Kissing strangers

Kissing strangersA Facebook friend posted this video where filmmaker Tatia Pilivea recorded twenty strangers in ten pairings sharing a first kiss. People who had never met were paired up and asked to kiss. It included two presumably gay pairings, one male and one female.

I noticed on YouTube that the video has amassed over 66 million views!

The black-and-white video was quietly inspirational in its tenderness and affection. It is a wonder to watch shyness and awkwardness melt into a genuine, if fleeting, connection.


Watching the film brought back memories of intimacy workshops I attended way back in the early 1980s. Hugging and kissing strangers happened back then. Often.

My heart happily soars over stuff like this. I love climbing out of the box in a safe, protected way to experience something that is normally not even considered doable because it’s far too different from the standards mass culture conforms to. We’ve probably all had fantasies of kissing attractive strangers, but actually doing it and having the pairing arranged for us makes it even more interesting.

Reading through some of the viewer comments, it becomes apparent that many people see the subject of this video as “making out.” Like make out with a stranger. A zipless kiss. A recreational pursuit. A thrill ride. My guess is that these commentators have never kissed strangers themselves, or if they have, they maintained a superficial perspective on its implication, like party game.

In the context of intimacy workshops, kissing total strangers was (for me at least) more of a unique spiritual experience. The physical ritual had a huge ripple effect in the deep pool of my consciousness. Granted that it was transient and instant intimacy, which freaks some people out to no end. Yet for me, kissing a stranger expressed and spread love in a surreal way, as if adding another dimension to love thy neighbor.

It is nearly ineffable to express how it felt — like in the womb of another universe showing (and receiving) non-possessive love for someone I did not know and probably would never see again. The experience stoked my fantasies about the world I would love to live in where people were much friendlier to one another than in the troubled world we have collectively created.


During intimacy workshops, sharing at a very uncommon depth occurred. Much of it was verbal. People would share their feelings about things. Often they would share their living nightmares, their painful memories or current struggles. The range of this sharing, much of it among strangers, was far more self-revealing than under normal social circumstances.

They told stories of being molested, raped, rejected, tormented, humiliated, excluded — things often considered too scary to mention or confess among friends. They bared their secrets in this safe place. They bared their souls.

People shared, and they were supported. They often got useful feedback. They got love.

Amid all this open-hearted sharing, often tearfully cathartic, people often hugged. Sometimes they kissed. Sometimes it occurred within the context of a facilitated exercise. Sometimes it was a spontaneous expression of affection during recess from workshop activities.


When I attended these workshops in the early 80s, I firmly believed that the joy that was happening there would gain momentum. It would grow and prosper. People would see that love was the answer. How could anything as wonderful as this not take root and grow into new social institutions?

Life had other plans. Even though those workshops (and others like them) are still alive and well today, it seems that the global village has gotten more violent and mean. We’re more guarded and suspicious.

I used to think while participating in these workshops that the so-called battle of the sexes would become a thing of the past. Healing was happening. Gender equality would reign supreme. Spiritual intimacy would save the day.

Ahem. So much for youthful idealism.


Even back then, even amid all my cosmic fantasizing, it still felt strange to kiss strangers. I kissed women; I kissed men. Often it was more like kissing whoever appeared there in front of you in an exercise. I kissed people I was attracted to and I kissed people I was not attracted to.

This was not kissing out of romantic feelings or sexual attraction. It was kissing in an entirely different mind set, more on a soul level. It was not always sensually pleasing. A few times it was borderline creepy, but I was still overcome with idealism that this was social progress, part of what then was called the human potential movement.

The idea of kissing just anybody causes teeth to gnash for many. I viewed it more like foreign travel and respecting other cultures. It’s a tendency of mine to try and fit in wherever I go, often at the price of surrendering my ego for awhile. Strange as some of it was, I never regretted having participated.

And while it did not feel oh, so courageous to me at the time, or even that bold, based on what life delivered later,  it was amazing in retrospect.


This may sound like something completely different, but I see a connection. I sometimes hear war stories about enemy soldiers who accidentally encounter one another. Through some quirky circumstance, they seem to step outside of the war for a few minutes. Though programmed to see each other as sworn enemies, sometimes they discovered people very much like themselves. Men who have feelings. Men who have families. Men who have hopes and dreams. Men who have struggles. Men who may not be convinced that war is justified but who feel coerced by their respective countries into participating as soldiers.

It’s too bad enemy troops cannot have pre-war sensitivity sessions. It’s hard to imagine war being a popular pastime if that happened.

Kissing strangers brings on a similar shift in perception. It removes normal social barriers people habitually erect between themselves and others. For a few precious seconds, all you need is love. More often than not, people leave intimacy workshops feeling better about the human race than before. For a little while, at least, they have more hope.

Looking back over the joys and heartbreaks of life, looking back to a few weekend workshops in my young thirties, I am still inspired by the experiences. I like to imagine how society would be if somehow in the tapestry of possibility, we created different rules for experiencing more love and cooperation. I like to imagine people feeling safer, supported, and more included.

Oh, I know all about the logistical nightmares and the legal, political, and health implications. I fast forward beyond all that just to feel how wonderful it would be if we really were free to pursue this happiness. I would so much rather take the risks to expand love consciousness than take the well-worn path to fear and exclusion.

As weird as kissing strangers can be, the memory of the experience warms me more than I can say.


I like to live my life and express myself in more simple terms. Sometimes they are so simple that I make up words to express myself. I think this is a great leftover skill from childhood.

Some people often perceive me as this mighty intellect, but I say nope to that. I do like to mull through complex thought puzzles at times, but I am not one to hang out too high on the abstraction ladder. Writer though I may be, I am not great at pontificating because I like to steer my ideas to simplicity.

Whoosh is a great example.

It’s a word I coined the other day to represent the sometimes intense blast of energy that I have felt while hugging people under special situations — and what they have felt when hugging me. It’s much more fun to call it whooshing then to strap it down for intellectual analysis of kundalini energy states and chakra alignment.

A couple of days ago I wrote this:

Sometimes words just won’t do.

Words are wonderful, full of zip, full of zap, but sometimes they just won’t do. Sometimes they don’t express what is going on deep inside.

Not like a whooshing hug does.

I am awakening from my year-long slumber like a bear from an extended hibernation holiday.

I want to hug someone and feel the force of it whooshing my heart out. (OMG, my whoosh feels like Yosemite Falls whooshing sideways!)

Then to feel the whoosh answered.

I want to feel her quiver in my arms, a whoosh generator like me.

We crave whooshing.

(What do you truly yearn for?)

When whoosh flows, all we feel is whoosh.

The outer world melts away — only whoosh is left.

Be here now.

Whoosh here now.

Hugging as souls would hug

Share-loveBy Joshua Bagby

Have you ever hugged someone for a whole minute? A whole, long, no-cheating, no-kidding sixty ticks?

That might sound like a piece of cake, especially if you envision or remember hugging the love of your life like that. Or perhaps your minute-long hugs were simply planned preludes to steamier activities and therefore dribbled out of the category hug and meandered into the category foreplay. But what about hugging a friend or relative or (gasp!) even a stranger for a whole minute?

Have you done it? Could you do it?

I’d love to see the changes that would occur in our society if we somehow made hugging more prominent and acceptable. I’m not referring to the fleeting body collisions many people in our culture produce (“give” would be an inaccurate term here) for the occasion. You know what I’m talking about — the A-frame, don’t blink or you’ll miss it phenomenon.

I’m talking about a true connection, a long pause at the traffic light of time to hold someone in your arms and be present with that person for a whole minute. Hug that person with reverence and respect and empathy. Hug as if it were a prayer and give thanks for our existence by taking the unusual step of holding a kindred soul close.

Oh, I know, embracing someone for ten seconds or longer almost automatically dropkicks hugging into the bugaboo briar patch of sexual suggestiveness. That’s because hugging is often associated as an on-ramp to steamy passion. Many people stalwartly keep hugs hand-in-flame short to sidestep any chance of sending unintended signals.


Nonetheless, I believe that we’re losing touch with each other. Take that literally or metaphorically. Materialism, technology, and competition are taking their toll. We fear the other guy more than ever. We’re being conditioned to be more defensive than intimate, more derisive than embracing, and I believe that’s making us lonelier and more isolated than ever.

When was the last time anyone paid close attention to you — really heard you, really felt who you are? When was the last time you devoted your attention to someone in the way you would love someone to pay attention to you?

In my ideal world, kindred souls would create more hugging opportunities. We would share our stories, our feelings, our quests — and we would hold each other as we conversed. (Don’t I live dangerously, though?) By regularly staying in touch, physically and emotionally, we would brighten our lives with love.


Hugging feels good because it gives energy. Longer embraces exchange more energy. They release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, after about twenty seconds. When given with a pure heart, hugs are healing. It’s just plain harder to be as defensive, depressed, or frightened when you feel acknowledged, included, and loved.

Hugging is a simple act. Wrap your arms around someone who’s willing and just hold on. Hug as you would like to be hugged. What makes it difficult is the mental chatter that starts erupting as soon as your brain thinks this hug is already too long. A second in? Two seconds in? Five seconds in? Ten seconds in? Listen to that chatter. It’s filled with headlines (literally) about how you design your life.

When I am hugging people in this way, long and slow, I like to think about the idea of souls embracing. (That is obviously where the name of this site came from.) It puts hugging on a whole different consciousness plane than when bodies hug. I also think about how Jesus or other great healers would hug. What is the human potential for hugging if it is done as mindfully as a meditation?

I’ve learned that the world won’t change just because I think it should. I‘ll create my own paradise, one hugger at a time.


I look forward to hearing from those of you who like hugging and can relate to the special intimacy of the long ones.