We are so accustomed to avoiding eye contact with others. There will need to be much more intentionality to accomplish this goal of mine. On my day off of work, I still find it difficult to remember eye contact with intentionality. A visit to the supermarket provided me with a few small encounters I allowed to come and go without the eye contact I have sat out to accomplish. It is certainly more difficult to learn than I had imagined. What had I expected? I expected to just start having eye contact. At the turn of day one, I had expected to just begin with my very first encounter and begin studying the responses I would get from the surprise at my sudden attention. There would be curious comments from friends who had been taken aback by my intentional attention to them. There would be peculiar spiritual connections with passers-by in the supermarket and coffee shop.
I had not expected to be half way through my second day thinking, “Oh wait! I’m supposed to be having eye contact.” There was not supposed to be moments I catch myself in the middle of a conversation staring at my grocery cart with tonight’s lasagna ingredients while the potential connection comes and quickly leaves with the woman interested in what I was going to put in my lasagna, and whether or not it would have spinach and would I steam the spinach before I put it in oven. It would not be until she had reached the opposite end of the isle before I realized another missed opportunity to develop and maintain caring eye contact with someone.
The barista at Tupelo coffee shop was not supposed to just fulfill my order without any sense that I cared whether he really existed. The expectation was he would feel strangely connected to me though admittedly eerie by my intense focus on that place just beyond his eyes.
Intentionality may have been my largest oversight. I had not counted on the demand it would have in this experiment. Eye contact with everyone you encounter in a normal day requires a great deal of intentionality. It has proven more difficult than I had expected it to be to simply begin making and maintaining what seems to be such a simple action.
We are so accustomed to avoiding such a simple action because there is a depth behind it we fear. There is a vulnerability that lies just behind our eyes, and we protect it with this avoidance. It is more than awkward to have eye contact with someone. Comedian Brian Regan tells of a visit to the eye doctor. Nearly nose-to-nose in a dark room, his comedic question to the eye doctor is “Are you looking into my soul?”
The truth behind that punch line is incredibly telling of the weight of eye contact with someone. We have pawned eye contact off as awkward, but the vulnerability is a reality we fear most. We can often crave what we fear most.
We crave something we commonly avoid. Making and maintaining eye contact with everyone I encounter is going to require a much higher level of intentional effort than I had ever suspected.
For now, I’m going to hide behind my screen for a little longer before heading home.