Pittsburgh.

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What I have noticed with my events with The Hugging Army, is that every new experience brings me a deeper feeling of connection, and an affirmation of what it is that I am doing in the world. Pittsburgh Fringe Festival absolutely no exception.

One of the biggest thrills for me was to have my son, Jace, assisting with the details of the event, and accompanying me there both days. He chronicled the experiences through beautiful photos, and got to share in the hugging along with me. It was a wondrous new level of connection for us.  

I had decided when I was accepted into Pittsburgh Fringe, that I wanted to have a venue that was considered “raw”; a raw venue meant that it was low technical needs, and a less traditional venue than a theatre or conference room. I had no idea what type of venue that meant that I would be offered. But I liked the idea of something more organic, less organized and formal. What they offered me was a perfect setting: a sitting area in a bed and breakfast, in the heart of the Pittsburgh cultural district. 

At first, when offered this venue, I wanted to still present my program on The Hugging Army as I had before: with a power point, full of information and pictures. It was clear that it would not work in this type of venue, nor could it be supported there. My wife suggested enlarged photos, posters of sorts, to share the story. I was terrified that I would not have slides to be my reminder of what to say. I was scared that the program would have to be altered by using something other than technology. I was so afraid of change of any kind!  Expectations can be a real challenge when we aren’t willing to consider other options.

But gratefully, I listened to her wise advice. I ordered 21 poster boards, my photos of my experiences mounted on styrofoam board, to tell the stories I had to tell. They were so powerful and amazing……

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After embracing the storyboards, it felt easier to let go of my expectations of how many people may have heard of and been interested in my show. I felt inspired and excited about whatever would happen. I felt like I was sitting in my living room at home, surrounded by photos, offering my guests a comfortable seat, some Hershey’s chocolate Hugs, and stories. What unfolded was simply amazing.

 

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I shared story after story about my hugging experiences, and how they have impacted me. I felt vulnerable and open. Those that attended were right there with me, listening, sharing, understanding. It was such a beautiful experience. 

 

Then, we hugged one another at the end of each day. Full, present, warm hugs, full of love and peace. Presence. Willingness. Healing and Openness. It was beyond any of my expectations that may have been lingering. It was pure human connection on the most simple level. And everyone wanted to bring it to themselves as well.

 

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Giving hugs to others continues to be some of the most meaningful moments of my life. There is something that is leading me to doing this, and in June of this year, I will be departing to travel in the Hug Bug to give hugs to people, from Delaware to Alabama to Washington, DC. I have no idea what will happen. But what I do know is that the more that I trust this process, this pull toward connection, the more deeply that I will experience true Love and Presence.

 

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Aggressive.

Some did not

 

I started on my journey of offering free hugs to people almost two years ago. It started as a way to build trust with other humans, to have them understand that I was trustworthy. It has since opened up into so much more than that. And, with every encounter that I have, I learn something new. Not about other people so much, but definitely about myself, my expectations, and what I am really looking for. 

 

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were out on the town; it was a beautiful night, and it felt like spring was right around the corner. We felt celebratory and open, and went out to dinner, and then out for drinks. I was feeling warm, toasty and a bit tipsy, but happy and open to the world around me. In the bar that we were hanging out in, there were a few people around, most of which I did not know. I decided, after three glasses of wine, that I wanted to offer hugs to some of the patrons of the bar. I wasn’t sure what the response would be, but without wanting to make assumptions about whether people would accept or not, I decided to start asking.

 

I hugged a couple of people, and a couple of people graciously declined. Then, I saw a man at the end of the bar, who appeared open, with a big smile on his face. To me, that meant that he would definitely be available to what I was offering. I went over to him, and the people sitting with him; the two persons sitting with him took me up on my offer for a hug. However, he told me that pushing hugs on people was an aggressive action, and he wanted no part of it. I felt pretty soft and open, but as soon as he said the word aggressive in reference to what I was doing, I felt my defenses go up. He saw that in my face and responded to that. I walked away feeling angry, hurt, rejected, and a bit confused. I was also drunk, mind you.

 

I attempted to approach him again, just to talk it through, and he waved me away. Now, I know enough about myself and other people, to know that how other people impact me has nothing to do with them, it only has to do with me. I don’t need to take others personally.  However, I do feel compelled to heed what someone says and to learn from that. There was something about what I did or said that felt aggressive to that person. It didn’t matter if I felt aggressive or not; yet, there was learning in there for me about how I approach people and what I am looking for from them.

 

If I am being completely transparent, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking for something from people that evening. I wanted people to take me up on a hug; I wanted people to show their admiration and appreciation by accepting my genuine offer. So, I understand where he was coming from. When I approach people in that way, which is not always the way in which I offer hugs, I am invading their personal space; it doesn’t make it wrong to do so, but I need to get honest with myself that not everyone wants that contact with me. I have to be clear about what my intention is. If my intention is to change other people and who they are by offering hugs, I am setting myself and that person up for sure.

 

Yet, I don’t think that is my true intention with my hugging. My intention, when I am of clear thought, is that of being a light in the world. To connect with other people that feel ready to take that risk and open themselves as well. I have to be understanding of where someone else may be coming from, not just what it is that I think that I have to offer that is of value. That man helped me to gain a great lesson that evening, even though neither of us knew it at the time. I don’t need to change the world; I can just be aware of how I want to stand in it and see what unfolds. 

 

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Next Stop: Pittsburgh Fringe!

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I have had so many amazing experiences with giving Free Hugs to people. If I had to guess, I have probably, in the last two years, given over 700 hugs to people, mainly strangers, when I stand on the street, or walk around the city. It has been powerful, magical, entertaining, inspiring, and deeply emotional. Something within me has shifted in a way that I didn’t know hadn’t shifted up to that point. I feel more open, more accepting, less judgmental, and definitely, more consistently in the present moment.

 

To stand somewhere and wait to see if persons will want to hug you, want to walk past you, or feel uncomfortable, it really is essential to be in the present moment as much as possible, at least that is what works for me. Then, I get to enjoy every little morsel of what happens when humans interact with me, and with one another. It is such a joy to participate in and observe. And, I hope to keep taking it to new locations, new people, and bringing it anywhere it might inspire and support others.

 

My next big destination will be The Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, happening March 31 to April 2. Since my Scranton Fringe Festival experience was so uplifting and fun, I decided to try it again. I have no idea how it will be received, or what will happen, but I have a feeling I am in store for lots more surprises and gifts!  

 

At first, when I began offering hugs to other people, I think that my belief was that I was giving others something that they needed. I presumed that those around me always needed support or help. And, even though that is true for some, the deeper truth that I have discovered is that I also get something very valuable when I stand with my sign and interact with others. I get to accept an offering from them as well, and get to genuinely be with another person, and feel their beautiful light. 

 

I can’t wait to see what happens next!  

 

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Why Fringe?

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The Scranton Fringe Festival is only 39 days away.  So much is happening there this year.  And, when I decided to keep my hugging project going forward, the Fringe Festival seemed like the perfect venue to get some momentum.  

 

What is the Fringe Festival?  Well, long story short, it all started back in the mid 1940’s, when there was a desire to reunite Europe after World War II, by bringing in some arts and culture, some of the best of the best.  A huge festival was planned, but there were some creative artists who weren’t on “the list”, so they decided to go anyway, and set up on the street and in alleyways, to share their creativity with the world.  In the second year that the festival was held, a news writer commented about the performers on the “fringe” of the festival, and it stuck.  Now, Fringe Festivals are held all over the world, all year around, with the main festival being in Edinburgh, Scotland every day.

 

This is the second year that Fringe Festival has been held in Scranton.  Other major venues in the United States include Philadelphia, Asheville, NC, Hollywood, CA, and Rochester, NY.  I am so excited that this event is happening here, and it is an opportunity for artists and creative persons to show their wares, and to offer the community a large variety of entertainment, drama, comedy and spoken word that creates impact and is far reaching.

 

So Fringe made perfect sense to me.  At first, when I considered applying for a slot, I was so self conscious; will they think that my stuff is weird?  Will they think hugging people isn’t really a creative endeavor?  Will it be compared to artists that have been putting their energies out there for years?

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The truth is, I realized that none of that matters.  What matters is that this project has become a personal mission for me.  I understand deeply why it is important to tell people about it, and to get them talking about it.  We don’t connect deeply as human beings as often anymore.  We want to connect with others, yet we shy away from it.  We believe that we have to fully trust someone in order to let them be close to us, or for us to be close to them.  We put up walls, and often don’t even know why.

 

I believe that the real story, is that we want to connect, we want to be close to others.  I believe that we all know, at our core, that we all are from the same energy, the same light.  Yet, all we see when we look at one another is the form, the ego.  It keeps us at a distance, because we have created rules about what is, and is not, okay.  So we shut some people out, and let some people in.  Everyone’s rules are different, yet it just keeps us all at a distance.

 

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If we want to the world to change, we don’t have to focus on changing the world; we have to change our own perspective.  We have to be willing to take a risk, to go across the abyss and reach arms out to others.  We have to be willing to realize that maybe we have it all wrong; maybe the person that we have a judgment against, is just another soul, looking for their way, just like ourselves.  We have to be willing to leap into the unknown so that we can deeply, truly connect.  Hugging does that like little else, in my mind. 

 

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It brings me pure joy to offer my hugs to the world.  I do it as often as possible.  I want to keep doing it.  I want to keep offering it.  And I want others to do the same.  So, Fringe is the PERFECT place for the Hugging Army to keep growing.  

 

If you are in Scranton area on October 1 or 2, at 2:30 PM, please stop by and see for yourself.  I will be at the Hilton Hotel and Conference center, giving hugs, receiving hugs, and spreading the message that it is time to really do this.  REALLY connect.  

 

Hug me and Will

 

 

Hugs in Asheville.

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My wife and I are spending a few days in Asheville, our second time to this amazing place, to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  So, we decided, that while we were here, we would spend some time on the street, she playing music on her harmonium, and me offering hugs.  We weren’t sure how it would go, but we embraced the adventure of it all.

 

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It was busy there. There were a lot of people on the street.  Families, groups of friends, persons that appeared homeless.  And, the hugs were welcomed.  People would yell from across the street that they needed a hug.  Kids would walk by, looking over their shoulders back at me, as they held their parents hand.  One family stopped with their three young children, and they were all so open and loving.  Ready to receive that which we all crave.

 

It’s funny how being in a new place can feel scary, yet feel familiar at the same time.  What I offer to others has no specific destination; no one that approached me knew who I was, if I was from the city or just visiting.  Some people appeared more afraid than I was; not making eye contact, looking uncomfortable.

 

One of the things that I love most about offering hugs to others, is when they aren’t sure if they want one, they walk by, and then, come back.  Some running back to receive that embrace.  Some thankful that it exists in the world.  Wanting to believe that connection with other humans is still what we need and that it is safe and okay to have.

 

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Long after my hug offerings, we attended a community drum circle at a park in the city. I saw this young woman and her mother again.  The world is so small, we just think it isn’t.  We just think that peace and love are not possible, because it is scary to believe that it could still exist.  I am grateful for life, grateful for love, grateful to have the opportunity to really look into someone’s eyes, and help them to understand that we all matter.  That they are love as much as I.  That there is sameness among us, even when all we see is difference.

 

That love exists, and it is Good.  

 

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Be Kind, humans. Be Kind.

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On Saturday, I was able to be part of an amazing event in my Electric City, Scranton, Pennsylvania.  It was BeKind Scranton Day, and it was intended to be a day full of positivity and love.  And, that it was, for sure.

 

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There were chalk drawings with inspiring messages.  There were free hugs.  There were sign holders and hangers that had messages of hope on them.  People drove by and honked their horns in support.  There was an electricity, in the Electric City, that I have not felt for sometime.

 

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There is no doubt, that recently it seems, the world seems more frightening than ever before.  So much killing.  So much anger.  So much hatred, violence and judgment.  When we aren’t busy hating people through our actions and our words, we are annihilating them in our minds, with our thoughts.  That is just as destructive.  For me, any opportunity to be with people, as they are, and to offer them a ray of hope, just for a brief moment, is beautiful time spent, indeed.

 

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Since that day, I feel changed, somehow.  I feel more resigned within myself, that no matter what is going on in the world around me, I have to clean up the mess in my own mind, my own heart.  I want to ask myself, more and more each day, am I contributing to the psychic pollution in the world, or cleaning up the mess?  

 

For years, I believed that I needed to help others to heal, in order to heal the world.  But I keep understanding more deeply each day, that the world won’t heal with my assistance, except by example.  The only person and entity that I can heal is me.  The only person that I need to focus on sharing my true self, my love and light, is myself.  And, when others keep remembering to do the same, in their own way, we will feel a planetary shift.  Or, we won’t.

 

I know for sure the shift is in me, and I am so grateful for it.  So grateful to be Awake.  

 

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I Am the Light of the World.

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Hugging other humans, in a deep, present way, is something that feeds me like almost anything I have ever known.  I don’t really know how I began on this journey to connection, in this form.  I mean, certain videos and stories of others giving hugs in public spoke to me, inspired me to try it myself.  But what happened after that is magic happening, and Grace coming in.

 

I don’t think much about grace on most of my days.  I go about my business, thinking, I got this.  I know what I need to do to enjoy my life; fulfill what it is that I desire; to feel loved and connected.  I got this, Higher Power.  No problem, God, I have it all under control.  Thanks anyway.

 

And, much of the time, I do.  I am actively engaged in my world; I am making choices and taking responsibility for those choices.  I think that I have it all in hand.  I forget that at any moment, and in multiple moments, I can ask for assistance.  I can turn it over.  Let it go and put it into hands and source that I am part of, but is greater than me at the same time.  That eternal light; that ever present essence of full Being; the Source that we are scared to believe in but is always waiting for me.

 

When I allow that Grace to flow through me, through my world, that is when miracles happen.  I mean, I can create anything in my life.  I truly believe that to be true.  I can make the plans, follow through, and create the reality that I desire.  But, when I let go of my agenda, and let the Light of Source flow through- when I shine my True Essence in the world, miracles come through.  It is my willingness, through the Light that I am shining, and is part of the Source of Light, that allows the miracle to come through.

 

In hugging others, I am that Light.  I let Grace come through.  I am present to every moment that happens as I am with it.  I see my Essence.  

 

I shine.

 

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