We all know that eye contact is powerful; it can connect, intimidate, intuit, move, and reveal. A new trend sweeping the nation is now drawing on this age old wisdom to help singles find their match without being put through the wringer of crowded bars, competitive personalities, and endless talking. “Eye gazing,” as it is known, has a long tradition with many roots and branches, but it is often traced back to Jalal-Din Rumi, a 13th century Persian mystic frequently referred to as “the best selling poet in the United States.”

Brought onto the dating scene by Michael Ellsberg and hailed by Elle magazine as “New York’s hottest dating trend,” eye gazing parties are posing an intriguing alternative to, and yet, strange form of, speed dating, in which efficiency, intimacy, and socializing are brought together into a curious alchemical crucible.

In an average eye gazing party, 20 participants form two rows of chairs. Generally, the women remain seated as the men circulate, and each participant shares the experience with 10 different partners. With each partner, one is given two minutes, not to small talk or to ask questions or to tell jokes but to “eye gaze.” Participants report feelings of awkwardness, focus, depth, and appreciation, with “first timers” often expressing surprise at how much they are able to glean just by looking into someone’s eyes. Founder Michael Ellsberg, in his recent book “The Power of Eye Contact,” reflects on the practice’s popularity by acknowledging, “People crave authenticity.” After the period of intense eye contact, the event takes a more conventional turn with participants mingling over cocktails and following through on promising sparks they felt while gazing.

If you don’t live in one of the cities where eye gazing parties have really taken off, but are interested in experimenting with it, no worries; simply enlist an adventurous friend or significant other. Choose a time in which both you and your partner feel unhurried and present, maybe a lazy Sunday afternoon after brunch, or early in the morning before the day’s noise has taken over. As you gain experience, you may be able to ‘eye-gaze’ in moments of stress or conflict and use it as a way to gain perspective, softness, and resolution. But, at the beginning, choose a partner you trust and a time that feels right.

It’s not a staring contest, so use a soft gaze. Its o.k. to change eyes, but don’t try to look into both eyes at once as this may cause you to go cross-eyed. Relax, breathe, and let the encounter unfold. Observe what arises without jumping to label or judge it. Don’t be afraid to smile. Don’t be afraid to not smile. You can use a timer so that you don’t have to worry about when to end, or just gaze as long as it feels comfortable. The more you practice, the easier it will be to weave this simple art into your daily life, conversations, and relationships.

And do share your experiences – profound or silly – with us in the comments section!

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