Yes, there are virtual hugs, where you are online with a friend and you each pick an emoticon and have the emoticons hug. But far better is a good old-fashioned mental hug, worth resurrecting in this time of safe distancing.
In college, I was really close with my cousin Greta. Our colleges were within a couple hours’ drive, but we often spoke by phone. The first time, she closed by declaring “Mental hug!” From my silence she detected that I hadn’t heard of such a thing, so she gave me instruction. “Just close your eyes, put your mind where I am and give me a hug. I will do the same.” It worked! I could feel it, physically feel the love we had for each other. We did this many times over the years.
Virtual hugs with emoticons are a nice gesture, but they seem kind of external and flat compared to hugging through imagination, which is experiential, visceral. There is longstanding research that what we vividly imagine doing activates things in the body as if we were doing them physically. These responses are on a micro level, but they are beneficial. And hugs activate the release of Oxytocin, which brings feelings of happiness and reduces physiological stress. Boy do we need that!
The same happens from petting your cat or dog. But it works best when we give it our undivided attention and really savor it, even if briefly. As part of this savoring, many kinds of animals purr, those some outside the frequency that we can hear. Purring, like making a humming sound, amplified the experience, taking it to the level of bliss. I believe it does so for us humans as well, with our pets and when we hug each other physically or mentally. Blissful humming is especially helpful for mental hugs. We need to get over feeling self-conscious or weird to get the full benefit. Remember, hugs are mutual. The deeper you let yourself go, the deeper your partner can go.
So, during this time of safe distancing when we long for touch, let’s use mental hugs. Don’t multitask with it. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Concentrate, including on how much you care for the other person or pet. Hugging involves both receiving and giving simultaneously. Focus on both parts. Welcome the feeling into your body, mind, heart and spirit. Savor it. Enjoy how good it feels. Purr and let the hug wash through you deeply and fully, mentally sharing it with your hug partner.
Spread the word. Mental hug!