Your Beautiful Right-Sided Brain

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In August of 2011 I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Power of Women conference. Ellen DeGeneres was the keynote speaker, Suzanne Somers was flaunting her fabulous self and as a Baltimore Ravens fan, I was particularly excited about Leigh Anne Tuohy, you know, the bad ass mom from the movie The Blindside that Sandra bullock portrayed and won an Oscar for?

There was however one speaker I had never heard of, and failing to do any research prior to attending, this conference, other than where I was going to meet up with friends for lunch, I was taken completely by surprise by a woman who proved to be the most impactful and inspiring…to me anyway.

Allow me to introduce to you the incredible Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor.

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If you’ve never had the pleasure, Dr. Bolte-Taylor is a Neuroanatomist at Harvard University. She has devoted her life to the study of the brain, and on one fateful morning she suffered a massive stroke. And though any one of us (I can only assume) would have drifted into a state of complete panic and shock; this incredible lady, being the passionate scientist that she is, managed to observe and to learn from every moment of her terrifying experience.

I urge you to watch her TED talk. It’s only about 18 minutes long, but it will provide you with an insight not only of her experience, but of YOUR beautiful 2 sided brain.

In a nutshell, she explains that our left-sided brain is the part of us that thinks linearly and methodically, it thinks in languages, it’s the part of our brain that obsesses over every detail of what we’ve experienced in the past and then attempts to project what our future will look like. It’s the part of us that tells us “I am me”, “I am separate from you, and you, and everything around me”. And it’s the part of our brain that is responsible for that incessant brain chatter that we just can’t seem to turn off. You know the voice that says “set up that meeting, call the mechanic, don’t forget the broccoli, gosh I hate the way broccoli smells when it’s cooking, I wonder if it makes me smell bad if I’m the one cooking it, crap I need to buy deodorant, do we need toothpaste?” and on and on it goes all while we’re typing a text while sending an email and still somehow managing to play the chorus (just the chorus) of Wrecking Ball in our heads on steady repeat.

Meanwhile the right side of our brain is the part of us that learns kinaesthetically, sees in pictures, it looks around and sees how we’re CONNECTED to everyone and everything around us, it knows that we’re not alone, it opens us up to new experiences, and all it cares about is THIS VERY MOMENT, and it knows that in this moment we are whole and everything we need to be.

Dr. Bolte-Taylor then ends her talk by urging us to engage our right brain, for the sake of our health and of our society.

Amazing. Inspiring. Unequivocally true. But now what? How do I do that? Is she coming back onto the stage to tell us how? Can I achieve her state of enlightenment without a stroke?

But she didn’t come back to the stage. Suzanne Somers did and I found myself wishing for her hormone injections and her legs. At the end of the conference I got into my car, fought my way through traffic and spent the remainder of the evening going through all of the emails and voice mails I had missed while in the conference. Within 3 days I had forgotten most of what I had learnt, along with all of the mini promises I made to myself. But every once in a while I’d think about Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor and my neglected right-sided brain. So I took to doing some research. After all, she led me to the water, and maybe it was my turn to teach myself to drink.

The fact of the matter is, we live in a left-brained world, it’s how we’re taught in school, it’s how we pass standard tests, and it’s how we’re ultimately labelled as “fit to be accepted” into the world where people pay you a salary and occasionally give you vacation days.

 “In the Western World there has been a far greater reliance on our left brains, the result of which has propelled our world into imbalance” – Iain McGilchrist, Psychologist, Author

Einstein made a similar observation of our society, well before the advent of social media and smart phones:

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There are many reasons, in recent research, that scientists have explained the causes of our dependence on our left-brain, rational minds, how we feed this dominance, and the impact it has on society.

The example I find most poignant, would be based on the fact that our intuitive right-brain, is the side of our brain that responds to negative feedback.

Whereas the rational left-brain, that we have become so dependent upon does not, and has become an expert at denying that anything is wrong. The left-brain will use its infinite ability to rationalize that any decision we make is correct. It obsesses over detail and patterns and looks to re-create them, ignoring the signs of error.

It is this dominance, and this ability to gloss over the criticism through rationalization and justification, that limits us to doing only that which we have done before.

And as that smart guy Tesla once said: “If you think what you always think, and do what you always do, then you’ll get what you always get…”

As Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor demonstrated with her stroke, we cannot function with just one side of our brain. We need both. The problem lies in the fact that we have evolved to embrace a left-brain society, favouring, and strengthening one side, and in turn weakening the other.

 

In numerous studies scientists have determined that “whole-brained” individuals, meaning those individuals whose left-brain demonstrates the same level of activity of the right-brain are proven to be:

  • balanced
  • do not suffer from extreme tendencies
  • has emotions and knows the origin of those emotions
  • is much more conscious of their motivations & unconscious biases
  • is creative and logical at the same time

A person with similar activity in both hemispheres is also scientifically proven to be:

  • happier
  • more optimistic
  • stronger immune system
  • more emotionally stable
  • less prone to mental illness, depression, anxiety

 

Well that sounds awesome! What do I do? Where do I sign up? How much is it?

 

GOOD NEWS ALERT!

 

In a study of over 3,000 brains, scientists discovered increased levels of left-brain, right-brain synchronization in people who meditate regularly.

 

So it’s 100% doable. It’s completely achievable to navigate this left-brained society in a healthier, more balanced, more successful and more productive way. And it’s FREE!

 

The key is to meditate.

 

The practice of being present. Honouring and observing and experiencing this present moment. Training our minds to step away from the incessant left-brain chatter. These activities strengthen the right-side of the brain.

I know that meditation can be frustrating. Sitting calmly and quietly, stepping out from under that great waterfall of endless mind chatter.

Your mind will wander. This is for certain. A myriad of thoughts will swim into your mind. Accept that, and don’t beat yourself up over it. Just remember to notice that your mind has in fact wandered. And as easily as those thoughts found their way into your mind…let them go and bring your focus back to this present moment

A thought that always helps to keep me encouraged:

Picture your brain as a muscle. The left-brain is stronger right now because we’ve exercised it more. And every time you bring your focus back to this present moment, that’s like a bicep curl, or a deep lunge for the right-brain.

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So even if your mind wanders…and it most definitely will. Bring your focus back to the here and now knowing that every time you do, you are strengthening your beautiful intuitive right-sided brain.

This is Why I Blog

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Hello digital world….I’m Stephanie.

I’ve never written a Blog before (should that be a lower case “b”?), so I was thinking I’d kick this project off by explaining why I’m suddenly compelled to share my thoughts with the expectation that others could benefit from reading about them. So here it is.

 

A few years ago I hit rock bottom, and then hung out there for a while. And let’s say for the sake of honesty that “a while” equates to about 3 years.

 

I called off an engagement, walking away from a life, home and patterns that had been 7 years in the making. I threw myself into work and became a VP by the age of 30. Bought one of those glass box condos and a really fast, totally kick ass car. I was out at all hours, worked hard, partied harder, committed to nothing and no one and genuinely believed that I was a success. I convinced myself I was on top and fronted like I was. The world was my oyster and f-bombs away to anyone loitering in my path.

But one early Sunday morning when I stumbled through the door, wreaking of vodka and smoke and sweat, I kicked off my stilettos, braced the walls for dear life and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and just for one tiny moment…forgot to lie to myself.

A flood of guilt, shame, disgust, fear, anxiety, panic and loneliness pounded over me like a tsunami of stinky slime and left me crumpled and nauseous on my cold bathroom floor. I knew for a fact there was a better way of living, if that was even what I was doing, and I knew I’d been avoiding it.

I couldn’t tell you how much time went by, but I eventually managed to peel myself up from off the floor, chugged a litre of water, popped 3 Advil Liqui-gel and decided to turn to meditation. Not medication, I already took the Advil. The one with the “d” in it. Meditation, because I heard it was the “secret” and I had read it was “the cure”!

I had tried it in the past (more like half-assed attempts) but somehow always managed to abort the mission about 1.3 minutes in, finding something, anything else to do. But this time was different. This would be the time. This was my time.

But I still just didn’t get it! Somewhere in my brain I thought it was for people who lived in deserts, sat alone on logs, wore Birkenstock’s, ate granola, made jam and sold candles. I managed to randomly select a few books from the hundreds on the shelf of Chapters, ordered a few videos and dropped more money than I’d care to admit on retreats…and after all of that, found myself CONVINCED this was for people who lived in deserts, sat alone on logs, wore Birkenstock’s, ate granola, made jam and sold candles….oh and add to that vegan.

So I shut the project down and went back to cabbage soup diets, binge boozing, chain smoking, underground poker and juice cleansing. You know, to balance it all out.  At least I’m doing better than I was before!

But there I went lying to myself again, and because that realization felt bad and required me to actually do something, I instead went out, got wasted and found myself back in front of the mirror again at 5am.

And it was that very next morning I decided to commit to a study of meditation. Clearly this meditation is working for people. People like Oprah, Clint Eastwood, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, the entire Michigan State basketball team, Olympic Gold Medalists, Arianna Huffington, and a whole slew of millionaires, so why not try a new strategy and figure out why?

I made a commitment to demystify it for myself and made a study of what actually happens in my brain when I feel rage, anxiety, stress and what it does to my body. I decided to learn what was happening in my body when I feel shame, vulnerability, judgment, impatience and fear. And also what my body and mind is going through when I feel acceptance, genuine confidence, empathy, gratitude and pure, blissful joy.

And then I put it into plain simple English, and PowerPoint presentations (I like those) all the while figuring out how meditation and simple shifts in perspective could change the way my mind works, change bad habits, create new good habits, improve my digestion, cure headaches, give me more energy, tap into my creativity, relieve my stress and figure out a way to implement these practices into my daily life…without messing with my schedule!

I learn more every day. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but I know there is so much more to learn how to see. I’m married to the man of my dreams. We still fight, but man are we healthier and quicker about it than we used to be. I have the most amazing relationships with my friends and family even though we don’t always see eye to eye. I enjoy my wine and that ice cold vodka, but only very rarely reach for that bottle of Advil. And I have so much more energy. These days when I look in the mirror, I can actually hold my own gaze, keep my chin up and flash myself a hope-filled smile.

 

So this will be the blog where I attempt to share what I have learnt, and what I am still learning, with you!

 

PS: I’m learning more every day and I’m also new at this blog thing so if you happen to read this and can spot what I can improve upon in both content and presentation, know that I am truly grateful for your feedback. I’m also super grateful you made it this far down the page! Please have the most gorgeous day!