah, I thought, this person is just speaking from love. I didn’t feel bad about what he said at all anymore. “Thank you, but I’m fine,” was my response.

After a while, a fourth person asks me “Why are you doing this?”
And I say “It’s my practice on Thursdays, and I just do this to be open and present to everyone and it’s a lot of fun!”
And then I say: “Do you really want to know, though?” And he says “Yes” so I say:
“Behind me, there are two scarfs. If you would like, you can wear one for 5 minutes and experience it for yourself!” (by this time, I had sort of gotten the pitch down)

He says, “Uh, no I’m fine.” And then leaves to get lunch.
But he sits behind me on that same table from before and his friend shows up and he says to his friend “That guy is giving free hugs - I already got mine, and you should go get one too!”
His friend says “What is it for?”
And he responds: “Man, I don’t know. But you should hug him.”
That guy didn’t hug me.

But lots of other people did! Once again, I got group hugs while standing there, either serendipitously because two people hugged me at the same time, or just because someone would plan it :)
Also, one person asks me “I would like to double check that you consent” before giving me a hug.
And at some point in the middle there was this weird pattern where people had figured out to tap me on the shoulder twice before giving me a hug, so that I’d know they were going to do it. One person did it and then it just kept going like that for a while.

At some point, it was just me standing there in silence (or white noise, I guess). Finally the dining hall staff came over and said “we’re closing now, just in case you would like to know!” And I said “Thank you!” (this was a first as well!). I waited another few seconds and then it really felt like an hour so I took off my blindfold and looked at my phone and sure enough, it was 2 seconds over an hour.
On my way out some people looked at me and said “Thank you!” as well.

This story is getting long, but one last episode:
I went to my first ever Happiness Collective meeting at 8 o clock, with my sign on!
No one even flinched. I guess they’re all used to it there :)
But at the end of the meeting, one of the co-leaders says “You know we always do a group hug at the end - YOU! You must be an expert. Let’s do this!”
Yes, yes, of course!
During the group hug I told them all that if it was the last moment of spacetime we ever shared, I loved them :)


In its original intention, this was a complete failure. It probably doesn’t come across well, but I just felt wrong opening my mouth and talking (my intention during blindfold hug times is to only say the words “thank you”). Then I realized that it was really hard to explain why I was actually doing it - the real story is 2 years long, at least. There are a lot of understandable statements that aren’t correct that I could make, like “I’m doing this to spread happiness” but I can’t DO spreading happiness, that’s something that happens and I have to allow it. So really, I’m just standing there.

Basically, practice time != inspiration time. In this case, I was practicing invitation, but that was happening at the same time as another practice I did normally, so I kept going back and forth between those two modes. I think it’s better just to do one thing at one time. When I’m doing blindfold practice, that’s what I’m doing. When I’m sharing about doing it and inviting others, then that’s what I’m doing. Not at the same time.
Also a noisy dining hall where people have come to eat lunch and then get on with their day didn’t seem like the right place for this either. There might be some people who would be okay with saying “Yes!” but it is sort of strange to just be offered to do this for 5 minutes (even though it’s just 5 minutes). It’s one thing if you’ve given hugs before and you know what it’s about, but if you’re the person asking “what is this about?” then clearly you asking because you don’t know, and maybe it isn’t the best to invite them to just do it as a way to learn about it. I might know that that’s where the real answer to their question is, but they aren’t used to receiving in that way.

Second, I don’t think that talking is really a way to encourage someone to experience something. Nipun-bhai is the best example of this - he encourages you to do the dishes by doing the dishes and then watching him you just decide one day that you’re going to do it too, and who knows where that idea came from. In essence, I felt like I was doing invitation, not allowing it - like giving and receiving, inviting is a two person activity, so it’s not something I can do myself!

And lastly, I was focused on the hugging practice as one vector, but there are so many other dimensions! These days, some of my Stanford friends have begun to come to Awakin on Wednesdays with me, and the happiness collective seems like a cool bunch (I didn’t realize this, but the president was someone I had given a hug too the first time I did free hugs on Stanford’s campus a year ago!), and in general I’m just noticing that everything I intend to happen is already happening (hello, universe!) so I should focus on allowing it, and do Nipun-bhai’s thing of search and amplify, rather than try to design who/where/how someone is going to be inspired.

Some smiles for reading this:
:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)  

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Comments (10)

  • Bhoutik Mehta wrote ...

    ( ( ( hug ) ) ) :-)

  • Trishna Shah wrote ...

    Loved reading your honest account of how this part of your journey unfolded and so amazing to hear about your blindfolded hugs experience! That is really powerful! Thanks for taking the time to share, as I'm sure this will inspire many others to practice practice practice (including me!!) :)

  • Sujatha wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing this amazing step in your journey. Nipun and others do seem to make it look so easy and natural :-); it is when we try to bring the change within us that we see how hard it is!

  • satwinder wrote ...


  • Jyoti wrote ...

    Admire your consistent practice and growing it

  • Patricia-C Prada Jimenez wrote ...

    wonderful to read what you do and how it all unfolds, fascinating

  • Meghna Reva wrote ...

    +1 to Trishna and Sujatha! It really is a constant state of being, and so amazing to be surrounded by such beautiful peers :) :) Thank you for re-inspiring :) :)

  • Tim Huang wrote ...

    Sending smiles from Bhutan buddy! So wonderful reading your stories and feeling the invitation of love! :) Keep it up!

  • Sima Sanghvi wrote ...

    Big, big hugs to you Vishesh! What you're doing takes so much heart and courage, so thank you for sharing so authentically. :)

  • Rahul Brown wrote ...

    Loved this story! Also was thinking about how when people answer the question affirmatively about really wanting to know why you are doing this, they're ready for one more step of understanding. Your offer of the scarf is skipping that step and maybe a few more. Most of us are in our heads much of the time, so I wonder what this experience would have been like to have come up with a verbal explanation that paves a few more steps from head to heart.