A few weeks ago, Kat and I were playing Mindball at the Arizona Science Center. Our friend Dr. Jim was in town for a visit, and the three of us were running around like kids enjoying the interactive exhibits.
Mindball is a game controlled by brain waves, and players compete to control a ball’s movement across a table by becoming more relaxed and focused. When your brain wave readings are lower (i.e., calmer) than your opponent’s, you push the ball toward them. The first to cross the finish line wins.
Several months earlier, Kat had played the game with another visiting friend, our chill millennial friend who wiped the floor with her. And Kathryn was pretty sure that, given my years of meditation, I would win easily against her as well.
Well, here’s what happened. At first, her prediction was right. According to the brain wave monitor, my alpha and beta waves were hovering smoothly at a level two, while Kat’s were hopping madly between levels four and five. The ball was inching steadily in her direction as my calm waves trumped her wild brain.
After seventeen years together, I still can’t bear to see my wife lose, so I began coaching her on how to calm her brain activity. “Breathe deeply,” I suggested. “In through nose, out through mouth.” Nothing. That ball was still rolling. Then I said, “Look at me.” I’ve always been able to calm Kat when she was upset, so I figured eye contact would help.
The results were astonishing. Instead of merely lowering her readings, when we established eye contact, our readings synched exactly. Within moments, her readings were mimicking my steady level twos. And as long as we maintained eye contact, our readings were exact. The ball found its way to the center of the table and hovered there, barely moving in either direction.
I even tried an experiment–I thought of upsetting things like politics, war, and climate change, trying to alter my own readings. But nothing worked. Without breaking eye contact, our levels stayed the same and the ball where it was.
As long as I maintained a connection with Kathryn, our minds remained calm.
It was downright freaky. (The people playing at the next table were astonished, too.)
It got me thinking about things, about our states of mind and the level of anxiety on the planet. Back in September, a friend invited us to participate in The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment to celebrate the UN International Week of Peace. The idea is to share 1 minutes eye contact with a stranger in order to bring a sense of peace to the participants and, by extension, to the planet.
After this experience with Kathryn, I wondered what would happen if everyone on the planet looked up from their devices, stopped looking at their shoes, took a break from the murmur of their own incessant thoughts, and just looked each other in the eye?
It’s easy when we’re following a spiritual path to trend inward, focusing on our inner experience, our spiritual nature, and the deep, deep questions of life. But it’s also important, possibly crucial, to our spiritual growth that we take some of that energy and connect with others.
So, I’d like to offer a challenge to everyone reading this post. This coming week, make a point of looking people in the eye when you’re talking to them. If this is culturally awkward, let them know what you’re doing. It might be easier to limit this to friends and family at first, and then move outward to strangers.
Look at them when you’re talking to them, and really listen to what they are saying. Don’t listen with the intent to answer. Just listen. And maintain eye contact as much as you can.
Then reflect each evening on how your day went. Did you have meaningful conversations? Were your interactions calmer, or more intense? Were you able to resolve conflicts easier? Did you feel more or less stressed?
They say no man is an island. Well, souls are definitely not islands. Perhaps, if we spent more time reaching out, we’d all feel a hell of a lot better.