Inside of you is a happy person just itching to come out. Much like the form in the marble that Leonardo Da Vinci was able to masterfully liberate, so too the awakened, healthy personality exists as a pregnant possibility within us. We are born with it, lose the deep connection with this initial zone as we wade deeper into the waters of life, and may return to ourselves after we have drowned a few times. It turns out that this play between zones has more to do with which hemisphere of the brain that we choose to dwell in than anything else!
Neuroscientists have discovered that our minds, through which we experience and “know” things, is composed of two distinct hemispheres. Each has its own interests and cares. They even have different and disparate personalities!
The right hemisphere is in charge of the whole picture (it actually thinks in pictures) and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. In the right brain reality, i.e. “Right Truth,” we exist as energy beings in an undifferentiated collage of fluid energy, where all is connected in a perfect whole. It learns kinesthetically, i.e. through movement, and uses the senses and the body, to experience life. The right brain perceives our existence in a perpetual Nirvana-like Now. Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor says that, “you and I are literally swimming in a turbulent sea of electromagnetic fields… through our sensory apparatus we experience what is.”
The left hemisphere parachutes into the fray with its job; that is to pick apart, judge, sort, quantify and project possibilities. In the left brain world, “Left Truth” is situated in time (mostly past and future). Thinking is linear and project and/or language based. The concept of separation, including the ego and categorizations such as “I am,” emerge.
- Categorization, incl. “I am”
- Past, Future
- Linear, incl. thinks in language, projects
- Perfect Whole
- Energy Being
- Pictures, incl. learns kinesthetically
The pathway that the brain has been understood to navigate goes something like this:
a) Sensory Stimulus (Sensory Experience through Right Brain)
–> b) Limbic System (Feelings about the Experience)
–> c) Cerebral Cortex (Left Brain Thinking/Beliefs)
That’s the brain’s process. It informs our awareness of who we are, what is real and the why of it all. Our ideas of what reality is and what constitutes ultimate reality (Cosmology) is constructed in this way. Our beliefs are just ideas that have been transmuted by our feelings!
Because the two hemispheres are so radically different in how they operate, two realities emerge. At the thinking stage on our journey, we branch into right brain inclined and left brain dominant thinking. (Much of this has been mapped as personality typing such as Myers-Briggs Indicator.) There are distinctly two ways of looking at the same world since each half has a unique take on what it thinks is True and important.
If you have seen the movie, The Matrix, the question becomes, “Do I choose the red pill of the right brain or the blue pill of the left brain?” It becomes an Existentialist type of conundrum about what is real and what is not. You have to admit that in the West, society tends to be run by the left brain team. Albert Einstein nailed it when he said that we have two hemispheres in the brain, the left being in charge of rational thinking and the right giving us imagination and inspiration. He said that we have become slaves to the left while forfeiting the gifts of the right.
Now, layer on top of the left vs right brain functionality, the concept of “ego” and all its trappings. The nature of ego includes an all consuming need for more. It fears death of itself and is trapped in linear time. It’s the monkey mind that drives all of our fears and discontent. The ego would have us believe that it and its needs are all that matters. The daily drama of ego and just plain persistent change has us leaping from one drama filled event to the next. So guess where our sense of ego lives? It sits squarely in the left brain.
Life, then, becomes an interesting irony. The will to go forward, live and self actualize is part of our psyche that is housed in the ego. Yet the ego, also keeps us from achieving the deeper awareness of the eternal essence of ourselves. Eckhart Tolle calls it, “lost in our minds.” Modern society is definitely an insane manifestation of ego that is lost in its mind. Bolte Taylor calls it the constant chatter of the left brain. Eastern spirituality, including Buddhism and Taoism, calls it illusion.
Our left brain dominant society even puts down attributes of right brain thinking while it elevates the left. A right brain person, geared toward “not sweating the small stuff” and happily living in the present moment, might be called lackadaisical while the left brain individual, punctual and goal oriented, would conversely be called focused. The ego needs to be right!
It struck me that there seems to be a distinct flavour of where the big questions of ultimate “Truth” lie, according to which pill (red or blue) you choose. There is a high correlation between the attributes of the left hemisphere brain and Western belief systems. There also seems to be an equally high correlation between the right brain personality and Eastern belief systems.
Einstein said, “Everything is energy and that is all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.” Which hemisphere speaks “truth?” Which frequency do I want to get behind? Which side leads to contentment and happiness?
When asked “What thing about humanity surprises you the most?”, His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV answered, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
That certainly sounds like the insanity of the left brain ego to me. The good news is that there is a way out of, or rather through, the labyrinth. On a philosophical level, people have mapped out a strategy that takes on the ego, nose to nose. Essentially, the quick answer is to step out of the insanity of your left brain!
Yet we are made of more than ego and the left brain. We have the body and our sensory faculties that are the vehicles for the right brain. When it comes to higher cognition, i.e. intuition, it is the right brain of the cerebral cortex that is in charge. We also have the gift of the Will that may be used as a bridge to deeper awareness. Left and right must be a synergistic whole when strokes of genius measure the brilliance of a new idea. Both sides are joined with the corpus callosum after all. We are meant to be integrated; with ourselves, with each other, our world and the universe. Even the cells of our bodies are wired to not only do a specific job but also, on another level, function as part of the whole body. We obviously need both sides of our brains to plug in to our world. It seems that while the right brain may be connected to the cosmic energy stream, the left brain has us functioning in our time and space reality. The discussion of reality takes us ever closer to a combination of religion and science. As per Einstein, “Without religion, science is lame. Without science, religion is blind.”
When it comes to a recipe for deepening awareness and/or finding ultimately peace-contentment-happiness, both Western and Eastern thought agree. Both approaches call for love, compassion and surrender to “Source” in their respective formulas for enlightenment. It would appear that the journey by way of Western beliefs is just fraught with more barriers than the Eastern way. I can even wrap my overworked left brain around that.
Helena is a Counsellor, Special Needs Worker, Facilitator and Writer.
(Right brain/left brain illustration submitted)