What happens when we take 10 minutes to deeply gaze into another person’s eyes without saying a word?
“This sounds so intense, I don’t if I can do it.”
“WOW! Yes, count me in.”
“This is so weird, why are you asking me to do it?”
I kindly asked people to step out of their comfort zones and get real. Although there are risks to this exercise, I think it’s a great opportunity to take a closer look at how we see ourselves, how we see others and what it feels to be seen. Our biases and judgments stem from past experience but also from not truly seeing what’s in front of us in the present moment. The question that got me going was: What would happen if we take some conscious time to sit and see?
Initially, I was interested in the topic of gender inequality and how my married friends in Mexico perceive themselves as a wife or husband. In the process, although I gathered interesting data, which I will share in a later post, I thought it would be compelling to ask them to do something they may have never done before: Five or ten minutes of deep gaze either at themselves in the mirror, or with a partner, paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise, for the purpose of taking a moment to become fully present.
Take a close look at some of the responses and the pictures they shared:
“German is always making eye contact, but I always turn away, I don’t know why, so when we first began the activity he said: ‘Finally I will be able to see you intensely.’ He said that for the most part, he was thinking how excited he was that he could see me for such a long time. Then he started thinking: ‘What if I am not able to be here tomorrow? What if this is the last time I see her?”
“As for me, I was laughing at first, then felt overwhelmed with one thought: ‘Wow! I love him so much’. Then I noticed how he was analyzing me and I just enjoyed how he was looking at me. I also remembered that when we were dating we used to gaze at each other and say that we could be sitting there quiet, looking into each other’s eyes and deeply enjoy each other’s company. We really liked doing that, and it was cool to remember that. Then I thought what would happen if I don’t ever see him again? I said to myself: ‘Enjoy his eyes, his presence and the way he is looking at you because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.’” – Christian
“I did it with a very close friend of mine. We sat down, set our timer for 10 minutes and began. At the beginning we were laughing, I was thinking that this is awkward, and I could tell we both felt embarrassed, feeling like we were a bit nuts. After a while I started to remember when we were roommates, and we both started work at 7 AM, and at 6:50 I would go into her room and ask if she was going to go to work because she was still in bed, then she would frantically get up and go.
After the alarm went off, we reflected on our friendship, how long it’s been since we know each other and funny memories we’ve had together. Then I wondered what it would be like if I do this activity with my husband? It was easy to do it with my friend because we trust each other and we know that we each care for the other, but what if I did it with someone who I don’t really like, such as a lady at work whom I see every day? She is always negative and complaining. It would be interesting to do this exercise with her.” – Amanda
“It was very difficult to keep eye contact with myself. Much harder than doing it with another person, I think. I had never done that before in my life. I was very critical and demanding of myself. I went through my whole life during those ten minutes. As I was evaluating myself I realized everything I have gone through, how everything has shaped me and felt very satisfied with who I am and what I have. Obviously, I cried. It was a combination of sadness because I thought of my dad, and joy because I see my daughters. In 42 years I have gone through many stages, physical and emotional, but ultimately there is peace and reconciliation.” – Diana
“This was a very different experience. It was like talking to myself without words, just through my eyes. I felt like I understood everything that I have gone through, and the person behind the mirror perfectly understood everything as well, without any judgments. It was a very intimate moment with myself. There was a time when I felt that the person looking at me was somebody else who knew me perfectly. I even felt like the person behind the mirror was the one looking at me. I thought it was going to be difficult to do it for that long, but the 10 minutes went through very fast. Maybe I’ll try it with my wife.” – Alfredo
“This exercise was very powerful and interesting. I felt no fear in letting you in. I said to myself: ‘I open my eyes, the door to my soul so you can penetrate into me. You already know me, but I allow you to know me even more. I don’t hide who I am, here I am, I allow you to truly see me, see everything there is, everything that I am.’ During the exercise, I could see the path of light that we have walked together. That is really how it has been for us. The light is there, and it will be there forever. I thought how proud I am of you, grateful for who you are. I support you with everything you do in life, and even though there are ups and downs, I know that your soul, your energy, and strength will always elevate you above any difficulties. Oh, how I love you.” – Ana (my mom)
“As I was looking into your eyes, for the first time in my life I saw you as a woman, not as my mom, but as a successful woman with achievements, goals, and a life already made. I felt a deep admiration for the woman that you are. After a while I realized that this exact moment will never repeat itself, it was a unique and very special moment I wanted to savor as much as possible. I saw myself in the far future when you are no longer here, and wishing I could see you and be with you fully. So here we were, both present in this moment. I repeated to myself: “here…love…”. I then felt like a baby, seeing the most stimulating thing there is, a human’s face. Then it hit me that you were the first face and set of astonishing eyes that I ever saw. I felt how much I had learned about human interactions and the world, just by looking through your eyes. I began to tell you in my mind: “I love you, I am infinitely grateful for you”. Then I thought that you might have been communicating messages to me, so I focused on deep listening. Resting in your presence.” – Me
Eye contact and gaze are the most important nonverbal actions that we take to connect with another person. It is the first connection a mother has with their child, and the first interaction that child has with another person. It may have seemed somewhat of a challenge or even easy for some to see their partners or themselves closely, but what would happen when we decide to see a person who has offended us in some way? Despite our feelings about them, they too have hopes, dreams, fears, and weaknesses. Would we be able to see beyond our triggers and apply curiosity and understanding?
This was the closest I got to give it a try:
In a world where we communicate through screens more often than face to face, looking into our own or another person’s eyes can be refreshing, and even transformative. When there is no opportunity to edit our message, we are exposed to vulnerability and raw emotions, which may feel uncomfortable, but are necessary in order to cleanse and decolonize our mind. What’s comforting is that we can all relate to those uneasy feelings, no matter where we come from, and as we sit with curiosity and softness, we may have the potential to reach acceptance, and understanding within ourselves.
Catching someone’s attention, engaging in conversation and having meaningful interactions is what we are naturally designed to do. Whether we’ve had destructive experiences which might have made us too cautious to engage, human interaction along with self-awareness is what reminds us that we belong, that we are a part of this world.
Now I challenge you to join in on this practice of radical compassion. Let yourself see and be seen. Just being, noticing the judgments and expectations as you see, and reminding yourself that it’s not about changing who we are or how other people are, but to affirm what is, with an open heart.