5 Minutes Of Eye Gazing With A Stranger Changed My Life. Here's What Happened
On a sunny afternoon deep in the Arizona desert, I was accompanied by a couple dozen people who gathered to meditate on the tented Azura lawn at revitalize, mindbodygreen's annual summit and one of the biggest wellness events of the year. We came to sit with Biet Simkin, founder of Center of the Cyclone, a style of meditation that's uniquely immersive, emotional, and, on this particular day, unexpectedly collaborative.
The meditation was a welcome reprieve from a full day of groundbreaking content and panels from the crème de la crème of the wellness world. It was fascinating but certainly draining, especially for an introvert!
Biet took a few minutes to explain her story, which is so remarkable it bypasses feeling like a shameless plug and is more like required reading. As someone who lost several immediate family members at a young age, struggled with heroin and alcohol addiction, and lost her daughter to SIDs, she's been heavily influenced by her journey and continues to shape the way she teaches meditation.
We settled in with a body scan. Most people remained seated, but I lay down for the first time in meditation all weekend, grateful to be surrounded by natural desert elements—warmth, beautiful birds chirping, and mountain-fresh air. After dropping in, Biet asked us to silently pair off with a partner, no talking at all, and I found a gentleman who, until then, I hadn't seen on campus. He was slender with a radiant smile, bright eyes, and a long dark beard.
Biet asked us all to point at our left eyes, the eyes into which we'd be gazing, and it began. She directed us to divide our attention, which is an unusual cue from a meditation teacher. Notice the eye, she said, but also feel the breeze, hear the birds, see into your periphery as well. Biet maintains that this is the way to bliss and present moment awareness, and I have to say I experienced it under her direction.
I've done plenty of workshops, trainings, teacher trainings, and classes involving partner work, so I didn't anticipate the huge effect this would have on my nervous system. As I gazed, incredible anxiety flooded my body: Not only was I being seen by this person, but he was reflecting what he saw in his gaze. I took some deep breaths as my heart started beating faster, totally petrified by the intimacy that was happening in the moment. Stay focused, I thought. Don't break it, hear the birds, relax your gaze, blink if you need to, I encouraged myself. As I tuned in to my surroundings to alleviate some of the anxiety, I heard sniffles and heavy breathing from what I believe were little breakdowns. Good, I thought, I'm not alone. My partner's eye started turning red, tearing up a little. I wasn't sure if it was mechanical or emotional, but it deepened our experience even further.
Time slowed. I started seeing his eye anatomically, noticing where the light was shining, seeing individual blood vessels, a tear duct, eyelashes, and even how the pupil changed shape. I do love figure drawing, so I wondered if this was a natural instinct breaking a body down into simple shapes. Eventually, even those shapes faded as his eye lost meaning altogether, kind of like when you repeat a word like "oil" over and over again. I was simultaneously intrigued and impatient, wishing it was over and wondering what would happen to the world if we all did this once a week. It was the most attention I'd received or given anyone so intently in recent memory, and the effect was powerful—I'm better able to hold eye contact and attention now, after just one five-minute session. To me, this is a huge change that will guide me in making more authentic connections and also ground me in the present moment.
When it was over, we hugged, and my partner asked what my experience was like. I told him about my fear of being truly seen and how everything became formless, feeling too overwhelmed and vulnerable (and let's be real: self-righteous) to share my anxiety. He shared that he does these often and has developed an ability to hear people's bodies and asked me if I'd like to know what he heard from mine. Naturally, I said yes. He said that he heard my heart, loud and clear.
If you want to catch up on what else happened at revitalize, check out our coverage here!
Lindsay Kellner is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based out of Brooklyn, NY. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology at New York University and earned a 200-hour yoga certification from Sky Ting. She is the co-author of “The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self Care,” along with mbg’s Sustainability Editor, Emma Loewe.