A few weekends ago, I was intrigued to see this story in the New York Post: “The ultimate star perk is forbidding eye contact.” According to the Smoking Gun, singer Katy Perry’s contract covering her driver provides that the driver isn’t supposed to “stair” (sic) at her in the rear-view mirror.
The piece notes that there have been many similar rumors over the years — that people were prohibited from making eye contact with Luke Perry, Tori Spelling, Sylvester Stallone, and others.
When I read this story, I had a huge rush of intellectual pleasure. Because I think I’ve figured this out! Darshan.
Years ago, when I was doing the research for my first book, Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide, I was struck by how often celebrities made rules about eye contact. Why would they do that? Then I learned about darshan, the Sanskrit term meaning “sight” or “auspicious viewing.”
Darshan is the beneficial glow that comes from being in the presence of a great spiritual leader (or holy place or object). Merely looking at such a person — and even better, receiving his or her glance — bestows a blessing. In Vikram Chandra’s terrific novel set in India, Sacred Games, people also sought darshan of a rich and famous mobster.
So when people follow Woody Allen down the street for blocks, or stand outside in the freezing cold to see Barack Obama speak in person instead of watching him on TV, it’s because they want darshan.
I myself don’t have much feeling for darshan, but it’s obvious how eagerly many people seek it out. I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and I can testify that a Supreme Court Justice has some mighty darshan. Justices are treated with great deference and respect, but by contrast, TV and movie stars — especially those considered very friendly and accessible — can be overwhelmed by people’s desire for darshan.
Perhaps, if you’re a saint or guru, you aren’t depleted by the act of making eye contact, and some celebrities, politicians, and other prominent people definitely seem to feed off of people’s attention and gaze. But this transfer may explain why some powerful or famous people try to prevent others from make eye contact. The people seeking darshan drain them of their energy.
Have you felt this, yourself? Even in my own, non-celebrity life, I sometimes feel that making eye contact with a person can give a jolt of energy, or more often, drain some energy away. When I’m feeling low, I sometimes struggle with the effort to make eye contact and say hello to an acquaintance on the street.
Darshan and Katy Perry. It makes me so happy to feel that I’ve figured out some particular quirk of human nature. The sense of intellectual satisfaction is so gratifying — in fact, I suppose, I’ve organized my entire working life around the search for these moments.
Join the happiness discussion on Facebook. Lots of interesting conversation there.