Both Hemispheres are Far Better than One
Self-actualisation involves bringing into fruition aspects of a person’s inner life not normally accessed, and enables a deeper appreciation and understanding of the human potential to emerge, including experiencing ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ functioning, as distinct and complimentary ways of relating to the world.
We each have two primary ways of understanding ourselves and comprehending the world around us. One is to do with our feelings; the other is to do with our thinking. We have:
- a feeling, sensing, adapting, relating function, that all people are born with, and use freely in their formative years. It is our primary way of relating, and forms the basis of our inner, personal reality, and our deeper, more meaningful relationships.
- a comparing, analysing, deducing, interpreting function. It is the part of us of interest to schools and other learning institutions, so that people are trained to be compatible with existing mainstream systems, methods and processes.
As a form of symbolic shorthand, these have now become known as “right-brain” and “left-brain” functioning.
Right-brain refers to the natural, sensing, feeling, empathic, intuitive, artistic, poetic, impulsive, open-hearted, “feeling mind”, that is in touch with the natural world, and is considered to take place predominantly in the right-hemisphere and as nerves cross over at the back of the neck, the left-side of the body. It describes the traditional, indigenous approach to life that typifies their cultures around the world, and is represented by the arts in western cultures.
The right brain performs vital complementary and overseeing functions to left brain thinking, such scanning, linking, the capacity get feel and a grasp of something, and to a sense of proportion, and to be sensitive to nuances of meaning, etc. It is the primary, empathically responsive, flexible, sliding-scale, analogue, win/win, intuitive, feminine, cooperative, feeling ‘brain’, and is what the feeling part of the person connects to.
Left-brain refers to the logical, sequential, deductive, reductionist, analytical “thinking mind”, that is considered to take place, predominantly in the left hemisphere, and the right side of the body. It forms the western intellectual, scientific, rational, materialistic tradition. It is the secondary, rigid, inflexible, all-or-nothing, win/lose, digital, masculine, competitive, thinking ‘brain’.
It became the overwhelmingly dominant paradigm with the event of the industrial revolution, when people were trained to be logical, methodological, reliable and predictable, to drive the engines of industry. It has been taught in classrooms ever since the industrial revolution. In most developed nations, the left-brain, logical, sequential mind has now come to dominate and even overwhelm and suppress almost all appearances of natural, spontaneous right-brain functioning, which are regarded as unpredictable, impulsive and disruptive of the methodological needs of modern commerce and industry.
Limitations of the Left-Brain Paradigm
On its own, and without right-brain input, the left-brain mind is logical, good at deductive reasoning, convergent thinking and specialised detail within clearly defined boundaries; but is also locked into the past, cannot see the forest for the trees, and unable to think outside of the box, to use some of its own clichés about itself.
The left brain also suffers from the ‘frog-in-the-saucepan’ syndrome, where it adapts to, identifies with, and can no longer discern important changes, either positive or negative, to the situation that it has become blinded to. The story of the Japanese soldier still doing sentry duty on an island many years after the war has ended, is a classic left brain issue and demonstrates how faulty or obsolete programs do not automatically extinguish. As a consequence left-brain tends to misperceive changing conditions as a continuation of the same. It is not connected to nature or one’s own inner nature, which is the right-brain’s highly important job; it always feels far too far from God, which is also the right brain’s province. It cannot handle cognitive dissonance, and tends to reject all that does not fit existing programs hardwired into memory, and then rationalises the decision. Taken together, it is comprehensively disconnected from the real reality.
The left brain cannot join the dots, whether between synchronous or disjointed events, or those spanning over time, and thus true causal links are unseen.
Looking ahead becomes reduced to a linear extrapolation of more-of-the-same. Breaking new ground becomes slow, incremental, jerky, haphazard and torturous, and often only happens in a crisis, when there is no longer any choice.
Rock-n-roll began as powerfully, unabashed, and almost exclusively, joyful, right-brain, feeling music, unlike say, most classical and jazz, which typically have an overriding mental appeal, or are left-brain dominant. At its very beginning, rock-n-roll picked up the alienated youth of the day, who responded to the music’s immediacy and emotional vibrancy. Rock-n-roll instantly breathed a new life into many alienated, emotionally-starved youth and young adults.
As rock-n-roll went through its rapid growth and development period, it carried many of each succeeding sub-generation along with it, taking them through the progressive, expansive changes underway. In the space of little over ten years, rock-n-roll had come to play a major part in morphing many adolescents and young adults from delinquent gang members into gentle, sensitive and aware flower children, who clearly had both hemispheres actively communicating to each other.
Typically, many artists, poets and musicians find left-hemispheric, analytical thinking to be difficult. Some are able to function either way, but only one way at a time. Self-actualisers had discovered their creative, artistic, intuitive, emotionally intelligent, right-here right-now, right-hemisphere, and were finding the dominant paradigm of the day was hemming them in. Self-actualisers had somehow managed to master the linear, rational and logical thought processes, without suppressing their normal, right-brain functioning into subconsciousness, as commonly happens, and were able to apply insight and intuition to those thought processes, broadening, deepening and refining them, and using both hemispheres confluently, to manifest a coherent understanding and an illumined approach to life. Thinking in a new way.
“Whole-brain” refers to the confluent, inter-active, integrated activity of both ways of hemispheres, which is relatively unknown in mainstream society. When confluence occurs, the experience can be that of satori, enlightenment, inspiration, illumination, self-actualisation, etc, giving the person inordinate acumen, perspicacity, acuity and wisdom. It is human fulfilment, how people are naturally, and how all human beings are supposed to develop.
By the second half of the 1960s, significant and increasing numbers of people were having overwhelmingly positive, inner experiences of their own essential being, with its natural clarity and capacity for understanding, spontaneous love for all beings and compassionate concerns for all unnecessary suffering on the planet. All of this seemed to invoke a response from their own inner faculties, revealing higher-level insights about ways of living that are simple, elegant, wholesome and self-evident. In such a positive and creative social environment, self-actualisation was becoming more common and catalytic. People experienced themselves sparking positively off one another and entered states of co-operative empathy, or “contact highs”. What originated mainly on the west coast of USA, mid 1960s quickly arose in many other parts of the world – especially on the east coast of Australia, and in New Zealand, England, Germany and other parts of Europe.
Self-actualisers were finding that their natural self-awareness was naturally sorting their thinking processes, to become more tidy and orderly, and reconnecting in ways that gave sense and meaning to past events. With the addition of their right-hemisphere, creative side, they were becoming whole-brain confluent, spontaneously capable of inductive reasoning and parallel, lateral and divergent thinking, and were wide open to new ideas, novel viewpoints, insights, intuitions and inspirations.
In place of compulsive thinking, or needing to ‘make up one’s mind’ people were finding they were now able to hold their mind ‘in abeyance’. Beliefs, which had been long-held in the subconscious as unquestionable truths, were loosening and surfacing into consciousness to become examinable working hypotheses, capable of being inspected and challenged from varying viewpoints and under differing parameters, and open to refinement and modification.
With the addition of their right-hemisphere, creative side enabling whole-brain coherence, they were also open to integrative thinking, novel and innovative cutting-edge ideas, capable of grasping complex interactions, integrating diverse ideas, joining the dots between synchronous events, bridging separate disciplines, seeing the larger picture, intuiting trends, envisaging creative ideas and conceiving integrated, multiple win-win solutions.
For the left brain person, the past determines the present, and the person is continually drawn to the past, or escaping into a fantasised future. For the whole-brain person, in reality there is only the present moment, where healing the past, and determining the future occurs. Finding this to be so, the whole-brain person finds it rather effortless to remain in the potent, present moment.