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A few months ago I watched a video on facebook which had a profound effect on me. A guy stood in a shopping center, blindfold and asked people to hug him. After fifteen years as a monk I decided to disrobe in April 2015. During the process of letting the many people I worked with know that I was disrobing, I contemplated perception and trust. How will I feel without wearing robes? How will people see me when I don’t have my robes on?

Part of the rules of being a Buddhist Theravadan monk, is to not have physical contact with females. For many people the perception of seeing a monk in robes creates safety and trust where people are willing to share their deepest fears. For others it creates fear and distrust, will he abuse me?

As I watched the youtube video, a thought was planted in my mind, “when I disrobe could I do the same thing?” After I disrobed we had shared meal, my first official evening meal for over 14 years. I spoke to a few friends about my wish to do the blindfold hug. A small team formed that night, including a video camera,and a date was set.

I got nervous as the idea permeated into my being, I’d hardly hugged any people and now I’m going to stand in the middle of a shopping center, blindfolded and arms outstretched. We arrived for the morning meeting at Perth station, walked to the shopping center and settled into arranging the camera.

My body was tense and it took sometime for me to settle into the space of the busy shopping center. I brought my years of mindfulness practice into the standing position, whilst allowing the mind to do fear and uncertainty; a place I am very familiar with.

The first hug came fast and light and I was not able to respond, and then many. I felt these waves of kindness and joy, of care and concern, of courage and fear. I could not judge the people, large/small, fat/thin, black/white, Australian/foreign, Aboriginal. As I settled into my body there was profound peace of not judging, of being supported by friends and the unconditional love I felt and I wanted to express.

Some people came with such concern, parents invited their children and then the mothers. Many young people came, it made me reflect on what spaces are we providing for touch, for care, for unconditional love, to be able to meet in this way. Do we have to go to such an extreme to show we care for one another?

My body tingled and there was an intensity I had not felt maybe for my entire life of being fully in the human realm; of being connected with another. After a few hours we had tea break I and I took the blindfold off and rested, noticing the effect of the body/mind/heart.

As we sat for tea, one of the team members supporting me said, how people cried, asked questions about why I was doing this and some came away looking more relaxed. I expressed my wish to have one further session in the business district. We took a short walk to the business area and I noticed how the atmosphere was different; there was not the same buzz as in the shopping center. People started coming and hugging me and I felt the waves of joy and peace arise.

A bloke made a loud “boo” and my body jumped, I heard his girlfriend say “that was not nice.” As I watched my body jump , I allowed myself to refocus and centered back into awareness, this vast open space which can receive all of life.

In some ways this was a safe option for me, being blindfolded allowed me to rest in what is familiar to me. My challenge now is to open my eyes and connect with people, to stay in the relational dance, even when the fear mindset which is propagated so much, tell me to stay separate.

Shortly after finishing the filming I had arranged a meeting with a person who came to one of my retreats to say goodbye. I was waiting at the other end of the shopping mall to meet the person when I saw two male youth groups having a fight. It was deep shock to my system. My heart felt like it collapsed and I had a strong feeling to engage, my mind went into a spin.  I was with confused loyalties, the protection of the woman I was with, that I did not have my robes on and my naive expectation about what I could do. I reflected as we walked away, I did not phone the police, I did not engage. I had stood at one end of the shopping center and got hugged by lots of people, whilst at the other end a fight happened. Life seems to be full of these paradoxes.

Mindfulness asks you to place your attention on your body, the here and now, doing that I felt this intense sadness watching the  young men having the fight. The archetypical part of my brain understood what was going on, uninitiated boys trying to become men. Where are the elders? In the evening I went to my men’s group, and in the intimate circle I shared with my elders the sadness I felt with the fight. This was my last night of meeting that group before I left for England and at the end of the session and as a  surprise for me I was blessed by that group of men, something I felt I did not get from my father, or the monks I lived with. It was a day of immense healing and something I will never forget.

In the coming days I started to watch the video and see the people I hugged for the first time and the perception of that was very different from the felt experience of meeting those people. Something that was so intimate and personal. As I travelled around Perth I wondered whether I would meet somebody that I hugged. I noticed the lack of touch and human interaction even more in our facebook, laptop, mobile phone driven society.

I speak like this as an encouragement to be with life in its most naked form. To allow what needs to be healed in your psyche to be healed, however long it takes and whatever it takes, money, time, commitment, passion, sadness, grief, joy. This is what it is for me that leads to a heart full of freedom, integrating awareness and the human condition. This is not an end, it is a start to life on a continued journey of learning what it is to be fully human, whilst having the recognition that we are free, we have always been free and nobody or no situation can take it away from you.

You can also find the video on vimeo in HD here.