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There are many things in life that we accept at a young age and, often, take for granted. One rule is that you’ve got to eat to survive. Another is that you shouldn’t look straight at the sun, because it will ruin your eyes.
These two deeply ingrained customs are widespread and universal. But the ancient practice of sungazing—staring directly at the sun for long periods each day, instead of eating food—turns both those ideas (and essentially our entire belief system) on their heads.
“It’s still a little bit of a mystery,” says Peter Sorcher, director of the feature documentary Eat the Sun (2009). The film follows a young sungazer named Mason Dwinell on his quest for truth about the controversial practice.
“I met him when I first moved to the San Francisco area, at a party,” says Peter. “We got to talking, and he told me what he was up to—looking directly at the sun for long periods of time.”
“When I asked him about, you know, why you would do that, he mentioned a lot of physical benefits that he was getting. I was intrigued, but, at the same time, it was sort of like, ‘Welcome to San Francisco’,” he laughs.
The technique Mason practices in the film comes from a world-renowned sungazing teacher from India, Hira Ratan Manek, known in North America simply as HRM. According to his method, new sungazers begin by looking at the sun for ten seconds, while standing barefoot on bare earth. As the routine progresses, practitioners add ten seconds each day until reaching 44 minutes, at which point, HRM claims, one loses both the desire and the need to eat food.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever really looked at the sun setting before it’s on the horizon, but it’s bright,” says Peter, pointing out that sungazing is typically practiced either at dawn or sunset.
“Forty-four minutes is a long time to look at it,” he says. “A minute is a long time.”
As Mason discovers, the path to becoming a seasoned sungazer is not an easy one. But, with dedication, the physical and spiritual benefits are said to be drastic and profound. To get a better sense of the practice and how it is used by people with different backgrounds and lifestyles, the film visits a remarkably diverse group of people from the sungazing community.
“I wanted a variety of people with a variety of life experience and backgrounds, and also a variety of experience sungazing—some who were early on in the process and had less time under their belts than Mason, and also others who had been doing it for
20 or 25 years,” Peter says.
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