In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor a brain scientist who survived a massive stroke in her left-brain, writes that each of us have been created with two distinct but integrated brains: the left brain and the right brain.
Our right brain is the intuitive and creative side of our brain. It thinks in pictures and metaphors.
It perceives the portrait of the present moment. It enjoys nature and allows its natural beauty to speak to us with organic and simple images. Walking along a nature trail and stumbling upon a young fawn quietly chewing on plants, speaks to our right brain of the innocence and trust we are being invited to reclaim in our self.
Our right mind is free to think intuitively, outside the box. It creatively explores the possibilities of each moment.
It’s spontaneous, carefree, and imaginative. It allows our artistic juices to flow without inhibition or judgment.
It’s the part of our mind that perceives everything from a both-and, everything-belongs vantage point. It sees all of life as connected. One.
And it allows us to experience compassion for ourselves and others. It may very well be the spiritual root of our being.
Some describe the right brain as: our heart-space or our feeling space. It’s the instinctive consciousness, the authentic self, the yin, the feminine, emotional side of our brain, the perceiving mind.
The right mind has a sense of timelessness. It perceives life solely in the present moment and has softer edges as it feathers all of life at a deeper gut level. It trusts mystery because it knows it’s the doorway to new insight and discovery.
In contrast, our left mind processes information in tidbits. It strings facts together in timely, linear succession.
It thrives on and organizes details in order to describe, define, categorize, and communicate with words. Its role is to evaluate, judge, and critique facts and experiences like a scientist.
It sees life in either/or, black-and-white distinctions and differences. It dislikes mystery, and seeks clarity instead. It likes to organize life into mental file cabinets of information and data.
The left brain is responsible for receiving and processing information so it can perform its role of communication. As such, it’s constantly speaking to us, resulting in what some call brain chatter or the monkey-mind.
We often speak of the left brain as our head, our thinking center, or our thoughts. It’s the rational or work mind, the researcher and diplomatic mind. It’s the center of our ego, our masculine mind, our yang consciousness.
It carries out the sensing and judging functions of the brain. It can also facilitate a sense of false self when it gets trapped in its own overly-protective mode.
When normally connected, the left and right brain hemispheres complement and enhance each other’s unique abilities. The left and right brain carry out their functions simultaneously and are connected by an information highway located in the center of our brain (the corpus callosum) that combines the two into a coherent whole, or center. The three parts of our brain (the left, right, and its connecting center) form a natural trinity. When these brain functions are properly integrated and balanced, we live from the “whole” person as the Creator designed and fashioned us.
For many of us, however, we become predominately reliant on our thinking left brain. As a result, over time we develop a Type A personality with polar opposite voices holding court in our heads bouncing words back and forth in our left brain like a ping pong ball. These conflicting thoughts then dominant our attention and silence the right brain.
What Jill Bolte Taylor discovered as the left part of her wounded brain became incapable of functioning, was the ability to live more fully from her right brain. The overly-thinking, judgmental, and critical part of her brain quieted itself and so she began to live more fully from a right brain mentality. As a result, she slowed down, saw things from a deeper more peaceful and instinctual perception.
She began to experience how everything and everyone was connected, and time existed solely in the present moment. She experienced what she called a sense of bliss. Nirvana.
For Taylor, her stroke became both a blessing and a revelation. It taught her that by “stepping to the right” of our left brain, we can quiet the brain chatter and uncover our more intuitive nature allowing us to experience deeper inner peace and insight. Wisdom. Taylor writes:
“I learned that I could use my left mind, through language, to talk directly to my brain and tell it what I wanted and what I didn’t want…I suddenly had much more say about how I felt and for how long.
“I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow out of me.”
As she moved through therapy to regain some of her left-brain capabilities, Taylor also discovered she could consciously decide which portions of her left brain she desired to leave behind and which ones she wanted to restore. For example, she chose to leave behind her old, obsessive, and overly judgmental, critical personality. She re-ordered her daily life to walk away from her Type A character and began to live from a more right-brain centered approach to her day.
She also realized she could let the negative emotions and fears flow in, through, and out of her as quickly as she wanted simply by choosing to let go of them and refocusing her attention on her right brain activity. And she learned how to let the pleasant feelings she experienced linger in her body so she could fully enjoy their presence.
Taylor began to recognize when she was acting out of her left brain or her right brain. As a result of this new awareness, she was able to make a conscious decision about the side of the brain from which she wanted to live. She noticed that when she walked into a room full of friends, they could tell whether she was walking in with her left brain (worried, anxious, tense) or her right brain (calm, light-hearted, relaxed).
After my own recent left brain stroke (one, thank goodness, that was minor compared to Taylor’s), my daughter-in-law suggested I read Taylor’s book as a roadmap toward helping me understand what was going on in me cognitively, physically, and spiritually.
Similar to Taylor, I quickly discovered that I could determine which side of my brain I was acting out of. When I became anxious about the future, found it difficult to get the words in my head off my tongue or became frustrated with my slow progress, I felt tension in the left side of my head, followed by a headache.
And with that new awareness I was then able to invite myself with an inner dialogue to move to the right side of my brain where I felt a gentle flow, a peaceful spirit, and a more balanced ease.
“I want to let go of the fear and let it flow out of me,” I learned to say to myself when I felt anxious. “I invite my right brain to remind me that I am safe. I am strong, and to give me a gentle image that I can hold on to in my mind.”
A recent image that came to me as I played with this new practice, was that of myself standing strong in the middle of a driving wind caused by the noise and chaos around me, and simply laughing at it all. I also often experience the shift to my right brain with a song rising up within me, like Keep Your Eyes on Me from the movie The Shack. Sometimes just the awareness of my dog Riley’s constant presence by my side is enough to shift my focus to the right side of my brain and remind me that God is always with me. My shorthand name for this movement from the left to the right side of my brain I tag as: refocusing.
I wonder if each of us has been gifted with the conscious ability to decide which part of our brain we want to dominate our life? And we don’t need a stroke to make those intentional decisions.
Rather, as we become more attuned to which side is holding court in our heads, we can make a conscious decision with an inner dialogue to step over to the other side of our brain and integrate the two into One.
From a scriptural perspective, it might be the lion (left brain) lying down with the lamb (right brain); or experiencing heaven (right brain) here on earth (left brain).
In fact, wouldn’t it be like the Creator to design these two amazing parts of our brains and connect them with an information highway so we can integrate the two and live a Balanced, Centered life?
And perhaps if we’re open to becoming aware of when we’re over-relying upon one side versus the other, we can make a mindful decision to rebalance the two and integrate them into One.
Perhaps by living more fully from our right brain and allowing it to balance out our left brain, we become Whole. We gain the gift of Wisdom.
—brian j plachta
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.