“To awaken spiritual unity and to spread to others the love that is our inherent nature-is the true goal of human life.”~ Amma
Five simple words with a question mark at the end of them: Would You Like To Be Held?
When you read them, what emotions arise and what thoughts appear in your mind? For this consummate cuddler, it was a doorway to bliss and a challenge to my role as the one who usually offers the invitation.
I am a certified Cuddle Party facilitator who teaches people how to accept nurturing non-sexual touch. What made it easier to immerse myself in the experience was that my friend Mirabai Galashan was the angel in white who created this live arts piece in the Liz Afif Gallery in Old City, Philadelphia (the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection).
For Mirabai, board certified hospice chaplain, body-worker, counselor and writer, this “spiritual practice as performance art” was a lovely stretch. I had been planning to visit her as soon as I heard about it and since it was her birthday, it felt like the perfect opportunity to celebrate my friend’s arrival on the planet.
After time with Amma (the ‘Hugging Saint’) recently, she felt validated that she too could be a hugger. Then the voice of doubt chimed in demanding to know “Who are you to do this?” The answer was simple and profound “I am blessed to be someone whose gift is to be able to just love people. Love defines me.
It’s my greatest strength and most broken places; the source of my undoing. It’s the core of who I am.”
As I listened to her words, I felt as if they were drawn right out of my own heart and soul, since she and I are kindred spirit caregivers in our personal and professional lives; the ones our friends and clients turn to for support and comfort. Harder at times to be the one to ask for and be willing to accept having this oh so human need met.
A few years ago, she asked herself “If I was unafraid to fail, what would I do? I would give away the love and healing that comes through.” She wondered whether art was healing or healing was art and I sense is discovering that it is both. At one point, she had considered offering this gift at Bhaktifest, but it never panned out, so she debuted this experience here instead.
When I walked in to the gallery, I saw two young men already there. I watched as one of them said yes to the question and lay down with his head in Mirabai’s lap. A beatific smile crossed his face as he melted into a relaxed state. Mirabai closed her eyes as their breathing synchronized. After about 10 minutes, he slowly rose to his feet, seeming as if he had youthed a few years. He validated that perception by telling her that the experience reminded him of being seven or eight years old and his mom would hold him. “It was weird, really weird and crazy. It makes me feel really vulnerable.”
He was accompanied by a friend who exercised his free choice by declining the offer. Mirabai affirmed that saying no was just as important as saying yes and that setting boundaries is a healthy choice.
After they left, I curled up in her arms, sighing as if I had just set down a huge boulder that I had been carrying for far too long. It reminds me of one of those rocks that people write on (not that I agree with it) in the woods. This one had the words ‘responsibility’, ‘weight of the world’, ‘don’t inconvenience anyone’, ‘go-to person’, ‘co-dependence’, ‘caregiver’, ‘ savior behavior’, ‘keeping up appearances’, ‘I don’t need nobody, no how’, ‘stand on my own two feet’, ‘whose gonna’ love you if you are too high maintenance?’ scrawled all over it. The tears began to flow and of course I was concerned about snotting all over her white filmy clothes or mascara running down my face. She didn’t seem to be the least distressed over it. As always, I found myself torn between completely immersing myself in the sheer bliss of it and on duty as a journalist, contemplating how I would express it so that you would feel as if you were there. That’s my gift and my undoing.
Mirabai’s friend Liz Afif is the owner of the gallery and had partaken of the love earlier this week. When I asked her what prompted her to host this happening, she shared that Mirabai had officiated at her wedding and she “felt the love that came from her.” Mirabai had attended some of the gallery openings and “I wanted to give back. There’s a greatness about her. She’s not an ordinary person.”
I asked our mutual friend if she could truly take that in and although she said she could, I clearly got that it was a bit of a challenge.
At the end of today’s session, Liz asked Mirabai if she wanted to be held. She was a willing recipient herself. After I took this photo, I sat on the floor in front of her and cradled her from behind, with my hand on her heart chakra on her back. Just as I had earlier, she let the tears heal her heart and afterward offered “It felt like a prayer being answered and made me cry at first. There was an element of relief like you have been strong for a long time. I am really grateful and it felt like a double hug. I felt safe and really protected.”
The conversation turned to the idea that she might pick up on the energy of those she was cradling and response was stunning and clearly channeled “Divine light is brilliant. It’s not like the sun picks up shadows by touching it. It’s the time in my life when I don’t feel vulnerable. I feel safe. It makes me feel like I’m home.”
It’s her intention to ‘take it on the road’ and offer this gift in larger ways, trusting that she will be totally supported by the Universe.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise