For a summary of current research on the neurobiology of Eye Gazing and quotes and poetry on Eye Gazing as a spiritual path, see below.
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Research on the neurobiology of Eye Gazing:
"How To Produce A Drug Free Altered State Of Consciousness In 10 Minutes – You’ll Need Another Person” Giovanni Caputo, from the University of Urbino, has figured out how to induce a drug-free altered state using eye-gazing. Caputo, Giovanni B. Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through interpersonal gazing. Psychiatry Research. August 30, 2015 Volume 228, Issue 3, Pages 659–663
“The participants in (Giovanni B. Caputo’s) eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before.” Jarrett, Christian. Weird things start to happen when you stare into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes. The British Psychological Society Research Digest. August 18, 2015.
The brain regions that respond during eye gazing include the anterior and posterior sections of the superior temporal sulcus (STS), the lateral parietal cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Carlin, Johan D., Calder, Andrew J. The Neural Basis of Eye Gaze Processing. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Volume 23, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 450-455
Christopher Bergland author of The Athlete’s Way describes that the neurobiology of eye gazing optimizes brain mechanisms for peak performance including the vestibule-ocular reflex that stabilizes images on the retina during movement and is also the voluntary reflex that allows us to maintain eye contact. If it isn’t working properly with the cerebellum the world becomes a blur, called oscillopsia, because objects in the visual field appear to oscillate. Bergland’s father was a neuroscientist and neurosurgeon who said while coaching young tennis players, “Of this I am absolutely certain, becoming a neurosurgeon was a direct consequence of my eye for the ball.” Researchers are hoping that the challenges found in the vestibular system or cerebellum of autistic patients might have a new avenue of rehabilitation here. Bergland, Christopher. The Neuroscience of Making Eye Contact. Psychology Today. March 25, 2014.
In neuroimaging studies eye contact has been found to increase activity in a group of areas of the brain including the medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal gyrus, and fusiform gyrus which have often been associated with social interaction across a wide range of studies. Senju, A., Johnson, MH. The eye contact effect: mechanisms and development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2009 Mar;13(3):127-34. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2008.11.009. Epub 2009 Feb 13.
New neural cells related to eye gazing that only fire in brain during eye contact have been discovered and named “eye cells.” Katalin Gothard, a neurophysiologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and her team placed seven electrodes in the amygdala of a Rhesus macaque. The electrodes, each one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, allowed them to record activity in individual neurons as the macaque watched a video featuring another macaque. All the while, the team also tracked the macaque’s gaze. Out of the 151 neurons the researchers could distinguish, 23 fired only when the macaque was looking at the eyes of the monkey in the video. Of these neurons, which the team call “eye cells”, four fired more when the monkey in the video appeared to be gazing back at the laboratory macaque, as if the two animals were making eye contact.
Wilson, Clare. Eye-contact detector found in the brain. New Scientist. October 16, 2012.
This practice is thought to be what Rumi and Shams did for 3 months leading to the spontaneous upwelling of poetry we associate with Rumi (beautiful article here: https://www.innerself.com/Spirituality/johnson_will_02294.htm).
Quotes about eye gazing:
“Once the contact through the gaze is established, both participants can just surrender to the current that can be felt inevitably to animate the waters of the encounter. The movement forward then becomes effortless as every cell of the body, like every leaf in a freely flowing stream, is given over to this mighty, palpable power. In the twentieth century, the great Burmese meditation teacher U Ba Khin would call this current nibbana dhatu, the force of enlightenment that wants to become activated in the body and sweep clean the floors, walls, and ceilings of body and mind. If we can activate that force, then all the impurities of the body and mind will eventually be removed. The body then becomes an open conduit through which the energy of the Divine can pass with no impediment or distortion.”
–Will Johnson, Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved p.22
Now, what shall we call this new sort of gazing house
That has opened in our town
Where people sit quietly and pour out their glancing
Like light, like answering?
“As soon as your eyes lock onto the eyes of your friend, you will both feel a subtle but unmistakable sensation in the middle of your heads, just behind the eyes. This is the initial sign that the energies of one soul are beginning to commingle with the energies of another, joining forces to create the ferry that will usher you both all the way to the land of union. Just as copper wires need to be linked together before energy can flow through the completed circuit, so too do you and your friend need to link up if you wish to create a force powerful enough to dispel the misperception of separation.” –Will Johnson, Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved. p.73
“There had been a long tradition in Sufism whereby the transmission of teachings would occur when the gaze of a teacher fell for a moment on the eyes of the student, but this was something entirely different. After hours and days and weeks of practice, it was no longer possible to tell who was student and who was teacher, who was the lover and who was the beloved. And the holding of the gaze was not a brief and isolated event. Once the two friends had connected through the gaze, it was as if the ship of their souls had been launched, and the winds and currents just kept propelling it onward, ever farther, ever closer to its ultimate destination. This was not a one-way transmission. This was a mutual destruction of the limited, autocratic mind, as though a wrecking ball were bouncing back and forth between two buildings and demolishing both of them at the same time. The longer the gaze was held the more thorough was the demolition of the limited sense of self that believes itself to be something other than God. The longer the two friends remain this way in visual contact, the more they kept on making space for the energies of the heart to pour through.” –Will Johnson, Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved. p.30-31