Interpersonal Meditation (IPM) was the subject of an experimental workshop I ran in Los Angeles in 2005 (and subsequently of a working group I organized in Boulder in 2009). Consisting of a series of eye contact exercises, I found IPM to be a powerful way to diminish interpersonal blocks, deepen social consciousness and connection, and create group cohesion.
Though the workshop no longer runs, I maintain this page so as to make available descriptions of the IPM exercises so that others might try them in their own groups, social gatherings, and professional activities.
If you're so inclined, I hope you'll try some of the exercises with friends, loved ones, an experimental group, or, if you are a therapist, clients (as appropriate).
I particularly recommend experimenting with Verbal IPM and Moving IPM.
(Also see my research proposal regarding sustained eye contact as a hypothetical treatment for social anxiety. And for those interested in the use of eye contact in therapy, note that Stan Tatkin, Diana Fosha, and Systems-Centered Therapy all, I've been told, make at least some use of conscious eye contact in therapy settings. See too, this study on "impaired fixation to eyes" in children diagnosed with bipolar disorder.)
Rotating Silent IPM
This is the form of IPM I use to introduce beginners. I did not invent this particular exercise, which consists of a series of three-minute silent eye-contact meditations, in which we pair up with a first partner, sustain gentle, meditative eye contact for three minutes, then rotate and repeat the same exercise with another partner. We continue until we have done several of these short meditations with several different people. The purposes of the exercise include: noticing what feelings eye contact arouses with different people, opening up to seeing what we see in others, opening up to being seen by others, deepening social consciousness, etc.
This is an exercise that combines mindful verbal conversation with sustained, meditative eye contact. The idea is to go slow enough to be able to notice any moments when we experience an impulse to avert the gaze, so that we can mindfully sustain the gaze, slow down our words, and meditate on whatever feeling is arising. This can be a powerful way to heal interpersonal blocks, and also can facilitate excellent quality of interpersonal connection. For those who are new to IPM, I would use structured Verbal IPMs in which one person shares thoughts about experiences in the group while the other listens, after which the roles are switched. Between more experienced students who have acquired a degree of trust, unstructured Verbal IPMs can be fruitful and enjoyable. [Note: Another variation on this exercise, which Mark Waldman and I stumbled upon when we met to talk about and experiment with these exercises, is to speak super-slowly, i.e., no faster than one word every three seconds, and perhaps slower. This creates a profound effect.]
With this exercise, two participants sit facing a third participant. Triangular IPM can be done in a variety of ways. As an introduction to triangular IPM, I would have the two participants at the base of the triangle sustain a meditative gaze on the third participant; the third participant sustains a meditative gaze with one of the other participants for thirty seconds, then switches to the other participant, and rotates between the two in this way several times. This can then be followed by a Verbal Triangular IPM, where participants share their experiences, the third participant sustaining eye contact with whomever of the other two is being spoken to or listened to. This exercise is quirky, but interesting.
Moving IPM can be very evocative; it consists of exploring movement while sustaining meditative eye contact. As an introduction to moving IPM, two students can begin a Silent IPM; one student then retreats from the other slowly, while maintaining the gaze, then approaches again. Then the other student does the same, and the two can take turns several times -- then perhaps try the exercise with someone else. More advanced students can be more experimental, moving around the room in a more free fashion. I make the distinction here between beginning and advanced because when I ran my class, I found that when beginning students attempted free-form moving IPM, they usually would get stuck in their heads, complaining afterward that "I just kept thinking about where I was going to move next." This is why I developed the simpler, beginning-level approach-and-retreat Moving IPM.