I did an interview recently and the host of the radio show asked me a very important question: "What advice would you give someone who is struggling to make ends meet, raising children, trying to find happiness and who needs to find a positive state of mind?"
My answer? I wouldn't, I would offer her a hug.
I was raised by a single mom who worked three jobs to pay the bills while raising me and my sister. I remember lying in bed trembling, listening to my mom crying from the other room as she worried how she would meet all the demands of the world. There were no words or slick slogans to comfort my mom; what she needed was to know that someone cared about her and room to breathe and feel. What she needed was a hug.
Now, having written a book about my climb to the top of the concert business, experienced my mother's death and undergone a personal journey to find self-love and peace of mind, I'm careful to remember what it was like for my mom and for people everywhere struggling under the various demands of life, no matter what they are.
I'm mindful not to preach empty, "motivational" quotes. Instead, I try to always remember that a hug is so often what we really need … a simple gesture that communicates so much: you're not alone, I feel your pain and I love you.
So how can we help each other in situations when words alone aren't the solution? We can show our affection, support and care through actions: a hug, placing our hands on someone's shoulder, offering our hand and so on. These are simple and powerful gestures that show the power of actions.
"What can you do with actions that you can't with words?" you may be asking. Here are a few things, at the very least ...
1. You can be real.
A hug, or any small physical gesture of affection and support, allows us to be real with others and with ourselves. There is no value in denying or sugarcoating feelings; so while well-meaning advice like, "be strong," "try not to think about it," or "get over it" might appear powerful, they fail to honor the very real, raw and often painful experiences of life. Sometimes things suck. It's OK to say and feel that.
2. You can listen in all sorts of ways.
We listen with our minds and our hearts. So often what we think of as listening isn't really listening at all. Often we hear just enough to chime in with intellectual advice.
But by setting aside our brains for a moment and listening with an open heart, we can connect with each other from a place of love, compassion and genuine care where we really feel each other's pain. From this place we help each other just by being there, fully present and connected from the heart.
3. You can really see others.
We often see ourselves most clearly when witnessing another's pain and identifying with it. So much of our pain comes from residual childhood traumas — the child in us feels hurt, abandoned and misunderstood. These common experiences of pain allow us all to connect. When we offer a simple token of care — hugs are my personal favorite — to those suffering, we connect even further. No words required. Together, we can lift ourselves up.
4. You can nurture.
Go beyond the mind and nurture the body in times of deep pain. On a physical level, every one of us is a community of cells. Every cell counts.
What does this mean? Our cells need nurturing — they are our most basic elements — and their health and well-being is what makes us healthy, well and happy. We all know the value of nurturing ourselves from the inside out with nutrients and healthy food. As tempting as a bowl of chocolate ice cream can be, often a cacao smoothie or an herbal supplement is just what we need to feel a little better. Eating healthy food delivers a powerful message to our cells that we are loved and the cells transmit that message to the brain.
As simple as it sounds, so often we just really need a big hug. Like healthy nutrients, physical contact like a hug engages the cells of our body to feel cared for, supported and connected. It tells us on so many levels that we are OK. And it's mutual: we get what we give.
By opening our hearts to one another we give the message that words don't adequately convey: that you are lovable right now exactly as you are.