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.
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:
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:
- 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:
- 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.
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.