Artistic Activism - A Free Family Hug Story

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I'm currently following an online course given by Charles Eisenstein. His book Sacred Economics gave me a whole new look on money, my and our relationship to it, and how this touches the core of how we perceive ourselves and the world. Mostly it helped me become more free. This course is called The Space Between Stories. In addition to attending live webinars we're invited to share personal experiences. Of old stories and beliefs that dropped away and made room for... not-knowing mostly.

This week we were asked to describe an event where we took inspired action that created a result beyond anything we could have "forced". To write about a time when we did something a little out of the ordinary, not necessarily knowing how or whether it would "work," but still operating from a feeling of inspiration, purpose, guidance -- and maybe a bit of humor.

Here's the story that came to mind.

I dreaded Christmas. In my youth it was dominated by fighting parents. They just couldn’t find a way to be happy together, especially when they “had to” spend several days together with us and sometimes other family. Even after their divorce and my leaving the house, Christmas remained a time of tension, with my parents bickering over who should be with whom on which dates. So at one point I went AWOL. I abandoned my participation and vowed never to be part of that miserable theatre again.

For years I seemingly managed quite well, spending Christmas alone at home or house sitting for friends - again alone. But with the end of 2013 coming up I started realizing I was still fighting, still saying no to what Christmas had been for me and not saying yes to what it could be now. So I decided to spend Christmas Day sharing free hugs on Museum Square in Amsterdam.

I knew I was going to get stage fright, so I posted a message on Facebook with photos of half-finished FREE HUGS sign, to give myself a point of no return and in hope of whipping up support. Here’s a short version of that post:

This year it's going to be something else. Not not doing anything. Not staying away. Not not feeling it. Not saying no.

On Wednesday 25th December, from 12:00-17:00 hrs, I'll be standing on Museum Square, close to the Rijksmuseum, sharing free hugs. Because it's good for me and you and everyone we know.

I bring with me an endless supply of love to give, an infinite capacity to receive, a healthy dose of nerves, and a lot of curiosity. So if you're in (the vicinity of) Amsterdam, and you want to come and get/give a free hug, come on down! And if you know people who can use one, please let them know they're welcome!

I wish you all the joy, happiness, peace and love the coming days and in 2014!

Come Christmas Day, I was laying on my bed with lead in my socks. But I’d set the intention and made it public. So I dutifully started walking over there with a heap of balloons. Upon arrival I spotted three friends with their family, each holding a “FREE HUGS” sign. My stage fright instantly took a hike and for a couple of hours we joined in sharing the most beautiful free hugs with just about everyone in our vicinity.

Some jumped at the opportunity, some hesitated, some took a wide detour upon seeing us, some decided to come back after first ignoring us. Everyone left with a smile. There were laughs from people who felt uncomfortably invited. There were tears from people who’d resented Christmas the same way I did or who were just moved. There were words like “wow, this is what Christmas is really about, thanks for reminding me.”

And then there was my cousin Wouter. Which to me is what this story is really about. Almost a year earlier I’d told him over the phone that it might be a good idea for us to “break up” for a while. We’d been very-close-friends-turned-a-little-sour, often finding ourselves in a judgmental and confirmation-seeking relationship. Since that call I’d hardly seen or talked to him. And still feeling that sourness dividing us, I hadn’t felt any inclinination to heal our connection.

But there he suddenly was. With his face painted and carrying a “FREE FAMILY HUG” sign. I was gob-smacked and felt tears coming up. To make matters worse, he then flipped open the sign to include “SPECIALLY FOR MUNDO WHO MEANS THE WORLD TO ME”. It became the longest-lasting hug of the day. Plus a family dinner right there on Museum Square, courtesy of my cousin.

Everything that had stood between us disappeared there and then. I could again see him for the beautiful, honest, vulnerable, powerful person that he is. We could again be equals meeting ourselves in each other. I’m so grateful that he chose to put everything aside. That he created a space where it felt like there was no other way than to heal what had been broken. And I’m happy that I had done what I felt like doing. 

That day feels like one of the biggest gifts in my life. It gave me a profound experience of the power of love. And it reunited me with a cousin who is my brother. In a “relationship” that’s been inspiring and supporting since.

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