Inside Miami's "Eye-Gazing" Scene, Where Strangers Silently Stare at Each Other

A bizarre sight stopped passersby on rain-soaked Lincoln Road this past Saturday. Sitting cross-legged in a circle on the fake-grass island in the pedestrian mall, 40 people silently stared into each other's eyes. 

The participants were joining a trend gaining steam in South Florida: "eye gazing," a sort of social experiment in which strangers stare at each other without talking for minutes to seek a deeper emotional bond. Jolenny Piedra, the organizer of Saturday’s event, was happy to explain it all to the many baffled bystanders who asked what exactly was happening.

“To me, eye gazing is such a powerful practice that, once engaged in, it invites us to reconnect with the truth of who we truly are. It allows us to see the innate essence of the person who is before us,” Piedra says. “Eye gazing has been one of the ways in which I joyfully connect to my heart and the heart of another.”

The Miami movement began when Piedra recently returned here from California. She couldn’t help but notice the lack of human connection around her. She had studied spiritual psychology in Santa Monica, where she would eye-gaze with other students as a class exercise to bond.

Eye gazing has been around for years but picked up momentum this year when Liberators International, an organization promoting acts of kindness, welcomed strangers to eye-gaze in public. It began in Australia and quickly spread. Last month, the group held an event in cities across the world. It was considered “the world’s biggest eye-contact experiment.”

When Piedra heard about the worldwide eye-gazing event, she quickly registered the Magic City. With the help of some volunteers and fliers, more than 350 people showed up to Lincoln Road October 15. She was surprised by how many attended. Some people held hands while they stared at each other. Others smiled. At the end, some hugged and a few even cried.

“My most memorable memory was seeing an 11-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy truly look into one another with such respect, curiosity, love, and awe,” Piedra recalls. "I remember walking across the grassy area and noticing them sitting across from one another, holding hands, and feeling just 'wow.' I melted and teared up at the beauty of the moment that I was witnessing.”

Inside Miami's "Eye-Gazing" Scene, Where Strangers Silently Stare at Each Other
via Facebook

Basically, eye gazing means consciously putting down the smartphones to consciously stare at another person and have that person stare back. According to Piedra, it’s about being present. While it can be nerve-racking at first, once the initial awkwardness subsides, it feels like meditating in sync. Piedra recommends that everyone should try eye gazing at least once. 

“I believe we are all, in some ways, yearning and longing for these connections, so come and allow yourself to be vulnerable,” she says. “I would share that it is natural to be nervous, perhaps some may also be skeptical at times, and that is because as a society, we are yet to make it a common practice to truly connect in this way with one another.”

Piedra is organizing more eye-gazing events across South Florida. She held a second event this past Saturday that thousands RSVP'ed to on Facbeook. The pounding rain put a big damper on those numbers, but a hearty 40 souls still showed up and eye-gazed with precipitation spitting down on them. Some even-eye gazed under umbrellas.

“We were lovingly challenged by quite the stormy and rainy day, and although we were hoping to welcome close to 2,000 participants, due to the weather, there were close to about 40 people,” Piedra says. “Their commitment to the experience of eye gazing made me realize how impactful and powerful this is for them, for me. It reminded me that this needs to continue to be offered.”

Piedra is planning a third event in Fort Lauderdale November 21. It’s free to attend, and nothing is required to participate. 

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