“My heart is jumpin’, you sure started somethin’ with them there eyes,” sang Ella, Billie, and Louis. They sure knew what they were singing about. Good eye contact is powerful and not for the faint of heart. It’s the stuff of love.
The Hindu religion puts strong emphasis on the “meaningful gaze.” Darshan Blessings, resulting from receiving the loving gaze of a Holy One, are understood as searing the soul with lifelong grace. In our culture, we see a parent’s admiring gaze at an infant as preparing that child for a lifetime of basic trust and positive self-worth.
“Contra” is one of the many forms of dancing I love. As with Sufi dancing, it puts a strong emphasis on eye contact, a loving, unbroken gaze while swinging one’s partner to beautiful music. Most devoted contra dancers would heartily agree that there is powerful healing in that joyful gaze.
As a therapist, meeting with committed partners for the first time, I usually find that the parties avoid eye contact. Even when I tell them to look at each other when speaking, they usually look toward but not directly in the eyes of their partner. Deep soulful eye contact breaks through defenses and arguments. Most partners who consult a marital therapist are invested in their stance, their side of the story. They have built fences around their hearts. Avoiding deep eye contact helps protect their souls from more pain. My work is to help them get to the point where they can once again willingly open their souls to each other through the eyes.
At times, I get down, weak, discouraged, and jaded. Sitting with a client while listening, breathing deeply, and keeping eye contact can often right my ship and heal me. I come to realize, “I’m getting a lot out of this.” And my hope is that my “meaningful gaze” is beginning to heal my client as well.