Sunday, January 4, 2009

Left, Right, Center

Be still as a mountain,
move like a great river.
-Wu Yu-hsiang

If you're just starting out with meditation, staying present - or just practicing focusing on one thought - it can be difficult. What can end up happening is that a little "To Do" list will pop into your head, making sure to challenge your quiet moment.

"What am I doing?? I have to reply to that email from my boss! I can't forget to do that! Oh, Lord, if I don't do it now, I'll probably forget! I've been forgetting everything. Uhhhggg, I just remembered when I forgot my mother's birthday last year. That was fun. I felt sick. I had to pay $40 extra dollars to FedEx it there quickly to save face. Boy did she harass me for that. Speaking of payments, when did I last pay bills...I haven't paid bills this month! I can't be late for that too! Extra fees will kill me! I've got to look into that. And look at me! I'm just sitting here! Doing nothing!"

So, staying in your comfort zone, you jump up and head for the computer to pay online bills, return emails, and write a loving letter to your mother.

What is going on here? What is this voice that spits out so much worrisome information while we are trying to slow down and be still?

Inside of our lovely skull, cupped in it's strength, is our brain. A necessary organ that is still largely curious to researchers. It is divided into two hemispheres: left and right. The left is very analytical, allows us to critique, judge, analyze. The right behaves as a complete observer, not caring whether something is good or bad, right or wrong, it just observes and lets things unfold with curiosity and wonder. See the balance there? Both are necessary. You want to be able to judge a situation as safe or dangerous, using the left brain. You want to observe, and not judge, the smirk your mother makes when she opens your $20 gift in the $40 FedEx packaging, using the right brain. (Why, you ask? Because getting caught up in the emotion of your mother judging your gift, and the expense of how it got there, is a huge waste of your time. Get right-brained whenever you find yourself in this kind of situation. Step away from the drama!)

The left hemisphere is the one we Westerners are still having one remarkable love affair with. (Sorry about the hanging preposition - my detailed oriented, perfectionist left-brain won't let me move on without pointing that out.) The left brain is highly analytical, allowing us to problem solve, create sentence after sentence to communicate coherent paragraphs, to analyze, criticize, judge, make predictions, create and follow schedules. It is deeply needed in our Western environment.

When one overuses the left hemisphere is when the trouble starts. The left hemisphere - just as it did in our example above - takes any quiet moment and makes them loud in our heads. It guides us to think about and remember things that have happened in the past and propels us into the future to worry and fret over things that have yet to come. And the saddest thing about this is what we miss: the precious moment occurring right now.

And it's the right brain that allows us to be present. Present is all it knows. Right now, this moment.

But it takes practice.

The beginnings of meditation are difficult. The left brain acts like a spoiled brat. It has received constant attention from you for years and years, and now you want to focus your beam of light to the right hemisphere? Not without a fight. Those messages you get when you try to maintain quiet are the left hemisphere having a little hissy fit. It's fighting for your attention. The right brain, in it's laid back, non-judgmental never vies for your attention.

"Ah, well, it is what it is," the right hemisphere says as you jump up from a lotus position, or drop your arms from Standing Post, and give in to the 'to-do' list that the left hemisphere provided. The left hemisphere is happy because it has you back, the right hemisphere is happy, because it doesn't judge, and you are back in your comfort zone and feeling fine...

Except for the occasional acid reflux. Oh, and the fluctuating blood pressure. Well, then, there's the lower back pain. Okay, and to be honest, the daily anger, bad moods, feelings of depression, impatience with close friends and family, and the constant criticism of others when really all you want is peace.

And you realize, clearly, that practicing being in the right brain might just be a good thing.

Next post: Entering into the right brain, watching body functions shift in 'observer' mode.


  1. Love how you've perfectly created a picture in my very visual brain, of the laid back, go with the flow ½ of the brain vs the hissy fitting tantrum attention getter ½!
    a brain aside that might interest you - 60 Minutes did an interesting (aka unsettling) brain segment tonight on FMRI's (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Through these brain scans, researchers are learning how to 'read our minds'...
    Looking forward to you following posts and moving into observer mode.
    xox K

  2. Cool! Or...maybe not so cool. But I'll check it out. Thanks, Karin.