By Johnny Diaz Sun Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Eye-gazing," is a social exercise intended to create an emotional and spiritual connection among strangers. The idea is to be present in the moment and engage with someone without interference.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla.
Pairs of strangers sat cross-legged and quietly stared into each other other's eyes. Some gazed for a minute. Others became transfixed on the patch of fake grass in the middle of Lincoln Road Mall one recent afternoon.
What were they doing? "Eye-gazing," a social exercise intended to create an emotional and spiritual connection among strangers. The idea is to be present in the moment and engage with someone without the interference of technology (smartphones, emails, etc.).
The free June event in Miami Beach was organized by Miramar spiritual counselor and transformational coach Jolenny Piedra. She first learned about eye-gazing, also called soul-gazing, in California when she was studying spiritual psychology at the University of Santa Monica in 2010.
Then last fall, she saw a video about an Australian social movement group called The Liberators International that invited people around the world to create their own eye-gazing events. Piedra decided to join the movement.
"Eye-gazing to me is one way to connect in a way we really don't practice connecting," said Piedra, who owns a spiritual counseling practice called Sacred Soul Living. "We do everything through an app or through a text or a computer so we have disconnected a bit. And Miami I think has a lot of beautiful energy with dancing and the cultures but we really don't practice this type of intimacy."
Her first South Florida event was last October and drew about 400 people. That has led to others including one outside at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with about 60 people.
Dozens of eye-gazers, a mix of novices and returnees, came out for the June event.
Between Pennsylvania and Meridian avenues on Lincoln Road, Piedra taped fliers that asked, "Where has the human connection gone? Share one minute eye contact to find out."
Eduardo Galdamez, 20, of Homestead, Fla., was one of the first people to arrive. Under towering coconut palms, he sat across from Brianna Green for several minutes.
"It was a very meditative moment. I saw the sum of myself in her," said Galdamez. "It was more so almost like a soul searching moment for me. In her eyes, I saw me only at an earlier point in my life where everything was a lot more light, a lot more connection, a lot more openness as opposed to now where it's more so sitting on the sidelines but still appreciating people as they walk by."
Green was also moved by the experience.
"It was beautiful," beamed Green, a yoga instructor and Piedra's girlfriend. "At first, you are sort of getting into it, you're adjusting your eyes and then you sort of drop in and it becomes meditative."
She thinks more people should engage like this, especially in today's fast-paced culture.
"We are in Miami where most people just look at each other and not that many people see each other. You get a chance to see how beautiful someone is on the outside but we don't give ourselves the time to see how beautiful someone is on the inside," she added before pairing up with another woman for some more eye-gazing.
Like dance partners, people swapped often. Piedra hovered around and checked on the various participants, some of whom said they weren't sure how to get started.
"It feels foreign for a lot people to do," Piedra said. "Sometimes I hold their hand and say 'I'll start with you.' It is uncomfortable to be naked in that way in front of somebody. Maybe you can look good with clothes and you can fix your hair but when someone looks into your eyes, it's a different kind of reading that someone can do on a person. I feel it's a very stripped-down way of exposing oneself and I think it's courageous for the ones who show up here. It's pretty brave."
At first, some folks couldn't help but laugh when they started the exercise.Melissa Vallejo welled up with tears as she exchanged stares with friend Viviana Proietto."I loved it even though I cried," laughed Vallejo, 24, of Weston, Fla. "It was a beautiful experience. I was trying to tell her so many things with my thoughts, that you can confide in me, that all is good. I just wanted to send her good energy with my eyes."
Proietto, 20, also of Weston, said she felt all that.
"She also made me cry with her eyes," Proietto said with a laugh. "There was a lot of emotion but it also felt good." The event attracted plenty of curious looky-loos.
"It's very cool," said Elaine Neve, an onlooker who pulled out her smartphone to photograph the scene. "I stopped and saw everyone looking at each other and sitting there for a long time. It's interesting because they don't know each other."
Many people who attended said they learned about the events by accident or via Facebook. Most said they felt relaxed after gazing with someone.
For Jacqueline Martinez, 27, the event was about trying something new.
"I was scared. I was nervous. What am I supposed to do, am I really supposed to just sit here?" said the Kendall, Fla., resident. But after having shared the experience with others, she said, "I feel calm, that's honestly how I feel. Instead of having anxiety about the whole thing like you normally would with a bunch of strangers, it's just calming."