Through my stress-reduction course (aka my stealth Buddhism course), I learned a little more about how our brains work. It’s not just that the left side is logical and the right hemisphere is creative. The left is sequential and the right is all about NOW.
Or, to steal a metaphor from Jill Bolte Taylor, the left hemisphere is like a serial processor, while the right is a parallel processor. (My shriveled little inner computer geek, who surely lives in the left brain, loved this idea.)
Taylor should know. She experienced this the hard way in 1996 when a stroke wreaked havoc on her left hemisphere. Her TED talk on the insights she gained has been around for a while, but it was new to me when I viewed it in my class. Watch it, and prepare to be moved. By the end, my eyes weren’t the only ones shining with tears.
Two things just floored me, apart from Taylor’s story itself. She described her recovery as taking eight years. Yes, that sounds awfully daunting. I took it as a beacon of hope. My health troubles that began last winter affected my brain and nervous system. They changed my visual perception (which might be a thyroid issue) and clouded my cognition. I am feeling weird paresthesias in my legs and lips as I write this, a sort of buzzing, tingling sensation that is annoying and distracting though not painful.
If Taylor managed to keep seeing improvements for eight years – which is how I heard her story – then I’ve got another good seven years to go! I’ve regained most of my mental clarity, except for a pesky problem retrieving last names. I’ve learned that meditating can enhance my powers of concentration. It’s almost as if letting my right brain steer for awhile makes my left brain more supple and focused. I’m curious whether a serious schedule of meditation could even take my thinking beyond my pre-illness abilities. Logically (says my left brain), the ability to call equally on both hemispheres should make one a better writer, for instance.
The other insight that struck a chord with me was Taylor’s explanation of right-brained perception and experience. People living in the now-now-now aren’t going to be setting goals or ticking tasks off a mental checklist. My son the Tiger is pretty right-brain dominant, as far as I can observe. He’s not just left-handed. He learned to talk late, with otherwise “normal” development. He’s got a great ear from musical pitch – another right-brained trait. And he drives his parents batty when getting ready for school in the morning. Yes, I know most families are rushed in the morning. The Tiger has turned chaos into a high art form.
Tiger! You need to put on your shoes and jacket, and grab your lunchbox.
Oh, Tiger, your shoes, remember? And then the jacket?
Um, you’ll need both shoes, not just the right one.
Now your jacket. Yes, I did so mention your jacket. How many times do I have to say it?
Please get your backpack. Well, where did you last see it? No, I didn’t put it under the dining room table.
[The boys stumble out the door.] Hey, TIGER! Wait up! You forgot your lunchbox!
The same scene repeats every morning, varied mainly by how impatient his dad or I sound by the end. I have no illusions about winning some apocalyptic battle against impatience. That struggle is built into parenting. But just maybe, having caught a glimpse of the now-now-now brain, I will appreciate that our Tiger is living with one foot in what Taylor calls Lalaland, a place where sequential thinking is difficult and foreign. Just maybe, I can to learn to visit him there, as a tourist. Present-moment awareness, as my teacher kept reminding us, is a gift to be nurtured. Just maybe, I can find new reserves of patience, understanding that what can look like willful obstinacy is actually far more about him inhabiting the ever-expanding, ever-demanding present.