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A Proper Cuddle by Celia Cornick

Taken from Barefoot Magazine Summer 2009 Issue

Recently I had reason to reflect on a very profound and all encompassing lesson given to me by my youngest daughter. She was then ten years old, the youngest of my four children. It was a time of great suffering for the six of us. Our family was in turmoil; broken and irreparable, struggling through a divorce. I was consumed with my raw emotions, tormented by thoughts of a marriage that was never really whole. Daily life felt like wading through sludge while carrying the heaviest baggage. I kept myself going with gratitude for my four beautiful children and the comfort of a familiar routine.

And my little daughter wanted cuddles, lots of cuddles.

It was easy to sit and have her on my lap or, in bed in an embrace with warmth and closeness. But, then the demand came, ‘I want a proper cuddle, give me a proper cuddle’. I hugged harder, rubbed and caressed but again, ‘No, I want a proper cuddle’. What did she mean? She could not explain what she meant other than it had to not be an ‘ordinary’ cuddle but a ‘proper’ cuddle. It took me some time and lots of cuddles before I was able to work it out. She meant the one hundred percent, unconditional cuddle with no distractions, no thoughts or obstacles, just me being totally present and focused in the moment. I was cuddling her but often had other thoughts clouding my head. I realised I was not totally there. This moment of ‘proper’ cuddling is one of complete, timeless giving of oneself for no reward. We all give these cuddles when we greet a newborn, see a rainbow, embrace nature; casting our love out just because we can. It is a priceless gift that offers its own receipt of that inner glow and it is totally free.

At the time of this lesson I was greatly distracted by thoughts of the past and the future. Years later I still have not mastered this teaching but I am constantly presented with opportunities to do so. Just this week I was weeding around a spruce tree I planted a year ago. It had served our family well for the first three years of its life (living in a pot)as our seasonal tree, lovingly adorned for three consecutive years, taking pride of place in the house for the annual festivals until it grew too large. Now planted in the garden, it has grown considerably. Weeding around this tree, I suddenly felt a very sharp pain as the end of a branch pricked my eye. As anger flashed I questioned, why? I looked and saw that the tree was still beautiful but had lost some of its lower needles caused no doubt by the drought of the summer. I then realised that whilst mechanically weeding I was making my eternal mental list about how much I had to do. I was not really present in the moment or giving one kind thought to this tree that had served us so well. I repented and fetched some water, gave a mental ‘thank-you’ and returned to the weeding to feel the softest caress on my cheek from a branch of the tree. I laughed to myself about this connection—was I going crazy in my old age? Then realised it was a simple reminder of ‘the proper cuddle’. I shed a tear as I suddenly remembered my mother. She was ninety-five when she died two years ago and had only been somewhat dependent for the last eighteen months of her life. During this time I took to the role of dutiful daughter. I cared, but now realise I cared—most of the time—from a distance. There weren’t enough ‘proper’ cuddles and now it is too late.

Perhaps we could all try to learn this lesson. When the mind is settled, the body is at one, and the spirit is felt, our parents, partners, children, grandchildren and friends all benefit from the priceless, nurturing gift of a ‘proper’ cuddle.

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