People are sitting down to gaze into each other's eyes for minutes on end. They claim it improves sex lives, alleviates anxiety and even cures stuttering.
In some cultures around the world, looking people directly in the eye is considered rude.
But a rising tide of people who call themselves ‘eye gazers’, claim the simple act of meeting up to gaze into another person’s eyes for an extended period of time can be life-changing.
“I've had a stutter since I was five,” says eye gazer, Cindy.
“The anxiety around my speech was overwhelming. I felt like I was going to die it was that bad. When I started eye gazing I didn't expect that my speech would be impacted. Going through the eye gazing experience I've broken the shackles to speak up and to speak freely.”
Cindy’s been going to eye gazing events for the past 6 months and now runs her own workshops.
“It's changed my life. Now that I've overcome my stutter and I'm helping others to live out loud. I want to share with others what they can experience through eye gazing.
“Loneliness is really terrible, it literally kills you. Sustained eye contact with strangers can actually bring about social connection and that's a powerful thing.”
Twenty years ago, psychologists discovered that just four minutes of looking into each other's eyes is one of the most powerful ways of bonding.
Dr Lisa Williams explains, “It is a very vulnerable thing to do as strangers, the first few minutes are awkward, but at the end of the day the benefit is pretty big. There are changes in brain activation, there are hormones that are released.”
Today there are monthly eye gazing meet-ups in almost every part of Australia.
So how does it work? Ask Mohammed, here’s a regular.
“I come to [the park] and sit by myself and let whoever wants to approach me approach me. In eye gazing they have an opportunity to question who I am. I’d like them to reflect and be like, ‘I met Mohammed today and he didn’t try to blow me up – not all Muslims are dangerous.”
Late last year, 100,000 people in 160 cities around the world took part in a massive stare fest. Organisers hoped the events would: “build our sense of human connection in public.”
Amnesty International also set up a social experiment where European citizens with a stated bias against refugees sat opposite a refugee to stare into their eyes.
Barriers were broken, common ground was found, tears were shed.