I looked into the eyes of a baby, only here in this physical form for 1 short year…and his eyes…well there really are no words to describe the depth, openness and love that stared back at me. I found myself mesmerised, lost in a deep ocean of blue. He had no fear, no contraction, no hesitation to just look at every inch of my face inquisitively. And I found myself mirroring him, staring back with admiration, love and curiosity. And I wondered how is it that we lose this?
This experience was more than a year ago but it’s one that has stayed with me and comes again and again as a reminder to look at life with curiosity, through the eyes of a child. It often gets me thinking about How do we return to this, our natural state? How do we unlearn the barriers and protections that we’ve built up over the years? The behaviours that keep us from connecting deeply with each other. Because after all isn’t humanity hard wired for connection? Aren’t so many of the problems we have these days around mental health and addiction now being linked back to loneliness….or better known as lack of real connection.
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection ~Johann Hari
With so many lost in their world of smartphones and social media…it’s become perfectly normal to post our life experiences for all to see in the virtual world…but then avoid making eye contact with people we pass in the street, or on the bus or train. So the question is…where did the Human Connection go and how do we get it back?
Two weeks ago the Liberators International suggested one answer….you use the one thing everyone is engaged in..social media…to create a Facebook event and you invite humanity to participate in the Worlds Biggest Eye Contact Experiment. The concept was simple they said “Let’s share a minutes eye contact with strangers in public to rebuild our sense of shared humanity in cities all over the world!”
More than 100,000 people signed on to attend the event in 143 cities all over the world and the organisers say the video piece they’re putting together is “by far the most incredible and inspiring experience we’ve ever created. We are so deeply humbled by the coronation and intelligence shown by the people from all edges of the globe.”
I decided to go along to the event in Busselton, I knew it would be smaller than the city event but I was curious to see what it would be like in my home country..and in a rural area. It was small and intimate and inspiring to meet those involved in organising the event locally and to hear their stories of why they were there.
I saw such beauty, such sadness, such raw authenticity, I saw love and I saw uncertainty, I saw hesitation and I listened to story after story of how nervous people had been to come along to the event…wondering what it would be like. I listened to one guy ask, so whats the point of the experiment? The answer..human connection…and he incredulously asked…what? connection just with the eyes??!! as he sat down to try it for himself.
Truth is it was a challenging experience for me as I watched people walk past, look at the sign but not slow down so desperate to not make eye contact. Respecting this may not appeal to everyone, what touched me deeply were the people who not only avoided the eye contact, but then began to joke with their friends, laughing about the experiment as they walked away. I felt my barriers want to go back up, to protect myself. But then I wondered what am I protecting myself against? Is that not the whole point of this experiment…to allow ourselves to be seen..and to see…and to reflect a little on what is it that stops us from connecting with others?
I realised that somewhere inside i was feeling shame, even though really my heart was just deeply sad that not everyone could understand why the need for human connection was so important. Anyway I looked around and saw the others sitting in circle hearts open…unwavering and instantly I realised how important it was that we…I….take part in the things that feel important, if not me, who? and if not now, when?
So feeling full of inspiration I decided it was time to research humanity a little more and I drove 3 hours back to Perth just in time to participate in the experiment in the Perth CBD….and the contrast was incredible.
So many people, so many observers, so many people sitting looking into each others eyes…when I arrived there wasn’t even an empty cushion…I pinched myself…was this really happening in the city that I grew up in?
I had had so many judgements about how closed hearted people in Perth could be but eye after eye that I looked into all the misperceptions fell away. Again I listened to story after story of people facing their fears to come and feel the connection – I felt such overwhelming joy at how this real life experiment showed the alchemy of love melting fear.
At one point during the day one beautiful lady said to me how nervous she was about just sitting in silence, so we chatted a little, and she said to me, don’t look too hard in there, I’m a bit messed up. My heart melted and I shared with her my little secret…so am I, and then I told her what I believe strongly..that these parts of us we think are messy are just waiting for us to let them be seen and loved so that we can feel our completeness again.
For me the entire experience bought up big questions like how am I choosing to show up in every moment. How willing am I to allow myself to be seen completely, how willing am I to not censor who I am, to be authentic?
We so badly long for human connection, and yet at the same time we’re so terribly afraid of what may happen if people look at us too closely, that they may indeed see it all and judge us. But what would happen if we stopped trying to keep parts of us secret, what if we let go of the fear of being shamed for not being perfect? What if judgements were also just another way to protect ourselves…what are we protecting ourselves against…connection? What if we put our energy into loving and trusting one another instead of hiding, judging and shaming?
One of my favourite shame and vulnerability researchers and story tellers, Brene Brown, talks about shame as a silent epidemic.
“I think shame is lethal,” she says. “I think shame is deadly. And I think we are swimming in it deep.” She explains that feelings of shame can quietly marinate over a lifetime. “Here’s the bottom line with shame,” she says. “The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
The antidote she says is empathy. By sharing shame with someone who can express empathy, the painful feeling cannot survive.
“Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I’m alone.”
To me the experiment showed the absolute power and medicine available through human connection, and how it all comes down to seeing with our hearts, not with our minds. From the mind judgements, stories and perceptions are formed, from the heart it’s impossible to not see the beauty and vulnerability of another human being standing before you.
So what’s the point of an event like this? You spend a few hours looking into strangers eyes and then what? Well asides from the obvious benefit of feeling really relaxed, open and joyful…I think about how many people participated in just the 2 events I went to that day, and I think of the other 138+ events held all over the world. I think about the 100,000+ people that got behind the events…and I think about how many people they may talk to about their experience. I think about how many people may be inspired to simply try a little harder to make eye contact with strangers, or to hold eye contact with their loved ones just a little longer…now they’ve felt the sweetness of the heart…will they be tempted to try it again.
So I guess the question is not so much how do we return to the innocence of the child..but more like WHO, is prepared to return to that innocence, unashamed of our longing for human connection, to see and be seen…
if not you, who? and if not now, when? Be the change you want to see.
Don’t try to change anyone else, just recognise that your heart knows things your mind can’t understand…and let the HeArt SEEEEEEEEE and be seen.
Go on I dare you, make eye contact with a stranger…or next time you find yourself in conflict with a loved one… look into their eyes for a little longer than you normally would and see what the experience feels like for you. Can you love and honour the inner child in all of us just longing for human connection….
Deeply humbled by this human experience called life…I see you <3