“wearing a mask may limit our capacity to communicate visually with facial expressions but we may have a beautiful opportunity to talk more with our eyes and reconnect from a more soul-based place within us”
The first time I wore a mask in the supermarket I found myself standing behind a woman and her baby in the check-out queue. As the woman unloaded her shopping her baby stared at me from the trolley eyes wide, absorbing everything in her orbit in wonder. It was a few days before mask-wearing became obligatory and I felt terribly sad that this strange interaction was about to become the norm for this tiny little human who would so desperately need facial feedback to help her in her most fundamental developments. I decided to peek out from behind my mask with a big smile, which she responded to in kind and simply lit up. So I found myself playing face mask peekaboo with the baby until it was time for us both to move on.
Since then I have been left wondering with concern about the many potential ways face masks could hinder our capacity to connect with others at a time when the importance of our connection is paramount yet our opportunities for connection are increasingly limited. I feel a sense of loss for these simple everyday interactions, like those with someone in a check-out queue, that are so human and so important. As with everything, I’ve tried to look to the potential gifts in this particular mask situation and I wonder if there is one we could take advantage of if we are brave enough to do so. It could ironically enable us to even strengthen our capacity for connection through wearing masks.
Some years ago I went on my first personal development retreat and vividly recall a particular experiential exercise where we were invited to wander around the group room and periodically stop when directed to and look directly into the eyes of another group member before commencing our wander. The time spent eye gazing expanded as the exercise went on. Initially, this felt very awkward but gradually I began not only to relax into it, but to drift into a very loving state as a result of the innocent intimacy I experienced with these relative strangers. Following the retreat, with my heart broken wide open and gushing with love for everyone and everything, I found myself disappointed that this practice didn’t translate into everyday life. In fact, I soon recognised that most people find it almost threatening to be seen, truly seen, and that we have learnt as a society to avoid another’s eye gaze nearly all the time.
My young children and my partner received my capacity to be more present with them in this way well though and I felt it strengthen our bonds. Since that first experience, I have gazed into countless eyes at many retreats and workshops, and in certain close relationships. I find that if I’ve been unconsciously socialised back into an ‘eye averting posture’ myself then it can take a bit of getting used to again, but it’s so worth it. To be seen and to see another are such basic human needs.
We’ve all had experiences where we’ve made proper eye contact with another person, including strangers, and it has felt very connecting and sometimes surprisingly so. We may also have had experiences that have left us feeling a bit uncomfortable. There is a whole body of psychological research around the science of eye contact, but what I’m interested in here is simply the opportunity it offers for fostering connections in a very simple everyday way at a time when this is greatly needed.
Our capacity to truly communicate and connect from the heart, a core quality of the feminine, has been largely diminished and dismissed for centuries. We need to reclaim core qualities of the feminine during these troubled time to help us re-establish a more balanced relationship with ourselves, each other and the world. We can all help to bring these qualities back into stronger prominence within ourselves and society if we consciously choose ways to foster the feminine in our everyday lives. I wonder whether mask-wearing may offer us a new very simple way to help us do this.
So I propose that wearing a mask may limit our capacity to communicate visually with facial expressions but we may have a beautiful opportunity to talk more with our eyes and reconnect from a more soul-based place within us. Maybe instead of mask-wearing becoming yet another mechanism that limits our sense of interconnection, community and belonging, it could have the potential to bring us closer together if we choose to let it. I don’t know yet but it seems worth exploring. So next time I’m in a position where I need to wear a mask, I will be practicing ways I can better communicate with my eyes, and how to do so with compassion knowing that everyone is navigating their own struggles with this process right now. Maybe you might like to give it a go too, and if you see me out and about give me a wink!