Its become abundantly clear to me over several years that most (if not all) health challenges have their root at the level where the body thinks it is divided into two parts, classically referred to as the left and right hemispheres of the brain although, really, this divisiveness goes much deeper, as discussed in my last post (Union – at a cellular level). However, the brain is a very good place to start when it comes to healing that rift, so how do we do that? For a few years now, and with ever more attention paid by the extremely fascinated “me” that is stood back watching, my healing-urges have attempted to pull me towards activities that work by bridging the left and right hemispheres, enhancing their most fluid attempts at collaboration. So, for a relaxing Saturday post, I thought I would share what a few of those practices are…which happen to include some of the most appealing activities in our human experience, from laughter to dancing to playing music and creating plus so much more – read on:
Probably the very earliest impulse to do something I had never done before (but which clearly had my highest welfare in mind; you could say it “saved me”) occurred at the very beginning of my health crash. I was still stuck in a corporate job and everything about my life felt predominantly left-brained, even the few hours I tried to negotiate from my life to be a good mother to my very young child. Around the same time that the meltdown of my health was reaching its crisis, while I was still in that job, a sudden urge made me reach for some paints that had been tucked at the back of a cupboard. It’s the classic story I tell about myself; how these paints literally threw themselves off the cluttered shelf and, rather than shove them back in, a very strong intuition told me to use them, albeit with all the ham-fisted dexterity of a young child. It was the single most cathartic moment of my life because, although the painting was pretty rubbish, it opened up the strongest urge for me to grab that lifeline and keep going. To start with, I painted for a couple of hours squeezed from my weekends but, once I was forced to give up work altogether, it became the very thing that set my healing impulse in motion, giving it traction. I started to notice how these were the times when pain seemed to melt away and I would lose myself for hours in what was an inherently left-meets-right brained act.
So I took the remarkably brave step to join a lifestudy group, drawing and painting from live models; driven by what was still a very left-brained impulse to hone and refine the drawing skills that I hadn’t used since my schooldays. However, far from just making me into an ever more precise, tight and “correct” artist as I thought they would, these sessions simultaneously brought out the most fluid, big-gestured and playful in me. In fact, most weeks, we were asked to use both hands to draw with, which emitted groans of discontent from many of the group and yet you could see those who had been doing it the longest and…before long…it wasn’t all that difficult at all. This challenge to use the least-programmed hand (in my case, my left) to draw live human figures, sometimes moving subjects, pushed my left-brain right out of its comfort zone, forcing it to hand over the charcoal (thus control) to its opposite part. Ultimately, the very frequent hand-over of drawing implements from one side to the other, pursuing both structure and fluidity with the same set of eyes, forced them to collaborate in ways that were far-reaching for me, and not just as a better artist.
Three years into those meetings, I know I had laid the foundations of a hemispherical healing that I was to reap the benefit of much further down the line and the continued mix-up of art and more left-brained craft, such as digital photography, helps me to keep those lines open even now that I am a professional artist. These days, I often use both hands to manipulate my paint, finding those times are like a deeply healing meditation that I can go to any time and to which, I’ll admit, I’m somewhat addicted. No need to take it quite as seriously as I have; any creative pastime will do (it coud be decorating cakes, gardening or stitching patchwork quilts …) just so long as it engages both the somewhat analytical but also those more innate and fluid skills, all in one activity, preferably using both hands and enjoying it. Enjoyment is the key; its like the glue that joins these two aspects together as you lose yourself in the practice and anything that feels forced is going to tip right back over into that left hemisphere again…so go and find something that feels better if that’s the case!
Left foot, right foot…its a fairly obvious one and yet it was pure instinct that had me on the phone seeking a dance class two years ago. Where did the urge come from? Somewhere in the midst of one of my peaks of feeling much better, I started spontaneously and joyfully dancing around the room and remembered how I used to love to move my body like that. When my daughter was very little (she still remembers…), I would pick her up, swooping and twirling her and we would dance to the music for what felt like hours and, earlier still, I was one of those people who could literally lose themselves in a nightclub after a long week at work. So I took up a weekly Nia class (which I’ve written about before) and, while the reasons I no longer do that are unrelated to this post, for the many months that I attended this I couldn’t help but notice how I was reaping the benefits of a far better dialogue taking place between the left and right parts of me and I’m not just talking about my feet.
How do I know? Well, to start with I was clumsy as anything but one side (my left again!) struggled much more than the other to learn the alternating routines or make those smooth transitions into them. My right foot was always assertive, strong and confident…almost to the point of being somewhat regimented and wooden, but my left was hesitant and prone to becoming weak or tripping over itself. Yet, before long, my left side was keeping abreast with the right and the right was benefiting from adopting some more of the fluidity emulated by the left and….suddenly…I was doing it all with ease and without thinking, feeling exhilarated in a way that is hard to explain except that it feels typical of combined left-right oriented activities. Again, as with art, this complete absence of thought as the two hemispheres work out their own best partnership, is a clue that solid walls of divisiveness are being dissolved and I would notice how my general health, my cognitive abilities, coordination and even creative projects reaped the benefits for all the days in between those sessions.
Taking up a musical instrument
This one is a fairly new addition to my line-up though I have long found the healing benefits of music. But when I had that sudden urge to play the piano (where did that come from?) and then – in that way the universe has – a special offer for discounted online piano lessons popped up in my newsfeed the very next day, it was a knee-jerk that had me taking that leap. My daughter has a hardly used Yamaha keyboard and, well, why not I decided, though I had always assumed that if I ever took up music lessons (in that “one day..maybe never” pipedream kind of way), it would be a wind instrument, bongos of the violin.
Very quickly, I got the method in my impulsive madness; the very complex use of two hands, simultaneously, was both the thing that had made me assume I would never take up the keyboard and the one that I got the most benefit out of. Online lessons are working perfectly for me; I can take it slow and steady, repeating points and pausing for extra practice whenever I feel the need to and…yes…I’m finding its all coming together, sounding not too bad at all. More than that, my simultaneous use of both hands is coming together, better than I could have ever hoped and it’s not the pained practice (non of that) but the extremely fluid, flexible and frequent opportunity to pick this new habit up that makes all the difference; I only play when it feels like the right thing to do. I find that, even between sessions, my adroitness increases as though my brain has been practicing its hand moves in my sleep…how does it do that? Perhaps it’s all those brand new neural pathways that are being built like rope bridges across my brain, sending excited and sparkly electrical currents around long after my fingers have put the keyboard to bed. Whatever it is, I’m finding there’s a theme forming…in the last month alone, a close friend has taken up the harp and my husband the bass guitar and both “very unlikely” musical students of those instruments before now so I’m sensing a wave coming in. So, if you’re feeling it, perhaps now is the time for you to answer any long suppressed calls to learn an instrument of your own.
This may seem like an odd one but laughter can be the diplomat that melts down the most hard-standing approaches to life, recalibrating in a second what may have taken months to negotiate otherwise. And a full bellied laugh (not the kind that is at any one else’s expense…which is a shadow aspect of laughter; much more to do with a left brain urge to compete with others) is pure yin in action, with no ulterior motive, fuelled by pure love. The tinkling bells of those most contagious of human sounds draw the hard lined left-brained response out of its corner just as much as it goes in there (where no one else is prepared to go…) to help coax it out. This is when the left-brain finds its has a sense of humour too – typically the cleverer kind of wit but its there and can be worked on.
When I’m feeling all tipped over one way and life feels like a non-negotiable hard thing that my mind is weary of trying to make sense of, one of my classic go-tos is to pull a funny movie out of the cupboard or watch a few editions of Carpool Karaoke on YouTube (that just happens to be my thing). Or you could seek out those inane animal videos on social media, reruns of classic comedy, spend more time with your kids or whatever it is that works for you. More than that, work at keeping laughter alive in your home and at work, seek the funny side in every situation (even when you drop something on your foot or world politics slings you a curve ball; there’s always someone making it sound funny somewhere) and watch how it heals every situation….and then know it is doing the same thing at the cellular level. These days there are a great many therapies, even laughter yoga, based on this simple premise and emerging science is overwhelmingly supportive of the theory that we can literally heal ourselves with a regular giggle.
I’ve always been all about communicating through the left-brain, typically by writing or by organising my ideas into structured notes, arranging my complex thoughts like some sort of lay-professor of the workings of the cosmos. I don’t like to be caught on the hop when I’m asked questions, which is why I run a mile from public speaking or even conference calling, since I rely on getting my thoughts straight and structured; for which purpose I am accustomed to deferring to my left brain, even though my most inspired ideas always arrive via my right. Yet I started to notice, as my healing took shape, how I was having these long monologues with myself (some people call it channelling) or to my nearest and dearest, typically my long-suffering husband, where what felt like pearls of wisdom would pour out of my mouth without hitch or seeming pause for breath and, of course, no one taking notes. So I started to dictate some of my thoughts, to use in my writing afterwards…often on walks by the river with my dog, hopefully out of the earshot of passers-by, finding that these were some of my most inspired times of all and that my left-brain could be largely demoted to the role of typist and grammar-checker.
Yet I could already see how “just” writing (when it comes to sharing) has its limitations and I longed to be part of the big conversation that the whole world now seems to be engaged in via social media; and typed responses can feel so limiting, like some sort of throw-back to writing essays at school. Friends with whom I was having amazing long-running conversations continued to badger me to make contact via Skype rather than emails and messages but I ran a mile from such an idea, fearing…what? That my inspired thoughts would dry up and I would be left staring and as mute as a guppy fish on live screen; one almighty disappointment to them and to me. This fear had “left brain control freak” written all over it.
So slowly, steadily, I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, starting with recorded messages for friends and moving up to live calls so that I don’t aways rely on the well-honed (and edited) written word to communicate. Later this year, I’m actually meeting some of the friends that I have got to know on social media, one of whom is coming a very long way to see me, and this feels like big news for my right brain since she only knows me (so far) via its spin on the world, not as world-oriented, practical little-old me. All of this feels like one of the last bastions of breaking down communication barriers between left and right perspectives because I know that if I can get to where I trust what comes out of my mouth, without rehearsal, that I will have healed a very (very) old female, yin oriented, thus right-brained wound.
Why do I say this? Because, for the longest time…in people of both genders…the urge to speak directly from the heart has been suppressed and stripped of its confidence through constant belittlement and fear of dire consequences. Men (almost especially) and women have been schooled not to trust this way of communicating and so we have seen countless centuries of preferring to get our lines straight…on paper, in a formulaic way, all very throughly edited and (frankly) lacking in originality because the time we spend thinking it all through tends us towards weeding out what feels non-conformist about those words. Fear and a longing to belong amongst groups of people whose opinions are held as sacrosanct have snuffed out the most inspired and spontaneous expression of our times, creating a fundamental imbalance. Its time to heal this breakdown and allow the heart to speak; which can be done by engaging the more right-brained practice of speaking out loud without recourse to editing and, if there are ways that you can do this in your life, I encourage you to explore them. The modern trend towards making YouTube videos rather than blogging or to use Snapchat and similar to communicate with friends tells me the whole world is heading the way of more direct communication, without all the stages in between and I take this as a hugely positive clue as to where we are headed.
These are just a few of the ways that the breach between left and right hemispheres can be bridged in everyday life and I’m discovering more every day. I heartily encourage everyone to consider mixing some of these up into lives that might otherwise feel very structured, work oriented, self-conscious or somewhat serious in their preoccupations. Its no hyperbole to suggest that by incorporating these activities into our lives, alongside our more left-brained pursuits, we are all contributing towards a grand healing that is as global in its significance as it is personal in its ability to utterly transform the way we experience the whole of life.