How many minutes are there in an 8-hour work day? About 480. How many minutes does a movie last on average? Usually around 90 minutes. What about in a workout class? 45 minutes. Or, how many minutes do you spend watching your favorite Netflix show? 30 short minutes. How long do you spend walking your dog around the block? Only 15 minutes, right?
So when was the last time you tried gazing silently into someone’s eyes for longer than 1 minute? Not often, I bet! Try 6 minutes! I just returned from a yoga and meditation event in the mountains of West Virginia. This lovely summer afternoon, I was challenged by Musician & Meditation Expert, Biet Simkin, to stare into a stranger’s eyes for 6 very long minutes while meditating. And let me tell you something, it was scary, awkward, and extremely connecting!
I attended this mediation with skepticism. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of meditation. As a highly active, busy working mom, I struggle with sitting still long enough to meditate. Yet, I do recognize the benefits of mediation, which is why I attended this workshop. In my psychotherapy practice in Washington, DC, I often try to break down the benefits of meditation for my clients by explaining the science behind meditation. Experts say that mindfulness or meditation of any kind is optimal at 27 minutes, beneficial when done for 8 minutes, and helpful when only tried for up to 1 minute. “One minute is completely doable,” I say to my clients in counseling sessions.
While one minute is doable, six minutes felt like an eternity. Yet, the impact was big, and the benefits have been long-lasting. Our meditation guide assigned us what she calls a Love Meditation–we had to choose a partner, preferably a stranger; sit silently for 6 minutes; and gaze into our partners left eye with our left eye. Additionally, she suggested that we try the impossible task of doing 6 things at once–focus on our breath, gaze from our left eye, look into our partner’s left eye, feel our seat in the cushion, intentionally hear the music, and picture ourselves floating up toward the ceiling. Yes, I know…very silly, pretty scary and completely impossible. The instructor validated all of these thoughts out loud and asked us to give it a try.
And here’s what I discovered. In those 6 minutes, I let myself become closer to a complete stranger than I had to my children, any family member, or my husband in a long time. It is not because I don’t have close and connecting relationships. I promise that I do! It is because I took the time to feel. I smiled past the awkward moments. I accepted myself and what others might see in me. And I showed care and attention toward someone else and myself during those six minutes.
It seems astounding, but when I reflect back on it now with my knowledge as a couples therapist, it is simply true. In couples therapy when I help partners rebuild their bond, I ask them to open up and get very soft; I encourage them to talk less and to feel more. I persuade them to take a minute to open their heart and to look into their loved one’s eyes. Why? Because the easiest, fastest way to show and share love is to look deeply into someone’s eyes. We do it with our infants during those first few months of love and bonding when we are settling into our families, yet we forget to do it with our children as they grow and with our partner as our relationship endures.
So go ahead. I dare you! Set the timer, turn up some soothing music, and sit eye to eye in front of your partner. One minute, six minutes…it doesn’t matter how long or where, but go for what you can. You will find that extra minute will go a long way in helping you feel and be closer in your relationships.