My Dad was a champion hugger. He enjoyed being with people of all ages, and had a quick smile that went across his face and all the way up to his blue-grey eyes. If you were in his line of sight he’d be sure to have a greeting for you. If he knew you or was just introduced he’d extend both arms wide open, and hands ready to shake yours and bestow a hug. A hug that said, “Yes, I know you are here and I’m glad.” Over the years I watched reactions to his hugs – delighted laughs, wiggles and giggles from kids, genuine smiles from friends, and a miraculous defrosting from what I used to call “one of the up-tights.”


My spiritual reading partner, M., and I are reading The Thich Naht Hanh Collection. The other afternoon we read the section about being present when you hug. To be with your “huggee,” think of them as you hug. That got me thinking of the different kinds of hugs I’ve noticed and received, gracing my life like so many shells on a sandy beach.


The Air Hug: There is no physical contact other than a light touch of hands on my back or shoulders. The hands both welcome and keep a distance. J. hugs like that. I know she likes me, even considers us close friends, but there are quite a few inches between us. She does not kiss my cheek altho’ I get a quick one on hers before she pulls away within five seconds. This is a perplexing hug. 

The Air Hug Plus Hand Clasp: This is minimal contact but a holding of the hands for a few seconds often with eye contact and then chatter. This can be a good warm-up for a personal conversation. Or it can mean, “I’m happy to see you, but I’m moving on.”

The Bear Hug: This can be most welcome or crushing. My brother-in-law is a welcome bear hugger. He envelops you, arms wrapped strongly, but not crushing. What makes his bear hug welcome is that he starts with a huge grin and either a “Hey” or a big “Okaay.” 

The Crushing Bear Hug: This can envelop you, true, but it’s overly strong. Is there something to be proved- strength, power? Is it a stop gap to prevent a real personal hug? Whatever – it’s not welcome and the release has often caused me to lose my balance. Crushing bear huggers, please desist.

The Pat Pat Pat Hug: I think this is a holdover from infant and toddler days – a gentle pat to comfort, sometimes with a murmured, “There, there.” It is comforting, and yet establishes the “patter” as one giving comfort, the “pattee” accepting, or is a neutral participant in the hug. It has its place. I’ve welcomed it many times when I was anxious, hurt, or lonely. But as a greeting, it loses me.


Here’s the pearl is this oyster shell on the beach of hugs. This is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls a Resting Hug. His concept is expressed as a hugging meditation combined with breathing in and out. Being aware of who you are going to hug – my sister, my friend, a person who is in pain, or grief, or anger. Breathe in knowing “this person is precious” – to me, or to someone, as a person alive. A resting hug is a sincere connection, two people equally aware of the other, wrapping arms around each other and being there – no where else, being present. It’s very peaceful and accepting to be in such a hug. 

Thich suggests staying hugged for three breaths. I kind of laughed at that. Later I realized, with the people I like to hug, really hug, those hugs are sustained for the time it takes to do a a couple of inhales and exhales. Nice.



~My sweetheart and I have resting hugs each morning. I know he knows I am there with him. We are present together to start our day.

~ My twin and I have sustained resting hugs that often include a rocking side to side. These hugs enhance the history we have together. 

~ Another friend gives a sustained meeting hug. She is there, next to me, hugging and just being near me, and I close to her. 


The lack of hugs during Covid was hard for me. I had to find other ways to be connected with people. I counted a lot on eye contact. Even today hugging calls for a quick check – tilt of the head- Hug?  Arms out with questioning look. Hug?

Did you grow up in a family of huggers? Are you a hugger? Who do you know that is a great hugger? I know some people are not comfortable with hugs, and I accept that without having to know why. But if you are a hugger, I‘ve got a lovely one for you.

“Breathing in, I know my dear one is in my arms, alive. Breathing out, she is so precious to me.” If you breathe deeply like that, holding the person you love, the energy of your care and appreciation will penetrate into that person and she will be nourished and bloom like a flower.~ Thich Naht Hanh

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, semi-retired from coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, in Tucson Arizona, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.