The More Beautiful Dream That My Heart Knew Was Possible…
It started at a large overnight music festival in September of 2015.
On the Saturday night of the festival, I spontaneously had the impulse to walk up to perfect strangers and ask for hugs.
I don’t recall the initial spark, nor do I remember the first person that I approached. I do vividly recall that I did this with the sincere intention to help heal the world.
This evening’s adventure had been inspired by many powerful visions that have taken place over the previous two years — visions of a new and beautiful world in which we all come together and embrace each other as one human family — one Earth tribe.
Paintbrush Warrior by Mark Henson – markhensonart.com/politics
On this night, I only approached guys as I strongly felt in the moment that it was our brothers that needed to open their hearts for this planet to heal (I’ve since expanded my vision to be more inclusive). I hugged many women too, but only when they initiated. I did this for over eight hours, without a break.
I had no sign and no awesome cards; however, I was carrying a prop.
When an evening drizzle came to an end, I became the custodian of a glowy black umbrella after one of my campmates got tired of carrying it around. This festive umbrella became a totem of sorts. Once I starting hugging, I don’t recall lowering it, even for a moment. It was a silly thing, but hey, it was a music festival. I still don’t know to this day how my shoulders had the endurance.
I walked around all evening, umbrella-totem held high, attempting to hug a certain type of persona. I would hug any brother in my surroundings but specifically kept an eye out for the one with the hardest looking shell — the muscled-up guy, the “cool” guy, the one covered in tattoos, the tough-looking one, the security guard — all ethnicities, shapes, and sizes. My standard line was, “Hey Brother, can I get a hug?”
On the first try, about half of those I approached granted my request, and the other half turned me down.
To my surprise, in over eight hours, I didn’t get a single, overly harsh response.
For those who initially hugged me on the first attempt, I thanked them and gave them a little talk, which included recommending that they walk up to someone in the festival that they fear and ask for a hug. And if they didn’t fear anyone, I recommended that they walk up to someone that they wouldn’t be so inclined to hug on the street — someone whom they may judge or dislike based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other physical characteristics, and ask them for a hug.
I then explained that if they did this, it would open up their heart, and then it would begin to spread. I used slightly different language, depending on the situation.
Strangely, it felt as though I wasn’t the one making the talking happen as I had never spoken in this way before. In one sense, I felt like I was a passenger along for the ride, yet in another sense, I was doing the driving — with more focus, power, intensity, and certainty than I’d ever witnessed in myself.
For those that initially declined my embrace, I would say, “Okay, but I have a small request.” Most would respond with, “What’s that?”
I respectfully attempted to explain why I was doing this, giving them a similar talk as I had given to the others.
To my amazement, over 90% of those that initially turned me down gave me a good hug after the talk. Most appeared to be inspired and grateful for the message.
It is my guess that the great majority of them did not walk up to a stranger and spread the hug as I had recommended. Nonetheless, I felt like I made some real progress that night in opening many hearts.
I didn’t keep count, but it felt like I had embraced at least a couple hundred people.
Something unexpected happened to me that evening.
My intention for hugging others was not for my benefit. But each time my request for a hug was granted, especially from guys that seemed closed off or had a tougher persona, my own heart opened more and more, and whatever fears that I harbored became less and less. I certainly did not expect this to have such a profound impact on me.
Each hug that I received was a gift. I felt a deep sense of brotherly love. This is what fueled me to go nonstop for eight hours.
When I awoke mid-morning Sunday, I began to think about the previous night.
While enjoying the festival during the day, as the hours passed, I contemplated whether or not to continue with the mission. I didn’t want to force it, and I wasn’t feeling any significant inspirational charge at the time.
Late in the afternoon, I was hanging out at my campsite with some of my festival friends. At one point, way off in the distance, I spot Joshua, walking — practically skipping — toward our camp. His head was held high, eyes grinning, and proudly holding a large sign, affixed to a long foam post.
The sign read, “Need Hugs.” He had made that sign for me. I accepted. This was the inspiration and the “sign” that I needed.
On that Sunday eve, the night of a rare Supermoon lunar eclipse (unfortunately covered over by clouds), and the last day of the festival, I hugged more. But this time, I took a more laid-back approach. I simply held up the sign.
All night, from all angles, people approached to give me an embrace. Most people would come up to me because they thought I needed a hug. And some would approach because they thought I was offering. Either way was okay with me. It felt amazing.
A seed had been sewn.
For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt my power and fully stepped into it in a profound way.
I felt my power to make an impact, to make a difference, to play my part –- to become the one that I had been waiting for.
As the days and weeks passed, I would continue to reflect on that magical weekend. I felt the power of one big hug with a perfect stranger — hundreds of times over.
I continued to dream and dream and dream awake…
What If every man alive hugged another brother.
What if he hugged a stranger that he feared?
What if he hugged a stranger whom he disliked or “prejudged”?
What IF? What might be? I wanted others to experience what I had experienced — to receive the same gift that I had received.
I wondered how well hugging strangers would fare out in the “real” world, outside of a friendly festival environment, in broad daylight.
How would I be received in a community park, in front of a sports stadium, at a political rally, at a protest, or on the corner of a busy metropolitan street?
In the beginning of spring, as the Dogwood flowers were blooming, it was time for the seed that I had planted last fall to also bloom and find out the answers to those questions.
But why had it taken me over six months to give this a try? Vulnerability, doubt, and fear — fear of looking silly, fear of being laughed at, fear of humiliation, fear of not being enough, and fear of all of the unknowns.
On a beautiful crisp Sunday afternoon in April, at a mainstream art fair in Atlanta, I held a hand-written “Need Hugs” sign.
I also had amateurish-looking “Thank You for Being Awesome” cards printed at the last minute off my computer.
With my buddy Phil as my photo journalist and supporter, feeling a little self conscious, I leaned into fear.
I approached a stranger and said, “Hey Brother, can I get a hug?”
My heart opened, my nerves calmed, and my fears were reduced.
As I write this story, it is now November of 2016. Over six more months have passed. I have hugged thousands of people.
My heart continues to open, and there doesn’t appear to exist an upper limit.
I will now dance with a little more fear as I bring this forward to the world.
I will be honored if you decide to dance beside me.
*Title adapted from a book by Charles Eisenstein,
“The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible”