My husband and I sat on the floor opposite each other in a room of nearly 20 other couples. It was 1995. We were participating in an introductory Love & Ecstasy workshop taught by Margot Anand that we had signed up for as a path to reconnect and heal after he had an affair with my best friend.
It might seem like an odd response to the aftermath of an affair when what you want is to point fingers and blame. But I had read these words by Margot Anand: Have you ever wished to be touched at the core of your being yet felt afraid to open yourself up and be vulnerable?
They awoke something in me, and I wondered what I might be hiding from myself—and from my husband. I considered if, on some level, he felt the same thing.
Besides, it felt like we could go one of two ways in the aftermath: either go our separate ways, or dive deeper into each other. We decided together to go deep—the tantric way.
An Experience With Soul Gazing
The very first exercise we learned was soul gazing. This simple singular exercise stripped away all our pretenses and taught us the heart of everything we would need to know to reconnect and heal.
I could feel trepidation fluttering inside me. Was I ready for this? I felt like a new lover about to get naked for the first time. What would he see? Would he like what he saw?
But this was my husband of 11 years. We were not new lovers. Au contraire, we had been “naked” nearly every day of our lives together.
Still, this simple act of soul gazing felt similarly intimate, exposed, and vulnerable.
We sat gazing at one another. At first, it felt like a veil separated us. My husband's constricted pupils reflected my image and my corresponding swirl of thoughts. I worried. Can he see how insecure I feel? Does he see anger, sadness, righteous blame, or fearful shame in my eyes?
The teacher gently encouraged us to stick with it. Soul gazing felt invasive and scary, but I kept it up per the instructions. I kept looking. I noticed that what I saw was a steady, unwavering presence. He was here, with me, right now. Maybe, I thought, we are after the same thing, but haven't known how to find it.
Soul gazing opened a door I didn't even know was shut. Instead of wild passion fueling our intimacy, we practiced a (teacher-driven) commitment to be still together, non-reactive, observant, and present—not averting our attention, escaping, hiding or blaming—to fuel intimacy and connection. Today, 28 years later, we still practice what we learned that day, appreciating the power of each other’s rapt attention.
What Is Soul Gazing?
Soul gazing is a kind of concentration meditation, like breath meditation. In one, the breath anchors our attention; in the other, the eyes of another do the same thing. As in breath meditation, you practice allowing thoughts and emotions to arise and pass away, noticing when your attention wanders away from the object of concentration and then gently returning it. Soul gazing has an added benefit: As you practice, it becomes even more compelling.
In that first soul gazing experience, I noticed the worry softening in the room, transforming into something else. I dropped my shoulders and breathed deeper, letting my thoughts slip away. I saw that I was always looking for something and had a habit of classifying, judging, and guarding myself. The practice of noticing helped me relax. I got curious. What if I allowed more of my husband in? What if I rested in this moment exactly as it is and allowed connection?
I let my nostrils flare, as if to breathe more of him in. I noticed his pupils dilating as if he was simultaneously allowing more of me in.
In soul gazing, there is a moment when the gaze crosses boundaries, like when a kiss becomes passionate, invading privacy but welcomed.
As we sat together, not doing anything, just being, my peripheral vision dimmed, and the boundaries between us became less clear. My husband's face seemed to morph into shadows. I wondered, Who is he? Who am I? A feeling of timelessness pervaded. Worries faded—they seemed much less important than this experience—being together without doing anything. Right now.
Then, he is me. I am him. His eyes reflect the whole universe as, I suspect, do mine.
How to Practice Soul Gazing
In everyday life, we don't typically practice soul gazing with others. It seems rude to stare into someone's eyes. We connect briefly and then redirect our gaze. Thus, when you begin the practice of soul gazing, it can feel uncomfortable and invasive, but you might notice it scratches a deeper itch inside.
We yearn to feel connected to our beloved; we desire to be present. Soul gazing opens a portal to a present-moment connection. Gather with a beloved person to embark on this powerful journey of soul gazing.
Begin in a seated position facing each other. You should feel comfortable. You could be cross-legged on the floor or across from each other in chairs or on the bed.
Offer each other a simple heart salutation. This little ritual of bowing towards each other with hands in prayer helps us acknowledge that we are entering a special time.
Close your eyes. You can hold hands to connect physically while your eyes are closed.
Take inventory of your state of mind. Are you distracted with thoughts about the day or your to-do list? Gently bring your attention away from those thoughts and focus on your breath for one or two inhales and exhales. You might wiggle your shoulders and roll your neck to encourage the body to relax.
Take a moment to notice what you are feeling. Tune into your heart and chest area. Do you feel relaxed? Happy? Nervous? If you feel uncomfortable, can you be okay with that?
Notice any conversations still happening in your mind. Accept them, even as you return your attention to your breath moving through your body.
Smile softly to yourself. Notice how that makes you feel. Do you feel a warmth rising from inside your chest, pushing against your cheeks? This inner smile is just for you and signals your readiness.
Give a small signal to your partner that you are ready. You might lightly squeeze their hand or touch their knee.
Slowly open your eyes. Allow your gaze to connect.
Look into one of your partner's eyes. Quickly choose left or right to gaze into, and don't waffle during the exercise. Traditionally, you may want to focus on the left eye. In the Taoist tradition, the left side is Yin (feminine and receptive) while the right is Yang (masculine and active). You might start gazing into their left eye, but it's okay if you are naturally drawn to the right eye instead. Different sides of our face can hold emotions differently. One eye might look “sadder,” “bolder,” or “more distant” than the other—just notice.
Direct your attention entirely to your gaze. Don't worry about thoughts or feelings. Just let them be. Silently say, “We are one,” while feeling open to receiving your partner's love.
Keep your gaze still. The stillness of your gaze helps quiet your mind. Notice how the ego loosens its grip as the mind quiets. You cease to identify as strongly with your body, mind, and thoughts and instead become a centered witness.
- Allow this moment and your partner to be exactly as it and they are. Typically, we use our eyes to project energy, analyzing the world. Instead, do the opposite. I call this engaging in a great “allowing”:
Allow yourself to open and feel drawn into the innocence of the moment.
Allow your peripheral vision to soften.
Allow your eyes to attract energy and love.
Allow yourself to receive.
Allow any minor visual changes, such as distortions of your partner's face or shadows in the room, to be present.
Allow the breath to move freely.
Allow a merging—an integration—between seeing, thinking, breathing, and being.
Allow a feeling of devotion and reverence to be present.
Let yourself experience your partner beyond their personality. See in your partner the essential humanness that is also present in yourself, and enjoy being present in a mutual flow of breathing, looking, and being without any goal.
Experiment with harmonizing breathing. If you feel compelled to, you may gently, without effort, harmonize your breathing with your partner's. Your partner does not need to know.
Notice any wounds you are hanging on to. Consider forgiving your partner for any wounds you attribute to them. Is that possible? If not, accept that too. All is okay.
End with a second heart salutation and the words “I honor you as an aspect of myself.”