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BW Tries "One Minute of Eye Contact"


Hundreds of people walked through the Grove Plaza on Oct. 10, one of the last nice Saturdays before the weather turns cold. Folks strolled from the farmers market, made their way to lunch in BoDo, or made use of the beautiful afternoon on a walk with the family. 

In the midst of it all, a small group sat on yoga mats laid out on the Grove's bricks near the fountain. There, 10 people sat still and cross-legged across from one another, silent and gazing into each other's eyes—seemingly obvious to the foot traffic around them.

A cardboard sign propped up nearby asked passers-by to take a seat on the yoga mats and join in. 

"Where has the human connection gone?" the sign read. "Share one minute of eye contact to find out."

Boise State University student Ali Ellis created this impromptu event, which she called Connect Boise, after feeling frustrated with people's addictions to their phones. The self-proclaimed "yogini" said she wants people to look up from their screens and see the humans in front of them.

"A couple weeks ago, I saw a video on YouTube of people who did this in Berlin and I wanted to bring it to Boise," she said. "We have awesome people here. I want people to slow down and remember human connection."

A handful of yoga students spent part of Saturday afternoon gazing into each other's eyes. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • A handful of yoga students spent part of Saturday afternoon gazing into each other's eyes.
Those seated on the mats were all students from the Shanti Yoga School here in Boise. They gave up an hour of their Saturday, from 1-2 p.m., to take part in the social experiment. I sat in front of Paul Graham, a yoga teacher who wore a shirt that said "Namaste" across the front and moved from Australia to Boise four months ago with his wife. 

After telling each other our names, he started a timer on his phone and we began 60 seconds of eye gazing without saying another word. Initially, my heart rate quickened and I felt a burning desire to look away. My eyes darted from his left eye to his right eye, then back again. His eyes were dark green with flecks of brown and blue and gold. He would close his eyelids for a few seconds at a time. I wondered what he was seeing looking at me. I wasn't sure what to do with my face. It started to feel like a really long time had passed, but when the timer went off, I was surprised it was the time was already over.

"What I notice most is a vulnerability in people," Graham told me afterward. "Staring into the eyes is stripping away a mask. It's a more primal connection."

I asked him if he, too, wondered what I was seeing.

"Yes," he said. "I wonder, do I look hard or soft? What can I do to soften my expression?"

He stared into half a dozen people's eyes during the hour. He said he might try holding eye contact with people longer after trying the exercise. 

Ellis, the event's organizer, said she was disappointed more people weren't stopping to partake in the event. She said most people walking by were with families and didn't seem interested in stopping. She said only one couple took up the challenge and they stared at each other.

"People are scared," she said. "It's kind of scary. They might feel awkward. I don't know. I was hoping for more traffic."