Eye-gazing and Spiritual Pick-Up Artistry
Beware the staring flow-boys of consciousness culture
There’s an awkward video you can watch on YouTube, called ‘Russell Brand picking up women’. It’s a long compilation of Russell Brand hitting on women live on TV, making his poor flustered older female interviewers titter and blush. There’s one clip where he says:
When I was younger I would probably have found ideas like Pick Up Artistry attractive. But when you get a little more mature you realize there is no way of tricking people into doing things they don’t want to do. It couldn’t be anything but negative for both parties involved.
‘So what is your secret?’ asks his interviewer.
My secret is that I know that within you there is a limitless divine beauty. And within me as well, and if I connect with that [and he leans in to kiss her] then we’ll be OK.
There’s a lot going on in this clip. There’s the fact that we the audience indulged and applauded Brand’s behaviour as a manipulative pick-up artist – he remade Alfie, the archetypal pick-up hero, after all. It made us laugh.
There’s also the fact he claims that conventional Pick Up Artistry is ‘immature’, before shifting into a higher plane – Spiritual Pick-Up Artistry:
My secret is that I know that within you there is a limitless divine beauty.
You meet a lot of Spiritual Pick-Up Artists at conscious festivals, conscious communes, conscious pot-lucks and so on.
Stephen Dinan, the founder of the Shift Network, calls them Flow Boys, and sees them as one of the fundamental problems with New Age libertarianism (ie immature kidults who refuse to follow any rules beyond To Thine Own Self Be True). Dinan wrote:
The Flow Boy is often exceptionally good at dancing, romancing, and wandering the world. They often do so well into their fifties. They eschew commitments, often champion polyamory and economically don’t tend to build much of enduring value. They pride themselves on how conscious they are but when it comes to employment, family, or institutional or civic responsibilities, they are basically evasive. Their freedom is defined by their ability to follow the impulse of the moment. The dance and festival scene is filled with folks like this and there’s a great lament among spiritual women that there simply aren’t enough solid, reliable men to go around.
You could call them Flow Boys, or Spiritual Fuck-Boys. You know the sort - long hair, a lot of beads, slightly effeminate, ready at a moment to share their trauma and healing journey. They’ve worked out that, within a certain ecosystem (ie New Age spirituality) this sort of shameless behaviour actually increases their chances of getting laid.
Spiritual Pick-Up Artists have learned how to engineer rapid faux-intimacy with vulnerable women through Spiritual Pick-Up techniques like touching, name-dropping, deep sighing, use of exotic words that suggest spiritual maturity, and above all, eye-gazing.
The Spiritual Gaze
Eye-gazing is taught at festivals and retreats and called ‘tantra’. Bullshit. It’s a cheap technique for generating phony intimacy, and a favourite weapon of Spiritual Pick-Up Artists.
Brand was a master of eye-gazing. You can see him using it in interviews, staring wide-eyed at his flustered female interviewees, sucking them in to the bottomless hole of his soul. He also uses it on his podcast audience: ‘Hello you millions of beautiful awakened souls’ he says while staring into the black mirror.
Eye-gazing is a great way way to make yourself seem profound, authentic, illuminated and charismatic.
Steve Jobs taught himself how to stare without blinking while living in a spiritual commune, and then used it as the foundation of his Reality Distortion Field (or getting other people to do what you want, even when its unreasonable).
Bill Clinton was another master of the manipulative eye-gaze. There’s a famous moment during the 1992 presidential election when he’s in a townhall debate with George H. Bush. Bush gives a wooden reply to a woman’s question about taxes, while Clinton stands up, walks towards her, maintaining eye contact all the time. It’s so transfixing you see Bush senior laughing in the background – I’ve read this was the moment he knew he’d lost the election.
Clinton is also, like Brand, a man facing multiple allegations of sexual assault.
Staring, mesmerizing eyes have often been associated with manipulative spiritual gurus. Svengali, the archetypal dodgy guru of Victorian fiction, who would hypnotize his female victims with his staring eyes.
So would the evil yogi in Tintin.
So would Rasputin, the Russian spiritual fuck-boy with his sparling blue eyes.
Many 20th century gurus were famous for their penetrating gaze, which supposedly could look deep into your soul – Gurdjieff, Osho, Maharishi, Teal Swan, all perfected the hypnotic Gaze.
There’s even a popular Balkan guru called Braco who has dispensed with the need for speaking altogether – thousands of women flock to receive ‘Braco’s Gaze’.
What’s happening to the mind and body during eye-gazing?
At a basic level, the ‘soft gaze’ on someone’s face shows that you’re paying attention to them. It’s just a good way to establish rapport, and not necessarily ethically dubious.
At a deeper level, there’s the ‘deep gaze’ – staring into someone’s eyes without blinking or looking away.
Staring into someone’s eyes in the animal kingdom usually means one of two things – you’re about to attack them, or you’re deeply bonded to them. When someone stares into your eyes, it initially triggers alarm and defensiveness (‘they’re about to attack me’) before the sympathetic nervous system relaxes and you shift to a deep openness and receptiveness (‘they are making themselves vulnerable and showing me their soul’).
This sort of deep staring can be just a sign someone is really into the conversation with you and is sharing deeply. But it can also be a bit of a manpulative tactic.
Joseph Holcomb Adams, our resident suggestibility expert, tells me eye-gazing can also be a powerful form of trance-induction:
One of the major factors with eye-gazing-based entrancement, I think, is that when someone with a very powerful gaze looks into your eyes, it invites you to use their eyes as a point of intensely focused, sustained concentration, and maintains that concentration in part through relational/interactive/social adjustment (a spot on the wall doesn't look back at you, or adjust to your wavering attention, when you focus on it). And, as we say, the eyes are the window to the soul, so when the focal point of your trance-generating sustained, narrowed attention happens to be a central interface with another person, then your attention is tunneling on something that is simultaneously the source of the trance-induction and the source of the flow of suggestions/manipulative input. The other person who is Rasputining you could bring you into a deeper and deeper trance by using suggestions as further trance-inducing signals, pulling you into a tunnel that is increasingly dissociated from everything else.
Here’s a passage from a 1900 book called The Perfect Course of Instruction in Hypnotism, Mesmerism, Clairvoyance, Suggestion and the Sleep Cure, from the Psychic Research Company:
Now bend over the couch so that your face is not more than from four to six inches from your patient’s. Keep your eyes fastened upon his. Instruct him to keep his eyes fastened upon yours. There should be no noise of any kind in the room or out of it to disturb you. Maintain this position if necessary for one hour to two hours…
Many people have reported that they trip out during eye-gazing practices, become dissociated, go into altered states and even start to experience hallucinations. Now imagine that you attribute all these ‘spiritual effects’ to the charisma and spiritual power of the person staring at you. Wow, what a divine conduit they must be! How close to God! They must be a really special, illuminated, good person. And they really see me!
Nope. Not necessarily anyway.
A generation of spiritual fuck-boys has been raised on eye-gazing techniques to cultivate the surface appearance of spiritual depth and authenticity, as a means to gratify their desires. We are mistaking phony intimacy for actual integrity.
Never mind their deep-staring eyes or their spiritual sales-patter. Look at their actions. That’s the true window to the soul.
Let me be clear - people making eye-contact is normal and human, and some people gaze deeply without any bad or manipulative intention. I’m just saying we should be aware of some of the ways others seek to manipulate us, especially in the spiritual world and even more so in the psychedelic space where we are already quite suggestible. I’ll end with a quote from my interview with Victoria Wueschner, who runs a 5-MEO-DMT harm reduction site. She told me:
A woman reached out to me who tried the medicine for the first time. She didn’t know where to go. And she sat with this person, who demanded that while she was on medicine she had to keep her eyes open and gaze into his. That’s called imprinting. So instead of her experience being about her own process, it became about the facilitator. There’s almost a psychic exchange there, and there can be this hierarchy where you see this person as God. That’s harmful.
After the pay-wall, a video recording of our recent Psychedelic Safety Seminar featuring presentations by Philippe Lucas, Eirini Argyri and David Mathai on their research on adverse psychedelic experiences, plus my full interview with Stephen Dinan on ‘how the New Age descended into darkness’.
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