Day 42: Louise

I wait until the end of the day again and now I'm at the climbing gym.

I know this drill. I'll climb, and while I'm climbing I'll scope out who's here. When I'm done I'll ask someone to make eye contact with me.

My radar is up while I'm climbing and as soon as I see her I know I want to ask her. Her head is partially shaved and the rest of her hair is bright pink and purple. I notice, and like, the tattoo on her back and left shoulder.

"I'm interested in that person and I am a little intimidated by her," I think to myself. So I know she's the one to ask.

I am aware that I have been living for many years with a behavior/thought pattern in which, when  I see someone who I think looks cool, or inspiring, or attractive, or who I admire, I "rank them above me" and think that they are "too cool" for me to approach ("why would this person give me their time?") or think that they are intimidating. LMEC is, in part, a practice I am using to massage this pattern out of my life and replace it with different behavior and different thought systems.

She's probably not intimidating. And I bet that, after we make eye contact, when I tell her that I thought she was intimidating, she'll probably think that's a silly thing to think about her. So here we go, let's find out.

I'm sitting on a bench, changing out of my climbing stuff, when she walks by, and I call out to her, ask if I can interrupt her climbing, and ask if she'll make eye contact with me. She asks "why?" and I tell her I'll tell her afterwards. She agrees to do it and I suggest she sit down.

I try to turn on my timer but it isn't working.

The battery is dead.

Instead of giving up on the session I say "let's do it for what feels like 60 seconds" and she agrees.

This will be an interesting and different session!

We begin. I am counting to 60 in my head. It feels like a long time. I am not able to focus as keenly on her, but I am trying to count and really pay attention to her, to be relaxed, to breathe calmly and deeply, to connect with her and share energy. Since it feels like my counting is taking a long time I occasionally skip a number. Right near the end she gives me a big smile and a small laugh.

When I reach 60 I tell her. She was counting, too, and we were keeping almost the same time! We shake hands and exchange names.

I tell Louise what motivated me to invite her to do this and, sure enough, she doesn't see herself as intimidating.

"I'm not intimidating!" she exclaims.

I don't think so anymore, either. That's what this is about. To make the world more approachable to me and to open up the interesting people in it.

After sharing what motivates me to practice LMEC we take her photograph.

A detail that inspired me to approach Louise was a sameness in our adornments.

Her tattoo is of a tree branch with a bird perched on it.

Today I had a bird perched in my hair.

Day 41: Jasmine

I'm having tea with Jasmine, an artist here in Portland who I met a few weeks ago, and from whom I purchased my first piece of original artwork. We're almost done with tea and I decide that today I will ask her to make eye contact.

It's a different kind of vulnerability to ask someone who isn't a stranger. Asking (and being rejected by a stranger) is an experience that, if you want, can just fade away and be forgotten. It's likely that you'll never see each other again. They'll probably forget about the interaction, too.

But asking someone who you know, even a little, is more likely to be remembered. I think there's more vulnerability in that.

Jasmine and I don't know each other very well. This is only our second time meeting. The first time was two weeks ago, just briefly, when I stumbled into her art gallery opening, chatted briefly, and spontaneously bought one of her pieces. Still, even with that little bit of face-to-face interaction and a few emails exchanged since then, asking her to do this doesn't feel like asking a stranger. The excitement I feel is different. And I'm pretty sure she'll say "yes" anyway.

She does, so I start the timer and we begin.

Afterwards we talk a little about the session and I take her photograph. I experiment with a composition that places her on the left side of the frame, however, she prefers this one:

Day 40: Grace

It's morning in my office and as I walk into the kitchen a coworker who I haven't met before greets me and compliments my scarf.

I thank her for the compliment and jump on the opportunity invite her to make eye contact with me. (I ask her if she has about three minutes to spare, she says she does, and then I ask her if she'll make eye contact with me.)

Asking someone to participate in this activity is unusual in a place like a coffee shop, but I'm used to it now. However, it feels, and has always felt, more unusual and vulnerable to ask someone to do this in a workplace/professional setting. (Although the evidence suggests that it's not so weird at all: every one of my workplace invitations has been a positive experience. This could also be attributed to the kinds of places where I work (coworking spaces) and the kinds of people who those spaces attract.)

She brings her coffee and we sit down on the couches and make eye contact.

We have a long, interesting conversation after the session that touches on many topics. Grace shares how her mother raised her to make strong eye contact and communicate with her eyes, so this is not an unusual or uncomfortable experience for her. I talk share how eye contact wasn't super-important to me earlier in life, but it is increasingly so now. I also share how eye contact (the "cabeceo") is used in Argentinean tango culture to invite another person to dance and to accept or reject that invitation. We talk about culture and communication and get to know each other a bit.

We finally get around to snapping Grace's photo

and she introduces me to her team before I return to my desk.

Day 39: Chelsea

I walk into the coffee shop and start a conversation about climbing with the fellow working the register.

A girl comes into the room from another room and says "I got you" and joins our conversation about climbing, giving me some info on where I can climb around here.

As she walks back to her table I say "hey, wait a minute. Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"

"Sure!" she says, stopping to stand and face me and make eye contact immediately.

I suggest we sit at her table and we do. I extract the timer from my bag and explain: no looking away, no talking, breathing and blinking are OK. She says that she'll probably laugh and I say that that's OK, too.

Our eye contact is really pleasant. I am relaxed, both my posture and my breathing. It is easy for me to focus on her. I look almost exclusively at her left eye. The time seems to pass quickly. I am very happy to be making eye contact with her after three days of not doing LMEC. I am also happy that this is how I'm starting my day. I feel energized and optimistic.

Afterwards we talk about why I'm doing this project. I ask if she was consciously thinking of her posture, breathing, or swallowing. She says she thought about her posture.

Her name is Chelsea and she lets me take her picture.

Day 35: Jen

Shit! Just a moment ago she was talking to a guy, now she's leaving the bar and she's already pushing open the door.

I jump out of my chair and push shove the other chairs at my table out of the way, nearly falling over them. Pushing open the door and running outside after her I yell.

"Hey! Hey!"

She turns around.

"Did I forget to close my tab?"

"No. I want to ask you to do something with me. Will you make eye contact with me for 60 seconds?"

"OK. Why?"

"I'll tell you after."


"Do you want to do it here, or...?"

"Where ever you want."

"OK, inside."

We go inside and sit down at my table. She's ready to go immediately. I pull out my timer and we begin.

She has great energy. She is calm and focused. She seems like a person of experience.

After the timer expires I give her a card and tell her about the experiment.

She says she'll 1-up my challenge. She invites me to her holiday party, which unfortunately I won't be able to attend because I won't be in Portland on the day on which it will occur. Then she tells me that she practices open eye meditation (!) and invites me to join her at the next open eye meditation class, which is followed by an hour long session, during which I will make eye contact with the master/teacher.

I accept her challenge.

In response to my request to use her name and photograph on this blog she says "Sure! Why not?" and tells me that her name is Jen.

Wow, what an encounter. And to think that I almost didn't make eye contact with anyone today!

Day 34: Raven

I waited until the end of the day again.

Since I did not make eye contact with anyone during the workday, did not have time for eye contact at the climbing gym, and following that I went home and then straight to the HUMP screening (for which we arrived just in time) with my friends, I was running out of opportunities.

After the screening we walked into a bar, my friends went to the restroom, and I went to order a drink. The woman next to me made eye contact with me, and I jumped on the opportunity and asked her to participate in the experiment.

She agreed. We began. She laughed, like, the whole time.

Afterwards I introduced myself and she told me her name: Raven.

I asked if I can take her picture. She said "no" and asked if she can give me a picture to use. I said "yes." (This is a first.)

She emailed me a picture. This is what she sent:

Raven is on the left. On the right is her sister, Jordan, who was also at the bar.

I talked with Raven a bit. Then Jordan came over and I chatted with her. I dunno why, but Jordan and I didn't get along. Maybe it was because she was drunk. Maybe our personalities just didn't match. The conversation went in a direction I didn't like and I left the sisters and rejoined my friends. Later I said "bye" to Raven as I left the bar.


That wasn't really a nice experience. Looking back, I'm not sure I got along very well with either of them. Maybe they were just pulling my leg, maybe it was their way of having fun, but it felt like they were actually teasing me at one point. Seriously?

It's OK, though, because I asked someone in a sports bar who was definitely intoxicated to make eye contact and it was my first time to do that. I'm glad I did it. If what I'm looking for is to make a nice connection, however, this probably wasn't the place or the people with whom to pursue it.

Day 33: Joe

Tonight I'm going to make eye contact with someone at the climbing gym. It's my only social destination between work and home, and it's getting late.

I scope out people during my climbing time but wait until I'm done to approach someone. There are a few people I consider approaching, but hesitate, and don't. I spy a guy who looks like my good friend Habib and I want to make eye contact with him. After sitting on a bench for a while, being in my head, I get up and approach him and his friend.

He consents and we start.

He is very focused. I notice that he doesn't blink for a long time. His breathing appears to be very intentional. Because he doesn't blink often I notice when he does blink. His eyes are brown. I swallow twice, and I'm very conscious of it. I'm also very conscious of my breathing. Steady, slow, and deep.


We get to talking, and we talk a lot about the experience we just shared. I usually don't ask my participant many questions about the experience from their perspective, but he and I get into it.

He's a conscious, analytical fellow and was aware of his blinking (or lack thereof), which of my eyes he was looking at (mostly my left), and his breathing. In fact, he tells me he was counting during the session, and was very close to counting 60 seconds when the timer expired.

I give him a card and ask him if I may use his name and photograph on the blog, to which he consents.

His name is Joe, and his friend's name is Tommy.

We talk some more about the experiment. The topics including who I approach, what the responses have been, what my intention is when making eye contact with someone, the assumptions I've brought into the experiment and how they've been wrong, and how I am pushing myself to approach people when they aren't alone so that there's an audience for my potential rejection and/or a witness of the eye contact event itself.

The conversation goes really well and the three of us get up to leave. I am looking forward to seeing Joe and Tommy around the climbing gym since I'll be going there every day for the rest of my time in Portland.