You’ve probably heard that the right and the left sides of your brain process information differently. However, you may not recognize what this really means in your own experience. Did you know that the difference between your left and right brain may be the source of inner conflicts that make you suffer? In this post, we’ll explore the gifts from each side of our brain and how we can integrate the two to realize our greater potential.
To better understand the two hemispheres of our brain, let’s first talk about three major parts of our brain. In the center of the brain, we have the brainstem which is responsible for regulating bodily processes and initiating reactive responses to what is going on around us. On top of the brainstem lies the limbic or “emotional” brain which adds a layer of primary feelings, such as love and fear, and is key to our sense of connection with others and the formation of significant memories. On top of this is the neo-cortex, the seat of our “higher” brain functions, including language, reason, moral judgment, and complex understandings of self and others. The neo-cortex is where we find our brain divided in halves, into left and right hemispheres.
The right hemisphere is intimately linked with our body, our raw emotions, our spatial awareness, our ability to relax, and our sense of meaning, metaphor, and images of self and relationships with others. The right hemisphere understands the “whole” of things and seeks connections and similarities.
The left hemisphere is more detached from direct experience, like an “ivory tower” throne of reason and ideas. The left hemisphere sees in terms of linear, logical, literal chains of cause and effect which it loves to define, label, analyze, and control. It tends to see things as “black and white,” “all or nothing.”
You could say that the left brain is our “digital” mode, while the right brain is “analog.”
O.K. so what does that mean in your everyday life?
One thing is, when you get afraid, you may retreat to the ivory tower of rigid ideas and “black and white” thinking. You may then get defensive because you only are able to see things as “right or wrong,” “us versus them.” You may become disconnected from your ability to see similarities and relationships. It’s as if you are operating with only half your brain, using only the half that sees conflict and difference.
Second, not only can this left-side dominance lead to conflict, it may also deny the balancing qualities of the right side of your brain. The left side wants only measurable and arguable facts and may shutdown the reconciling holistic perspective of right brain thinking. If you ever find yourself locked in defending a rigid position and unable to sense your own deeper feelings or the positions of others, you may be a victim of left-brain dominance.
So, what to do?
To activate your right brain and come back into balance, you can engage in some right brain dominant activities. Most simply, you could go for a walk, feel your feet on the ground, breathe deeply, relax your muscles, take in the natural environment, gaze at the sky and the landscape, and tune-in to your inner felt experience. You could then listen attentively to others and make note of their body language—their posture, their tone of voice, their facial expressions, and how “they feel” to you.
Don’t worry, you won’t lose your rational point of view, you’ll just gain a larger perspective—you’ll regain your whole brain function. You’ll become able not only to reason, but to take in the whole situation, relax yourself, engage with others, and see a variety of alternatives, so you can make more fully informed conscious choices.
You’ve heard it said that we only use a small percentage of our brain capacity. You can regain much of that capacity by engaging the often underused right side of your brain.