“Life will give you
whatever experience is most helpful
for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having
at this moment.”
This principal is constantly at work in our lives.
Not long ago, I learned about the work of neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor in her Ted Talk, My Stroke of Insight.* She experienced a stroke that totally shut off the left side of her brain. As an expert in the field, she was able to study the effects in real time. The left hemisphere thinks linearly and picks out details from the present moment, connects them to the past and projects them into the future. It allows our past to govern how we react to new events. This is where our internal brain chatter lives. It’s the side that worries and ruminates and plans. It helps us contextualize our experiences but it also limits what think is possible. We need our left brain, but it can also create barriers to our potential.
Dr. Bolte Taylor got a mini-vacation from all that when her left brain went off-line. It’s bizarre to think of a stroke in those terms but she describes the feeling like a visit to Nirvana. The right brain has no concept of past or future, it exists only in the present moment. In an instant, all the baggage of living for the last thirty-seven years instantly vanished from her mind. She felt a sense of euphoria, energetically connected to everything, yet lighter in her body. In the present moment, she felt perfect, whole and beautiful. Amazing, right?!
The takeaway is that stress and unhappiness reside only in left brain thinking: ruminating on regrets of the past and the anxiety of the future. When I reflected on that insight, I recalled a time when I was so sick, I could only think of how to manage what was happening right then. Even though my physical body didn’t feel great, I recall the lightness and peace of sustained present moment thinking. I said to myself, remember this when you feel better.As soon as I got well, my brain chatter started back up and I forgot all about it.
In case you are skeptical, take a look around the space where you are reading this story. Where are all your problems? Are any literally right in front of you? I doubt it or you wouldn’t be taking the time to read this, you’d be dealing with whatever the emergency is. We are always totally fine in the present moment, even when something not so great is going down. We can deal with it. If the past year has taught us nothing else, it’s that we can adapt to anything. If the problem isn’t in our immediate midst, we can take action steps to solve it, then stop thinking about it. (I could probably straighten up my writing space, for example). Allowing our brain to spin nightmare scenarios makes us feel like we are doing something, a sort of false productivity, but that’s the left brain lie. Worry is unproductive and can paralyze us into inaction if we let it.
So, Dr. Bolte Taylor taught me why it would of great benefit to spend more time in right brain thinking, but I really didn’t know how to do that. I meditate and do breath and energy work but I still respond sharply to stressors. As recently as a few hours ago, in fact.
After hearing the recommendation at college orientation to have a “go bag,” my husband expressed doubt about whether our California-bound daughter needed one for emergencies like fires and earthquakes. I am a native Californian with family members up and down the coast who I believe all have them. He continued to push back about whether it was necessary.
“Why would you question something that comes directly from my own experience. Do you think I am lying?” I asked, raising my voice to express my full annoyance.
“Would you talk to your friends like this?” he asked.
“If they were constantly questioning me, yes I would!”
I bet if I wasn’t automatically attaching this conversation to the ones in the past where he refused to just take my word for it, I wouldn’t get to this place so automatically. Left brain thinking is where my exasperation lives, plain and simple.
So, clearly I will benefit from more connected, creative, right brain thinking.
You know what happened next? A dear friend invited me to partake in a six week program led by neuroscientist Shirzad Chamine. It started this week. His book Positive Intelligence describes how spending a few minutes a day in mindfulness exercises he calls “PQ reps” create new neural pathways directly to the peaceful part of our brain. These exercises make it more likely that, when presented with a challenge, you will respond from the right brain instead of the left where most of us get stuck. Right brain thinking allows us to approach problems with a sense of cooperation and collaboration with others. It sounds like the difference between reacting like a petulant child or a mature adult. This method is scientifically proven to retrain your brain.
I need to learn how to do this for the development of my consciousness or it wouldn’t be coming back to me over and over again. For years, I operated in a mild panic, worried that things would go terribly wrong at any moment. It was a really hard way to live but survival mode had become a constant state of being. Therapy helped but I am now at the point where I am ready to learn new ways of thinking. This program is only a few minutes a day. I will keep you posted on how I feel at the end of it.
“The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our world will be.”
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.
Peaceful ways of thinking give us the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: Do you recognize when you are attaching an old story to a new set of circumstances? Do you question whether your conclusion is really true?
Do you subscribe to these weekly stories? If not, please sign up here elizabethheise.com, follow me on Instagram @elizabethheise1 and Twitter @heiseelizabeth1. Thanks for reading!