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?


Anonymous said...

I want to have me one of them STROKES!!! I think I have forgotten what that thing is for me that helps me let go and feel great for a little bit....hmmmm...what is it??? hmmm....I think most of us forget what it was and then spend our childrens' younger years trying to remember or find it and we usually can't and that is what makes the cycle keep going...we are always searching and we find somethng for a couple of weeks and then we get sick or someone gets sick or the babysitter doesn't show up and then we stop and have to start again and the laundry piles up and the counters pile up and the food goes bad. Then you haveto schedule whatever that thing is that makes you feel good into your day and hope it doesn't affect anyone's schedule...For me exercise is how I get peace (or it used to be)...I release so much through that. I have a feeling I am going to have to buck up and start my days an hour earier so I can have that time for myself. But one of those strokes would be so awsome!!!

Anonymous said...

Rose is right. The ONLY way to flush the body of the flight/fight hormones is exercise, which makes sense, because that's what those hormones are designed to help you do... run, walk, cycle, anything that makes you move. I'm not a mom, but I'm a lawyer who surprise, surprise, spends a lot of time in my left brain, under a lot of stress. Exercise is the only way to keep sane in the face of brain drain...