“We’re going to do a vulnerability exercise,” one of the teachers says. “It’s gonna be weird, it’s gonna be uncomfortable, it might even be excruciating for you. But we’re gonna do it, and it’s gonna be good practice. We always ask our kids to do things they don’t want to do, even if it makes them uncomfortable, and now we have to do the same.”
We pair up. We’re going to spend two minutes silently staring into each other’s eyes.
“This is how you fall in love,” I say. “This is the love experiment.”
I’m surprised that I’m talking. Surprised I found the space to do so.
“It is,” she laughs. “It’s the love experiment. Four minutes of this is supposed to make you fall in love with someone; two minutes is supposed to boost compatibility.”
I have no problem making eye contact with people. I just lock on and hold. My partner has more trouble with it. I can read it in her so easily. She is timid, scared. The directness is too much for her. I see her steel herself, straighten up, then shrink back down. Her shoulders slump, and she laughs, then quickly shuts herself up. She remains slumped, but tilts her face up, widening her eyes and forcing them to stay wide.
She’s beautiful. I want to hug her, to tell her that it’s okay that she’s so scared of so many things, because she’s still here regardless. I want to push the hair back from her face, grab onto her shoulders and pull her into the air. Looking at her, I feel like we’re in the pit of some valley, wind swirling around us. I want to climb mountains. I want us to be birds.
I wonder what she sees when she looks at me.
My new partner, she cannot handle this at all. I feel so calm, and she is so nervous. She keeps laughing. I start to count in my head. 1, 2, 3, laugh. 1, 2, 3, laugh. Without fail.
This whole morning, these exercises, have been so bizarre for me. They’ve been strange for everyone, but I think they affected me differently. I watched everyone else become self conscious. Everyone was amazed when we analyzed our walking patterns, while I have always thought about mine. There was so much uncomfortable laughter as we switched up the body parts that led us around the room, our gaits and tempos. We looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care about any of that. I didn’t care about anything.
Do I care about anything?
“What are you passionate about?” he asks our third time out, and I am amazed at how blank my mind goes. I can’t think of anything. I’ve been letting so much go. Expectations and disappointments, betrayals and hopes. My entire canvass is empty.
“Moments,” is what I finally answer. “Everything is always changing, and I’m not sure I believe in anything anymore. Nothing can stay as you’d expect it, and it might come to be that nothing ever really was as you knew it, so I can’t tell you what would make me passionate this minute, because it might not be the same tomorrow. I can’t answer any of your questions. If you want, I can tell you dreams about 7 children and 210 great-grandchildren, or galleries that transform into learning spaces and open mic nights, but understand that those things aren’t real, and may never be. You need to understand that I’m not creative; I just see things weirdly and recount them poetically but all it is, is me copying down my own ideas about what I perceive. So maybe, in a moment, I can find passion. But it will dissolve as soon as the moment passes.”
I looked into his eyes and said all of this, and could tell that he was impressed. But I hadn’t wanted to impress him. I was not trying to make someone fall in love with me; I was simply speaking a depressing truth. And I felt little connection, even as my eyes continued to hold his, and saw them widen to hold even more of me.
My eyes have finally held her still. 27, 28, 29, I stop counting after I reach 30 and she no longer laughs. It is funny to me that these activities were so hard for the others, but so easy for me. When we come back to the circle, everyone talks. My partner says my vibes were so chill, they calmed her down and made her feel safe. I open my mouth, and start to say that I felt nothing when I looked at her, that eye contact has been a necessity for me. I have always forced myself to hold eyes with people, just as I have always been conscious of the way I walk. I have to be aware of how I’m presenting myself to others, because if I don’t hold myself to Earth, I don’t know were I might accidentally float away to. My consciousness has to be on the ground, or I won’t be. It’s why I disappear in groups, without anyone to whom I can anchor myself. It’s why I can move ridiculously in crowds, because I don’t expect to be seen, and don’t mind if I am.
This human thing, it’s new to me. But all of them, they have practice. They seem to connect with one another so easily, until it is required of them.
I open my mouth to say all of this but the last sentence, but we’re in a group. Someone else is already talking, and I am already floating away.