The man staring meaningfully at you—yes, you—is known as Braco, pronounced braht-zo, or sometimes as just "the gazer." He is a 48-year-old Croatian healer, born Josip Grbavac in Zagreb. His disciples, of which there are many, swear that his touchless embrace brings about a kind of all-purpose, borderline magical healing, dispelling both physical and emotional suffering with ease.
Braco, who never speaks in public, has traveled extensively to gaze into the souls of believers around the world for the last two decades. According to his website, more than 200,000 people attend his events every year. The gazer was recognized for his work towards "world peace" at a United Nations event in 2012, and his yellow diamond-encrusted Golden Sun pendant (which is not only stylish, but a potent "connection to [his] energy") currently retails for more than $6,000.
But no one, not even Braco, can be everywhere at once. That's why Braco's supporters occasionally organize free gazing livestreams, available to anyone with internet access. From Tuesday to Thursday this week, they've invited us all to lock eyes with Braco in any of seven sessions a day, occurring on the hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
How could I resist? I made my way to Braco.me in time for yesterday's first gazing session, without the slightest idea of what to expect—except for the gazing, that is. I definitely expected some gazing.
The broadcast begins at 11 a.m. sharp, with a brief, unexplained video of Braco on a fishing trip with an older man and a boy. Afterwards, a young woman identified in a chyron as Slavica Martinović appears on screen. Her pretty face, calm demeanor, and Central European lilt are straight out of an ASMR video.
Though she's based at Braco's Center in Zagreb, she addresses the camera in English. We learn that Braco is a universal spiritual remote, compatible with any religion. “There is no dogma, there is no teaching, there is just his pure presence," Slavica tells us.
Her opening monologue deals mostly with that which is unknowable, complexities beyond the senses—people telling their stories are the best evidence, she says, which seems like an awfully convenient philosophy for an organization whose claims about Braco's healing powers have never been proven under reasonable test conditions.
She describes how Drago Plecko, a "special scientist," measured water’s frequency before and after Braco's gaze, only to find that it had risen "immensely." But don't take Drago's word for it: a "famous lab in America" confirmed that "something very special" must have happened in that room. Slavica also takes this opportunity to plug Plecko's latest book, Mystery Called Braco #3, available as of a few weeks ago in both German and Croatian (don't worry, they’re working on an English translation).
"In a few moments, it will be your chance to gaze with Braco," she says. "Before that, simply try to open up for that idea. Whatever the situation is, whatever the problem is, it must have a solution. When we have an open heart, this helps the solution finds its place."
But before we can experience the gaze ourselves, we must watch another video, this one consisting of compiled footage of Braco's devotees, often on the verge of tears, sharing their own accounts of healing.
"My mother was here first because she was very sick. Braco helped her a lot and he helped me with my nightmares," a woman says, leaving us to forever wonder what she was having nightmares about.
"You know how on Facebook I talk about vibration a lot?" asks a man whose Facebook presence we are, sadly, unfamiliar with. "That’s what’s going on now. I'm vibrating at least a thousand times more than I was when I walked in the door. Sort of like I’m falling in love or something."
"I was very ill, problems with my kidneys," explains a man wearing a gold chain and a leather jacket. "I had a urethal stricture and the doctors were not helping. Braco is helping. I was supposed to undergo therapy for the rest of my life, but I haven’t done that for over a year."
"Suddenly my ovaries just started burning, my pelvis started burning, and I started hearing 'pop, pop, pop,'" another woman remembers. "The sciatica I’d had for over a decade was suddenly gone."
Before we have time to fully consider the physical means by which Braco's gaze might alleviate chronic nerve pain, we're back in Zagreb with Slavica. "Thank you for watching this wonderful, soothing, and empowering video clip," she says, doing her best impersonation of a human placebo effect.
A slide informs us, bafflingly, that pregnant women beyond their first trimester are not permitted to experience Braco's gaze. The livestream is also restricted to viewers over the age of 18, and taking photographs thereof is strictly forbidden. (In deference to the latter policy, you won't find screenshots of the actual broadcast in this story.)
It's almost time. Slavica invites viewers to physically stand in front of their screens and to focus on their breathing, but most importantly, to do whatever feels "most natural."
"You don’t need to think anymore," she says, "You only need to let go of everything and look into Braco’s eyes." I try to relax, opening my heart to the mysteries of Braco, though I admittedly find it hard to put leather jacket guy's untreated urethral stricture entirely out of my mind.
Twenty-five minutes into the livestream, Braco finally appears, to swelling piano music. The camera momentarily focuses on his hairline, but quickly adjusts. He stands in the so-called Onyx Room of his Zagreb headquarters, in front of a wall decorated in a mosaic rendering of his trademark sun symbol.
Braco is a little goofy, but an altogether friendly-looking man with a hint of a smile. His shoulder-length hair is gray in places, white in others: a middle-aged Fabio ombré. His eyes are brown, his nose is round and prominent, and his brow is slightly furrowed. There's a small mole just to the side of his left eye. He stares directly into the lens, blinking so infrequently that, when he eventually does, it's downright startling.
A sidebar informs me that I'm in the company of more than 4,200 viewers in more than 80 countries—the United States accounts for about 1,000 of the Braco faithful present, followed by Germany, Croatia, Austria, and China.
As for the gaze, it's not unpleasant. The one-way mirror effect of the livestream eliminates the sense of awkwardness that inevitably results from making eye contact with a stranger in real life—it's like Marina Abramović's "The Artist Is Present" with emotional training wheels. I don't know that I could keep a straight face if confronted with Braco's in-person gaze, but under these circumstances, I like looking at him.
I don't feel healed, exactly, but I do feel calm—sleepy, even. That said, I suspect that has less to do with Braco himself than my brain's chemical response to a rare break from the endless clicking that usually characterizes the time I spend on the internet. It's nice to intentionally do nothing.
Six minutes later, the new age muzak fades, leaving Braco to gaze on in silence. Then, he closes his eyes and leaves the room. That's it. After a still shot of leaves reflected in water, and another of a footbridge over a stream, Slavica returns to debrief us.
"Welcome from your experience of gazing with Braco," she says. "Many say that those few minutes of silence, and of looking into his eyes, leaves them with a big, big smile on their faces. They also feel a sense of peace and warmth. Even many feel tears."
Slavica wishes us farewell and invites us to return for one of six more livestreaming sessions later that day. Then, and only then, does a health disclaimer appear on screen:
This, to me, is where the Braco-industrial complex crosses the line from silly to irresponsible. It's simple: Anything that keeps someone who needs medical attention from seeking that care is dangerous. Braco's website is eager to remind you that the man himself "makes no promise to heal," but tacking on an afterthought of a disclaimer at the very end of the broadcast doesn't strike me as a sufficient counterbalance for the livestream's implied endorsement of leather jacket guy and his abandonment of doctor-prescribed therapy.
I tune in again for the 1 p.m. livestreaming session, the third on Braco's schedule for the day.
This time, a different video starts the proceedings. A younger Braco—his hair noticeably darker and longer—stands in a forest, walks across a bridge, sits in a boat (not the same boat from the fishing trip, mind you), and gazes thoughtfully at every object in his path. It's not unlike a moody music video from the early '90s.
By now, it's evening in Zagreb, but Slavica is no less cheerful than before. "Hello everyone, whichever time of the day it is at your place," she greets us. She speaks of the many countries Braco has visited over the last 20 years, promising that—no matter where you call home—Braco can be your "best friend" in your time of need.
Another video clip, this one titled "Invisible Hug," shows Braco strolling along a river in a European city and visiting a spirituality conference. "He has an exceptionally beautiful aura, snow white," one breathless fan tells the camera. "I would like to go dancing," announces another.
"This is quantum information. Very subtle form of information transferring from Braco to you," someone whose credentials I didn't catch (if they were offered) advises us. "It may change your destiny, your problems, and your health instantly."
Before this round of quantum information exchange begins, Slavica encourage us to "just look into Braco's eyes and let yourself feel." I do my best, but it seems that a single gazing session has more than satisfied my needs—this time, I'm totally preoccupied.
Now, Braco's hair is tucked behind his ears. I notice that his oddly pleated white collared shirt ise embellished with a line of pearl-like gems on one side. His occasional side-to-side-eye moments become jarring, as does the single strand of hair hanging over his forehead.
I find myself wondering: What has Braco been up to, between sessions? Does this get boring for him? What does he think about while he's gazing? And how late is this whole thing going to go, in Zagreb time? Did they order takeout for dinner?
Before I know it—before I feel like I've really got some good old-fashioned gazing in—the music fades out. After a few more seconds of silent staring, Braco steps out of frame, off to heal somebody else.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.