If you have spent any time meditating, you have surely noted that your brain is talking to you all of the time. What you may not have realized is that this verbal activity comes from only one side of your brain—the left side. The right side of your brain is silent and its contributions have been largely ignored by society.
As Betty Edwards explains so clearly in her classic drawing book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the Western world has waged a propaganda war against the right brain that dates back to ancient times.
The left brain is your language center and the seat of your analytical, logical, time-bound thinking. It controls the right side of the body. The right brain is your center for spatial, intuitive, metaphorical knowing. It controls the left side of the body.
“…despite our normal feeling that we are one person—a single being—our brains are double, each half with its own way of knowing, its own way of perceiving external reality. In a manner of speaking, each of us has two minds, two consciousnesses, mediated and integrated by the connecting cable of nerve fibers between the hemispheres.”
Our brains take in information all day long but process it in two different ways. The left brain thinks in terms of sequences and logic—it plans, runs numbers, and makes statements based in material fact. The right brain perceives in terms of pictures and knowings—it dreams, has insights, and sees the whole instead of its parts.
In an ideal world we would have balanced input from both sides of our brains, each side taking the lead in the appropriate situation. But instead we have a left-brain dominated society that has used its power of language to campaign against the right brain, calling it sinister, maladapted, and weak, and leaving it woefully under developed.
“Words and phrases concerning concepts of left and right permeate our language and thinking. The right hand (meaning also the left hemisphere) is strongly connected with what is good, just, moral, and proper. The left hand (therefore the right hemisphere) is strongly linked with concepts of anarchy and feelings that are out of conscious control—somehow bad, immoral, and dangerous.”
The left brain (right body) bias can be seen in education and politics, but more interestingly to me in the yin-yang, or feminine-masculine energies. The right side of the brain is considered the feminine and the left the masculine. Our society prides itself on its masculine (yang) traits of aggression and reason over the feminine (yin) qualities of receptivity and emotion. In order for women to be heard or “get ahead” in society we are encouraged to become more like men.
Thus, the right brain has been dismissed throughout history while the left brain has been revered and allowed to become a domineering force in our lives. If you pay attention you may notice the left brain telling you that following your intuition is somehow dangerous, that using your imagination is silly, and that spending time drawing or meditating is unproductive. This voice can come from within yourself and from other people.
What’s to be done?
Luckily, you are not at the mercy of either side of your brain… You are in a sense the director of your brain. You get to decide if you want to continue believing the left brain’s biased messaging or start respecting the right brain’s contributions.
You can tune in to your right brain in many ways, but here are some basic ideas: pay attention to your intuition and act on it, meditate, journal, write down your dreams and try to understand what they mean, take long walks in the woods, start a creative hobby like drawing, painting, or playing an instrument.
Ultimately the path to wisdom is one of balance. Both sides are important, so it’s time to call a truce and start giving the right brain more of a voice in the world.
P.S. I recommend the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to draw when you quiet the left brain and let the right brain take the lead.