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Mastering Your Thoughts October 11, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Meditation, Mindfulness, Music & Dance, People.
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In A Stroke of Insight, I shared a link to a TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a brain scientist who had a stroke caused by a hemorrhage in her left brain.  From her bio on Amazon:

Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., is a neuron-anatomist affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine.

She is the national spokesperson at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (Brain Bank), and one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, 2008.

Now, I’ve read the book, My Stroke of Insight, and recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about our amazing brain.   Thanks, Julie . . . for bringing the book, the talk, and Jill Taylor to my attention.

The initial chapters address who she was before, during, and after the stroke as she regained the use of her left brain.   It’s a quick and interesting read, despite the heady nature of the topic under discussion.  These chapters will be of particular interest if you’ve ever known someone who suffered from the aftermath of a stroke or other brain injury.

For me, the really fascinating information is reached in Chapter 15, My Stroke of Insight, as she addresses the differences between the left analytical brain and right experiential brain and how they help us interpret the world.

In a nutshell, using my words, not hers:

The right brain is present moment oriented.  It’s creative and happy and curious.  It accepts things as they are without judgment.  It’s alive and aware.  It tastes, and touches, and smells, and enjoys each sensation as it arises.  It communicates with us in pictures and images ~ beautiful sunsets and fragrant flowers and tantalizing tastes. 

Picture a young child playing, caught up in the moment, fully engaged in the flow of life, happy and laughing.  Picture yourself when you are so immersed in an enjoyable activity that time ceases to exist and the rest of the world falls away.   

In contrast, the left brain is analytical and linear.  It doesn’t experience and enjoy all that life has to offer because it is too busy processing information.  It analyzes it, labels it, and judges it by referring back to previous experiences. 

It uses words to organize and compartmentalize and file data away for later retrieval.  

As it gathers relevant information, it chatters constantly pulling us away from the moment at hand . . . and pushing us forward or backward in time: 

That sunset is not as pretty as the one last night.  It’s probably going to rain tomorrow.  That’s going to spoil everything.  That’s what happened the last time we planned a picnic.  Why do we even bother to make plans?  It always rains.  Don’t forget to buy milk on the way home.  I hope I can find a parking spot.  What are we going to do if it rains?   These pants are too tight.  I need to lose weight.  I shouldn’t have eaten that . . . I can’t believe that guy just stole my parking spot.  People are so rude these days.  Now I’m going to be late.  And it’s all his fault.  Him and his lousy parents.  What a jerk.           

The left brain tells us stories to help us make sense of experiences.  If pieces of a puzzle are missing, it makes stuff up.  It’s critical of us and others, as it judges people, places, and things by comparing and contrasting.  It rarely accepts things as they are.  It hates to be wrong, and never wants to admit it made a mistake.  It values consistency and fears change.  

Picture a perfectionist, full of fear and guilt and angst and self-importance, who takes life seriously . . . all of the time . . . and never remembers to laugh. 

Mastering the mind requires balance:

If we want more balance and less stress in our lives, we need to flow between the two hemispheres. 

We need to use the right brain to see and enjoy this moment and the left brain to help us learn from the past and share our thoughts with others through language.

Even though balance is what we’re after, we don’t flow easily from left to right brain because we develop a preference for using one over the other.  Gaining proficiency with one sphere (usually the left) causes us to lose proficiency with the other (usually the right).  

For example, throughout our school years, we are trained to listen to the left brain to learn and memorize and communicate.  There is less focus on helping children to develop the creative world of the right brain ~ through art and music appreciation. 

Instead of appreciating art and music “as is,” we put them under a microscope  by dissecting and labeling the notes, the brush strokes, the meter, the colors, the clef, the composer, and/or the artist.  

Although the spheres exist side by side and are intrinsically equal, we are urged to flex the muscles of the left while the right brain atrophies.

As we age, the monkey chatter of the left brain with its constant labeling and worrying and judging often drowns out the right brain. 

It’s a bit like the game “Rock, Paper, and Scissors.”  The right brain is the rock, our silent inner core.  The left brain assumes the role of paper . . . covering the rock and holding it captive.  

If we allow the left brain to operate on auto-pilot, it dominates our thoughts and reinforces that dominance by firing its synapses constantly. 

It doesn’t care about what it’s saying ~ it just wants to hear itself think.  Out loud.  All the time.  Even if what it’s saying isn’t true.  If we stay tuned to this Chatty Cathy, we miss the moment and all it offers.  We are too busy worrying about whether it’s going to rain tomorrow to see the glorious sunset today.

We regain balance & strengthen the right brain  through meditation, art, dance,  music, laughter.  

As we become more mindful of the moment, we quiet the manic chatter of the left brain and learn to just be.  

We hear the rain tapping at the window.  We smell the fragrance of flowers.  We focus on the sunsets and sunrises.   

Through mindful awareness, we strengthen our connection with the universe, our world expands, and we are no longer relegated to one myopic corner. 

Instead of spending our time sorting through dusty filing cabinets and stale memories, we seize the day.

Aah . . . that’s better!

Your thoughts?

While you’re pondering right brain processes, check out Pocket Perspective’s latest post ~ The Six Perfections . . . a gorgeous reminder of ideals to perfect.

Related post:  Ever Wonder What Babies Think About? (Creating Reciprocity)

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Comments»

1. suzicate - October 11, 2011

This makes me thankful I know how to stop and smell the flowers, and even feel the thorns if I have to!

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

This book reinforces what I’ve observed about Spirit ~ Ego by expressing it in terms of Right Brain ~ Left Brain.

When the left is in charge . . . it’s all work and no play.
When the right is in charge . . . it’s all play and no work.

Striking a happy medium, a balance between the two hemispheres, seems to work magic.

The “nirvana” she describes is very much the way I feel during meditation . . . when the monkey chatter (of the left brain) shuts up long enough for me to tune into “the source of all.”

The Right Brain is a state of pure awareness ~ we hear, see, smell, touch, and taste things directly . . . no longer filtering those experiences through the Left Brain with all it’s linear ego judgments. We become less concerned with the person having the experience than with the experience itself.

it’s clear that Ms. Taylor feels we should spend more time telling the Left Brain to “shut it” so we can truly embrace the present moment through the Right Brain. But, when we need to learn something new, or interact with others, we must leave La La Land to do so.

2. Pocket Perspectives - October 11, 2011

Nancy, this is really helpful. I seem to have both sides “functioning,” some days better than others, but being able to go back and forth is difficult for me. Making image pages is easy for me, but writing the explanations is sooooooo difficult. And yet I can make detailed charts of information and write long academic reports…just hard to put language to right brain material? My hunch is that a promising strategy might be developing both areas and then developing an ability for smoothly flowing back and forth…that’s my plan. ; )

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

It gets easier with practice. For example, if we feel “negative” emotions arising (anger, hurt, sadness), we know to step back into the role of detached observer in the Right Brain where we can watch the action from the sidelines without getting too caught up in it. Then we can return to the left brain to mindfully decide HOW to respond.

I haven’t quite finished the book, but it’s definitely reaffirming things I’ve known from watching my own thoughts during and after meditation. More soon!

3. Julie - October 11, 2011

I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! I still keep it by my bedside and peruse parts of it here and there. I love the fact that she doesn’t villify left-brain, but strives for balance between the two.

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

That’s going to be the biggest shift for me after reading the book, Julie.

Now, instead of trying to tune out the ego center in the left brain to focus on this moment through the experiential right brain, I’m going to focus on moving back and forth between the two spheres, utilizing the strengths of each while downplaying their weaknesses.

I borrowed the book from the library, but may end up purchasing a copy for my bedside table.

4. sufilight - October 11, 2011

Nancy, I read her book last year and I was intrigued when she wrote that she could feel the energy literally (rephrasing here) of the people that entered her hospital room, to the point she had someone put up a sign to leave negativity out of the door. She would know if the attending physician had an argument at home, and, I understand what she is referring to, as we all sense energy. We may walk into a room and feel uplifted or tense all of a sudden; it’s energy we are tuning into. Jill is a wonderful teacher, she is showing us not only the scientific side of how the mind works but to learn to expand our vision of what reality truly is.

By the way, I am writing from memory so I may have gotten the details such as the physician having an argument and it may have been a nurse or a friend, but the gist of what she wrote is accurate, that we all are energy. :)

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

She felt that some people added to her energy . . . while others “sucked the life out of her.” She also found TV to be a HUGE energy drain. No big surprise, eh? :lol:

I definitely notice that some people add to my energy . . . while others are HUGE energy drains. Those are the ones that I am “weeding from my garden.” I want to preserve the energy I have . . . not fritter it away.

I am loving the book and plan to re-read it again straight through to catch a few more insights. Brilliant read.

Thanks, Marie! (You ADD to my energy levels).

5. bluebee - October 11, 2011

Great post, Nancy – over the years I have done many things to try and balance out the left-brainedness (is there such a word? :)) of my work. I am not very good at most of these creative pursuits but no matter; they help the brain breathe. Funny thing is that when I have too much of one, I start moving towards the other – the brain seems to try to work towards a natural equilibrium.

Have you read ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge?

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

I have heard of that book but have not read it. I just checked it out on Amazon. It looks awesome! Thanks!

The brain is constantly changing ~ losing some synapses and gaining others. The key is to “disconnect” the ones that are holding us back . . . while building new pathways to connect us to greater happiness, enthusiasm, and inspiration.

I’ve noted the same thing as you . . . that the right brain encourages me to be still and meditate when the monkey chatter of the left brain gets to be too much for me.

Breathe. Relax. Repeat. . . . Aah, that’s better! :cool:

6. Crowing Crone Joss - October 11, 2011

isn’t she an amazing woman? You’ve done a superb job of exposing us to the right brain / left brain differences.
walk in beauty this day.

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

Thanks! I got so excited as I read through her descriptions of the left and right brain functions because I could see which I’d been using for things that worked well . . . as well as for things that did NOT work well.

It’s not a matter of replacing left brain dominance with right brain dominance . . . it’s balance we’re after. Balance allows us to pick and choose the BEST way to get from where we are to where we want to be.

7. barb19 - October 11, 2011

Fascinating – and the way you have put it all in a nutshell in your own words has made it so easy to understand Nancy. Thank you for that.
I may just have to go out and buy the book as well, and keep it by my bedside!

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

It’s a very readable book that substantiates much of what I have been describing as the on-going “struggle” between Spirit and Ego. Since many readers are not interested in anything that smacks of “New Age Spirituality,” having a brain scientist describe the same concepts using the language of Right and Left Brain functions is wonderful.

Enjoy! And feel better.

barb19 - October 11, 2011

My mother had a stroke almost 8 years ago and has been in a home ever since. Her speech was badly affected, she cannot put a full sentence together, so I thought the book might help me to understand where she is at.

nrhatch - October 11, 2011

I expect that it will give you wonderful insights into what’s your mother’s thought processes might look like.

For example, her right brain might see water and want water . . . but in crossing over to the language center in the left brain she might only be able to find the word, “MILK.”

8. CMSmith - October 12, 2011

I’ve always known I was dominated by my left brain, but as I became a parent and watched young children, I started to nurture my right brain more. Now, here in midlife, I am actively cultivating it. Thanks for the link.

Disney’s Epcot used to have a cute exhibit about the left-brain/right-brain as it pertained to the teenage mind.

nrhatch - October 12, 2011

Growing up, I valued left brain logic and analysis far more than the right brain’s “present moment orientation.”

After I stopped practicing law, the pendulum swung from Left to Right ~ and I focused on developing more mindfulness and intuitive understanding of the world.

Now I see that being able to quickly shift from one to the other is the best way to maximize our happiness and effectiveness.

This book is very relevant to Annie’s experience here. I expect that you would find yourself nodding along with Jill’s description of life immediately after the stroke when her mind went silent.

9. thirdhandart - October 12, 2011

I haven’t read My Stroke of Insight, but I’ve seen the author, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., on TV. Does she have any thoughts on people who have to let their right brains dominate for extended periods of time(for instance artists)? Can they achieve balance too?
It all sounds very interesting. Thank you for the insights on right brain / left brain differences.

nrhatch - October 12, 2011

Well, she lost ALL functioning of her left brain in the stroke and then regained it back. So, yes, she definitely includes ideas for how to strengthen both spheres.

thirdhandart - October 12, 2011

Thanks! I’ll check it out.

10. ElizOF - October 14, 2011

It’s a brilliant book and a powerful story… She is fortunate to have survived. My dad wasn’t quite lucky. Nice selection.

nrhatch - October 14, 2011

Did he have a stroke at a young age. She was only 37. I expect that makes a big difference. I would only want to survive a stroke IF I could recover pre-stroke brain function ~ walking, talking, sharing, etc. If not, I’d rather leave.

11. Hopefulness « creatingreciprocity - October 19, 2011
12. Living in the “now”…today IS your moment | Pocket Perspectives - November 20, 2011

[...] Taylor, a woman with a PhD in Brain Anatomy.  (thank you Nancy Hatch, from Spirit Lights the Way, “Mastering your thoughts”, for that [...]

13. cuhome - December 28, 2011

Nancy, this is a wonderfully insightful and educational post, which points me to the over-riding left-brain chatter, and makes me wonder how all the right-brain creativity gets through! It makes it’s way somehow, but it must be with great effort, as all my training has been, as you said, focused on the left-brained functions. Your post is so well thought out and absolutely pertinent to all of us, I think. Thank you for sharing, and for taking the time write and share this with us.

nrhatch - December 28, 2011

Thanks, cuhome!

My early socialization definitely centered on left brain reasoning and analysis . . . with the creative right brain waiting in the wings to take flight as soon as I gave it the green light. :D

cuhome - December 28, 2011

The trick is in finding that “off button” for the left brain. I know it’s there, somewhere, but I also know it moves around, avoiding my finger, which it knows will press it to “off”. d:^)

nrhatch - December 28, 2011

The more I meditate (or engage in mindful attention to the moment), the faster the monkey chatter of the left brain settles down.

It knows that I’m not going to pay it “any mind.” ;)

14. The incredible potential of the human mind…left brain, right brain…. | Pocket Perspectives - May 25, 2012

[...] on each side of the brain, from an October post from Spirit Lights the Way, by Nancy Hatch:  Mastering Your Thoughts And perhaps the power of suggestion…???….those below consciousness,  intuitive brain [...]

nrhatch - May 25, 2012

Wonderful post, Kathy. The human brain fascinates me . . . left and right. We need them both. A balance between the two aids us immensely in our journey through life.

15. Val Boyko - August 10, 2014

So helpful Nancy! I’m aware of other brain research, but not this one.
Thank you :)
Val x

nrhatch - August 10, 2014

You’re welcome, Val. This is one place where being in the Middle Ground pays HUGE dividends:

When the left is in charge . . . it’s all work and no play.
When the right is in charge . . . it’s all play and no work.

Striking a happy medium, a balance between the two hemispheres, seems to work magic.


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