Monday, May 26, 2008

Living on the Right Side of the Brain

This just in: engaging in only left-brain activities inhibits happiness, peacefulness, and well-being.

So concludes Jill Bolte Taylor, MD, a brain researcher at Harvard. And she would know: she had a stroke, lost the use of her left brain, and experienced nirvana. She discovered that when she left behind logic, sense of time, analysis, and story-making, all functions of the left brain, she could contact what she calls "the deep, inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres."

While I stood in my kitchen and read the article about Dr. Taylor, I continually pounded the counter and said, "Yes. Yes. YES." The yogis and the Buddhists have been patiently explaining this for thousands of years! I find it very gratifying to see another soul on this earth giving up exclusive worship of the left brain. To boot, she's a scientist!

Being unable to release the left brain is a problem. In mothers, I see a particular frustration that the list-making, multi-tasking part of our brains (left) can't shut up long enough for us to give our attention to anything else. Like, our own peace of mind, the beauty of our children's souls, or perhaps what's in our partner's underpants.

In addition to having amassed a lifetime of training mostly in the skills of the left brain, on top of really needing those tools to manage family life, the intense feeling of protection and danger that many women feel when we have babies can cause us to plunge into a constant fight-or-flight readiness. So we're secreting all kinds of danger-hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which tax our bodies and literally burn us out. (The authors of Women's Moods, a fantastic book on the subject, call this "brain drain.")

And we wonder why we can't find calm or restoration in our lives.

Before I go further on this tangent, let me bring my thoughts back around to left brain-right brain and Jill Bolte Taylor. For a couple years I've been fixated on the influence hormonal fluctuations have on a mother's mental health. Reading about Dr. Taylor's research lends another facet to my inquiry into this and other subjects, such as the effects of meditation and yoga for moms.

While the right side of the brain is linked with intuition, seeing relationships among various things, and "non rational" thought (i.e., thought not requiring fact or reason), which are typically typed as feminine qualities, I believe that many mothers spend their days smack in the middle of their left brains. Scheduling, talking, planning, and organizing are all left brain functions. For myself, when I spend too much time there and only there, I get overwhelmed and undernourished. I need some relief, some softness, some largeness. This is when my head feels like concrete. My brain needs the other side to fire and liquefy some of that rock.

It's that overwhelming sense of depletion that I experience and observe in other mothers. Now I'm thinking about it in terms of our brain hemispheres.

What is one thing you can do to play on the curvy, holistic, nonverbal side of your brain? What gives you a great sense of relief and openness when you think of it? How would you like to leave your task-master behind for some part of the day?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Does My Mind Look Fat in This?

Today I am aware of my failures as a mother. And a wife. And a friend, a daughter, and a person in general. You could say that I have been meditating upon these failures all day. That's what it is when we focus so completely on one thing; it's a meditation.

So I am meditating in this way as I drive my car when a message that someone told me once runs through my mind. Who was the messenger? The writer Anne Lamott? The Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn? My mom? Who knows? But it comes, as if by magic. Here it is:

Listen to me.
I want to tell you a secret.
There is nothing wrong with you.
There never was anything wrong with you

But I looked so fat in all the swimsuits I tried on today. And I should've been at home with my little girl, who needs me so much. Is it worth it for me to leave her with the sitter just so I can burn fossil fuels to drive to a department store and try on synthetic swimsuits that make me look fat?

There is nothing wrong with you.

It's all well and good when I have my clothes on. I can fool everyone, even myself, that I'm not gaining weight, as long as I'm not standing naked in front of a 3-way mirror under flourescent lights. When am I going to get myself in order?

There is nothing wrong with you.

Let's just say for a moment that I'm not fat. Then why am I having all these deflating thoughts? Is this depression talking? Are my hormones fluctuating again? Is my mind stuck, for no reason at all, on the negative self-talk radio station Anne Lamott so accurately calls KFKD?

Let's say it is. I decide to let my brain go on with its prattle, minus my attention. I pop in a meditation CD. I am driving across the floating bridge. I am turning my attention to the sound of Thich Nhat Hahn's voice.

"Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out." BONNNG goes the bell.

There never was anything wrong with you.

This is so much more pleasant. I am enjoying the feel of my breath between sounds of the bell. I am feeling a nice warm feeling spread through my body.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with me.