The Power of Eye Contact
Allison Schwartz reflects on a theater exercise that has really made a difference in the way she looks at the world.
Have you ever tried to make eye contact with a complete stranger? Or even your best friend? It's scary—right? In today's fast paced society, technology enables us to always have an escape. I walk through campus half-reading my Twitter feed, half- looking at the sidewalk. If I am in an elevator with another person, I am guilty of immediately going on my iPhone and easing the silence by giving myself something to do.
But what if you took advantage of that silence? What if you tapped into the beauty of eye contact?
"Look, see, and be seen," my teacher George Pinney said to us on Thursday in class. In Musical Theatre Workshop, the 12 sophomore Musical Theatre majors learn, explore, and collaborate for 1 hour and 45 minutes of complete focus, trust, and respect. We sat in a circle that day, each taking turns at going into the center of the circle—with all eyes fixated on that center person—making eye contact with each peer on the outer circle. Simple and foolish as this task may appear, I learned more that class than any semester of science or calculus could have ever taught me. (No offense to those courses… I'm sure that they are great too!)
As I played George's words over and over in my head, I gave my inner, vulnerable human-self permission to come out to play for that class period, assured that I was in a safe space. Going into that circle, I took a deep breath and began to fixate my eyes on each one of the beautiful classmates that surrounded me. Feeling the energy around me, the intimate connections I shared with each individual made it seem like we were the only two people in that room. Then, taking that piece of them with me, I moved on to the next person in the circle and continued this journey.
I made eye contact with each classmate twice, once in the circle, and once outside the circle. On the inside, I allowed myself to be available to vulnerability and invited each of my peers into that intimate experience. It felt as if each person offered a unique piece of himself or herself to fulfill and mend what I am not capable of alone. On the outside, I accepted the invitation into another person's space, and provided solace for their experience. The oneness with that person juxtaposed with the power of the unity in the room brought tears to many of our eyes. The intensity of an honest connection with another human being is an overwhelming sensation we humans are often too uncomfortable or scared to access.
There is so much unspoken dialogue exchanged through eye contact with another person, or even in nature, that the sensation can almost be more powerful than verbally sharing our deepest secrets. If we allow ourselves to be present and open in the moment, we can give so much of ourselves and receive so much in return. However, we must love ourselves first before any sharing and receiving can take place. I assure you that you have an infinite amount of unique and special qualities; you just have to give yourself permission to open up. Know that you are enough and you are worth sharing.
I left class that day beaming with a foreign sense of pride and fulfillment. Exhausted from the extreme concentration and emotional experience, I walked through campus making one mental discovery after another. Obviously I had noticed this space before, but I had never thought about what effect it could have on my life. I waste so much time staring at my surroundings and my friends, but I never really looked at them, or thought about what contribution we can make to one another. I missed so much beauty around me because I was never available to the magic our eyes can bring. Our eyes really are the windows to our souls, and when you discover the beauty that boils below the surface, you will view the world through different eyes.