28 Seconds, 4 Eyes, 0 Words

Can you say more without saying anything?


How often do you get one-syllable answers, especially from your kids, in response to open-ended questions? “How was your day at school?” “Fine.” Of course, as parents, we’ve learned to ask better questions to elicit better responses, “Did Toby like your new shoes?” He’ll go on about that one so long you might want to revert back to How was your day at school?

Do you seek a more meaningful connection with those you love?

I’m going to get a little woo woo here, but I actually know that secretly even the toughest of customers wants a deeper connection with those close to him, but he’s not always sure how to get there. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing this, in fact, it works even better if you ‘just keep this as our little secret.’

I’m in the final weeks of a mindfulness meditation class (there you go: woo woo galore) and we had a mini exercise in communicating without words. Seems like a contradiction. But like many things that work: it was difficult, unexpected, and worth the effort.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
  2. Sit across from each other, close enough to touch knees. Get comfortable.
  3. Set your timer for 28 seconds.
  4. Explain the ‘rules’ to your partner: no talking or sounds, minimal giggling, stay looking into each other’s eyes. Blinking is fine. It’s not a staring contest.
  5. Start the timer.
  6. Look into each other’s eyes until the timer goes off.

That’s it. There are no other rules, goals, or predictions. See what happens. Try it a few times over a period of a week, maybe in the same quiet spot on the walk home from school. Don’t make a big deal about it, in fact, you don’t even have to tell them what you’re doing, just have it be your secret few moments where you communicate without words, where you connect through only the eyes without sounds or touching or any other senses.

No, that’s really it. Stop reading (below is for the advanced class anyway) and give it a try. No expectations, no guarantees, so you have nothing to lose but 28 seconds.

Professional Skills

Sorry, that’s what my 8-year old calls it when you’re good at something: professional skills. If you want to up the ante, bump that timer up double to a full minute. I know, it might seem like an eternity, but see how it goes over a few days, see if you can handle the pressure, see how your kids do. One of my sons threw his book bag at us while I was mid-28 seconds with my other son, so see point # 1 above. If they’re too giggly or keep talking, start the timer over. If it’s just not working, stop for the day and try another day. You have time.

Double Secret Bonus

This might seem like it’s going out on a limb, but this actually can work with adults, too. You don’t get to use the ‘let this be our little secret’ trick as easily, but even so, it can be. Along the lines as with the kids, don’t go into deep explanation or goals, simply explain that you have a little exercise you want to try. With adults, you can safely start at a minute and go up from there, depending on kids throwing book bags and the like.

Woo Woo Galore

If you’re still with me at this point, you’re deep enough gone to appreciate this. Because I got so many questions when I brought this up to others before I’m unveiling it to the rest of the planet here, I’ll answer them here and now. I don’t really want to answer this as I think the beauty of this exercise is its uniqueness for the individual, but people seem to want to know how it went for me. I’m also not accidental in saying ’this will be our little secret’ just as when you wish for something while blowing out your birthday candles you’re not supposed to tell anyone or that breaks the wish. But just this once.

Something deep inside of me spoke to something deep inside of my son. As I stared into the glitter of dark flecks floating in the blue pools of his eyes, I went beyond the layer of verbal communication and somehow still communicated to my son that I loved him unconditionally and for eternity, that my love for him was as pure as the pupil of his eyes. He was constant in his gaze back into mine and played the game better than I had hoped. I can only wish that he got a smidgen of the love I was sharing, but I think it came through. I don’t know what he was thinking, but that’s OK, they are his thoughts and like the birthday wishes, they can stay with him and they’ll be more powerful in their solitude. If he got even 1 second of the connection, that’s a start, that’s something.

28 seconds, just the 4 eyes, no words and we connected more profoundly in that time than in the past 28 minutes or even 28 hours. What have you got to lose?