There are different ways to experience the world, thanks mainly to the different influences of our two hemispheres, and these affect the way we relate to ourselves, each other and everything around us.
The current research into our brain and the role of these two very distinct hemispheres, left and right, suggest both are involved in every human activity, whether rational or creative. So the question is not what each hemisphere does but how does it do it?
What Iain McGilchrist, author of ‘The master and his emissary; The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’’ surmises is that the two hemispheres encourage very different kinds of ‘attention’, two different versions of the human world - both essential, but that stand in some sort of opposition to each other, hence the need for the division within the brain.
The left hemisphere is found to process things serially, one thing at a time in a sequence. It sees the world as abstract parts from which it ‘constructs’ a whole - a de-contextualised world. It grasps things, manipulates them, is logical and competitive. It is focused and can make you feel powerful and all-knowing, so it’s way of thinking is pretty addictive.
The right hemisphere is found to parallel process, drawing on a lot of things simultaneously, cohering a bigger picture. It takes in everything, is full of empathy, has a broader attention, sees everything as connected and part of a whole.
Attention is what we build the world out of, it changes what kind of a world comes into being for us, it actually alters the way we see and feel the world.
Simply put, the essential difference between the right and left hemispheres is right pays attention to ‘other’ and left to ‘self’. Our consciousness is synthesised out of these two takes on the world that blend so quickly and seamlessly that you aren’t even aware of there being a mix of these two perspectives, both being essential for a healthy, balanced experience of life.
We need both focused attention and open attention. We need to be able to live IN life and also be able to look down on it, for a broader view of how things connect and then ‘integrate’ these two perspectives to create an optimal degree of separation between ‘ourselves’ the world of ‘me’ and my needs and the world we perceive outside of ourselves the broader context of ‘me’ as a member of a group, a part of something bigger.
Iain McGilchrist says “at the level of experience, the world we know is synthesised from the work of the two cerebral hemispheres, each hemisphere having its understanding of the world- its own take on it. This synthesis is unlikely to be symmetrical, and the world we actually experience, at any point in time is determined by which hemisphere’s version of the world ultimately comes to predominate.”
It is suggested that from the time we began to domesticate animals and harvest the natural world, realising we could use it for our own designs, our left, more competitive hemisphere began to dominate, to win out in our attention, changing the way we view the world, causing an in-balanced perspective of our place within it….our left brain effectively crafted the Western world.
With this understanding, more and more people are seeking to shift this perspective, looking for techniques and tools to put us back in touch with what the right hemisphere knows about this world, a deeper, more soulful vision that the left hemisphere is constantly disengaging us from.
Bruce Parry says “as societies have become more complex, as we have separated ourselves from the natural world and turned our attention away from the here and now towards more abstract times and places…. as we have built our walls and moved towards more individualised ideas of self, might techniques such as meditation have been devised to rebalance the body and mind, allowing a reconnection with the wisdom all around.”
Music, poetry, daydreaming and rituals can engage us somewhere beyond the rationalisations that we put on the surface of life through our left brain thinking. Just being present, stilling that constant internal stream of chatter and stopping making judgements (all mindfulness techniques) re-engages the consciousness of the right hemisphere, giving us a gentler, more balanced view of the world and our place in it. We can effectively use these techniques to change the relationship we have with everything in and around us.
Part 2 to this blog will look at these tools and techniques, especially how the sacred Tea plant can help rebalance these two hemispheres.
Much of the content of this piece is taken or transcribed from Tawai, a voice from the forest