In the last week, I’ve officially confirmed that I am in my right mind. Allow me to explain and clarify. For most of my life, I’ve been called a left brain dominant person and told I would be well-served to get out of my head and let go of attachment to my thoughts. I was never quite able to do this, even by practicing various forms of meditation.
Although we have been living in a left brain dominant world, I see that things are changing. And, I admit I do appear to be very left brain dominant. My strong language skills, love of words and writing, great ability to remember details both of the past and future (even though technically I haven’t been there yet) and my well-honed analytical abilities, which are all left brain traits, might suggest I’m a left brain person.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, the neuroanatomist who recovered from a massive left hemisphere blood clot, speak live. She was very captivating in talking about our brains and frankly, I was fascinated. Her book My Stroke of Insight, which I literally devoured in a day, was absolutely eye opening and mind expanding in relation to how our brains work and the differences between our right and left hemispheres and how these inform our learning, relating and experiences as human beings.
It took eight years for Dr. Taylor to completely recover all her functions and thinking ability, rebuilding her brain from the inside out. Her experience offered her the opportunity to be a first hand witness to the possibility of stepping to the right of the left brain hemisphere, to experience a sense of deep inner peace and oneness, a connectedness to everything. What she calls an “at one with all that is”. Her talk on Ted.com, is beautiful to watch in it’s engaging and passionate presentation, and is their second most watched talk, with over six million views. This led TIME magazine to choose her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008. And I understand why.
This is where my personal revelation comes in. I decided to do an online test (and there are many) and was surprised to find that I’m predominantly a right brain, not a left brain person. My left hemisphere’s number one strength is in verbal communication, which was no surprise, but shows that linearity, a cornerstone of left brain thinking, was least dominant. Instead, my right brain showed great dominance in random thinking, quite opposite of linear and sequential thinkers. I’d just read that actor Ryan Gosling said he has no master plan, no process and no agenda, but operates entirely on instinct. I really got that.
All of this brought understanding to my seeming lack of process in the way I create. Although I’m strong with language and can engage in impromptu conversations with ease, my way of pulling information together has been challenging to explain to others, who suggest that a system or master plan would be a good thing. (I smile and tell them I’m doing okay, thanks). I thought it was because I’m an Aquarian with five additional planets in air that I’m able to seemingly pluck ideas and information out of thin air and put it all together in some logical sequence, to bring it down to earth. I’m also a very visually oriented person and the world streams in strongly through this sense for me. It seems all of this complements my right brain random processing. For now, I’m going to believe it’s a combination of many things, not one in particular, that contributes to who I am. All of us have brains which are uniquely individual, and we use both our right and left hemispheres in our own ways every day.
My research found that there are many famous people, like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln, Salvadore Dali, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison and Mozart who were most likely right brained thinkers. They created from a place of inspiration, creativity and purpose and may not have been great students in the traditional sense. In today’s label happy diagnostic world, they may even have been called learning disabled. I found an online document called Heart Centered Minds…Learning Differences, Not Disorders and was fascinated to read the possibility that many of those diagnosed with learning disabilities might in fact be right brain thinkers who just learn in a different way. Personally, although I don’t have any direct experience with this, I’m aware that learning disability diagnoses, are definitely on the rise.
So, what are the differences between the right and left brain? In computer terms, the right brain is like a parallel processor, it is about the present moment. It thinks in pictures, is non-verbal and seeks similarities using the information that streams in through our senses to determine what an experience looks, smells, tastes, feels and sounds like. It is in fact, about the bigger picture, is non-linear, holistic and creative. About how we connect in a universal oneness to everyone and everything in the right here and right now.
The left brain is like a serial processor. It thinks in language, is interested in the past and future and is concerned with the details it can extract to put things in a linear or sequential form. It seeks difference, is logical and is the critical analytical part of our being.
If the right brain has no sense of time, is playful and lost in the flow, the left brain is on the clock, always with a sense of urgency. The right brain is compassionate. The left competitive and confrontational. The right brain connects us all. The left brain says we are separate from others. The right brain sees humour, while the left brain is serious. The right brain is associated with the heart, the left the head. The right feels, the left thinks. The right is intuitive, the left logical. These are merely some of the differences.
Within hours of Dr. Taylor’s severe hemorrhage, from a blood clot the size of a golf ball in the left hemisphere of her brain, she was unable to walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life. She did find herself in what she described as la-la land or Nirvana, in Buddhist terms. Nirvana is described as a place where we can be in a state of perfect happiness, a transcendent state where there is neither suffering, desire nor a sense of separate self. Other words to describe Nirvana: Paradise, bliss, ecstasy, joy, peace, serenity, enlightenment. Whether you are right or left hemisphere dominant, you get the picture.
And Dr. Taylor reports we have this choice to be in our right mind all the time. To step into the peacefulness and connectedness of the right brain. I found the following very profound. Dr. Taylor defines responsibility (response-ability) as the ability to choose how you respond to stimulation coming in through your sensory systems at any moment in time. Although there are certain emotional (limbic system) programs that can be triggered automatically (and here’s the incredible part), “it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream.” (1) This means that if an anger response was triggered and you remain angry after 90 seconds, it’s because you have chosen to let that circuit continue to run. She says that moment by moment we make the choice to either hook into our neurocircuitry or move back into the present moment, allowing that reaction to melt away.
So, we always have an alternate way of looking at any situation. As she also explains, if someone approaches you from a place of anger or frustration, you can either reflect your own anger and engage in argument (left brain) or be empathetic and approach the other with a compassionate heart (right brain). This freedom to make conscious choices gives us our own power to be responsible for what we attract into our lives.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to live in a world that celebrates how similar we all are rather than a world that dwells on our differences? According to Dr. Taylor, all humans share 99.99% identical genetic sequences. Biologically, we are virtually identical to each other at the level of our genes. How amazing to realize that the diversity in the human species comes from a mere .01% (1/100th of 1%) of difference. (2) Each of us is comprised of 50 trillion molecular cells and only 1/100th of 1% marks our diversity or uniqueness.
I remembered a quote from fellow right brain thinker Albert Einstein. “I must be willing to give up what I am, in order to become what I will be.” We have this choice in every moment. I’ll end with Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of what the real “stroke of insight” was in her experience. Simply put, “peace is only a thought away and all we have to do to access it is silence the voice of our dominating left mind.” (3) She makes it sound so simple.
Although this is a very big topic with a complicated scope, my purpose is simply to be a messenger of possibility. I look forward to hearing your personal experiences, right or left minded, as your insight might be helpful to someone else. Are you predominantly a right or left brain person?
Each week on the Intent Blog, we feature articles, videos, and images to inspire you to live a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life. This week, our focus is on the Brain and Neuroscience. If you’ve recently set an intent related to brain health, share it with us in the comment section below. We’ll do our best to support you with interesting content to keep you motivated along the way!
(1) Taylor, Jill Bolte. My Stroke of Insight: a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York: Viking, 2008. Print. pg. 146
(2) Taylor, Jill Bolte. My Stroke of Insight: a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York: Viking, 2008. Print. pg. 15
(3) Taylor, Jill Bolte. My Stroke of Insight: a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York: Viking, 2008. Print. pg. 111
Originally published August 8, 2011.
PHOTO (cc): Flickr / dierk schaefer