The Chatterbox, The Motor-Mouth, The Peanut Gallery, blah, blah, blah, blah
My brain chatter typically controls the majority of my day. I listen to it like I do the radio: sometimes I jam out with it, other times I use it like background noise on my way to work. I used to think that my chatter was my “truth-teller”: reporting the truth and the facts of who I am at any given moment, day, night, minute, second of my life. However, through the years of yoga practice, I’ve come to realize that there is a difference between the “monkey mind” and the “feeling” mind. After reading Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke Of Insight, there seems to be medical proof of this difference.
Dr. Taylor, a Harvard trained neuroanatomist (aka brain scientist), suffered a severe stroke at the age of 37. The stroke incapacitated her left hemisphere of her brain, the side that controls things like language, math skills, analytical and sequential skills and thought patterns to name a few. Highlights of the book include her report of the stroke, her rescue, and her years of recovery, in which she ultimately regained (and in some cases rewired) her left hemisphere’s skills. As fascinating as this book and her strength and stamina were (and they were amazing), what enlightened me was how she learned that the power of thought directly connects to our mind, body and spirit of our beings. It’s made me evaluate how I process my thoughts and feelings, and what emotional baggage from my past I carry daily, and choose to relive or recreate from moment to moment.
And, that little voice that chatters to us non-stop? The story-teller that creates drama or sets up worse-case scenarios and leads us to fearful and negative thoughts? What about it? She reveals (and we all know this to at a certain level) that the voice, while beneficial in certain cases, ultimately is not our truest self. This little devil, or as I will refer to it throughout this blog “The Itty Bitty Shitty Committee”, does not have our peace, our well-being, or our joy for living in mind. Literally.
Practice Makes Perfect: Or Does It?
I constantly have to remind myself, “Not everything I do has to be perfect and precise.” To say I’m a “perfectionist” is an understatement. (My friends and family who know me well, are shaking their heads in agreement as they read this.) In the mornings, I wake up with a goal in mind: to top myself. To best myself. To make today count and to make it a better day than yesterday. To free myself from my persistent life fears and worries. To create a day in which I am in charge of every single outcome. (You’re probably thinking, “Ha! Good luck with that one!”) In short, I am searching for creating that perfect day in which all of my dreams come true and I will have been freed from all of the suffering in my life -real or imaginary. It’s the “If. . .Then” setup that I have hooked into. “How does it work?” you ask. Simple. “If I make an agenda, and put everything I need to do on a list (mental or actual), then my day will be planned out and I can check things off as I go.” Here’s an example: “If I clean my entire upstairs, including the bathrooms, then I can watch a half hour of TV with no guilt.” What do I wind up doing? I clean the whole entire house and find that I have more things “to do” and TV takes a back seat because it’s not “fulfilling” enough because I don’t have a perfectly presentable house. See how that (doesn’t) work? “If. . .Then” logic motivates me to do more. Be more. Best myself. And ultimately, skip over just living. Just being. Just enjoying what the day has to offer.
When my “If. . .Then” logic loops me into doing more “If. . .Then” activities, I begin tapping into that anxious feeling that was with me when I woke up in the morning, ready to achieve everything. My ego-centered left hemisphere ignites and my chatterbox brain begins creating more challenging scenarios, telling me bad things about myself, and I’m defeated by those sound bytes in my head. “The Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” conspired against me, destroyed my plan for a perfect day, and so I have to start the cycle of perfection all over again.
Either that, or I take a nap.
Once I’m back at square one, I have to conjure up a new agenda to silence the monkey brain chatter. We all see where this is going, right? Yep. Nowhere. It’s actually a bad system. But, I’d be willing to argue that most of us are addicted to some type of bad system to free ourselves from the reign of “The Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” even for a few moments. What is your scheme to escape? Mine is list-making. I’m a perfect task-master. I’m also a perfect slave to my left hemisphere when it is out of control.
The Heart Center: The Right Hemisphere
I don’t want to give off the impression that the left hemisphere of our brains are worthless. Far from it. It is an amazing mechanism. It’s our ego, and it tells us who we are in this space and time: “I am ____.” “I like ____.” “I need ___.” “I want ___.” It’s what sets us apart from everyone else and makes us unique. It’s where our language center is located. If you can read this, you’re using the left side of your brain. It helps us organize time into manageable parts, allows us to analyze stimuli and data that comes at us every nano-second of our lives, and it thrives on details, details, details. Dr. Taylor said it took her years to figure out how to place the dishes in her strainer after washing them (part of her therapy) because she couldn’t figure out how many plates, utensils, etc., needed to go where to make them fit. Who knew we needed math skills to figure out how to place necessary items in a pattern?
Western society values our left hemisphere’s mode of thinking. It’s what makes us successful in all material terms. The little perfectionist in me (probably the President of “The Itty Bitty Shitty Committee”) is always going to be rewarded some way, somehow, for putting everything in its place, with labels. There will always be people who are going to pat me on the back for every success and goal I have achieved. That’s not a bad thing. But, when we view it as our stamp of approval for being a “Perfect Human Being,” we are in trouble. Because, there is so much of the world around us and inside us that we are ignoring.
The right hemisphere is our intuitive center. It reads body language, facial expressions, and creates collages of the five senses. It feels emotion but it releases it within 90 seconds of experiencing it because the right hemisphere lives in the present moment. We allow our left brain to choose to hold on to an emotion and relive it over, and over and over again, thus routing new experiences and sensations to a well-worn path of same or similar thought patterns, actions and reactions time and time again. (These thoughts get stuck in our limbic system, which in turn can cause diseases.)
Through her stroke, Dr. Taylor found that living in her right hemisphere was a beautiful, powerful, and joyous sensation. That’s because our right hemisphere is about our collective selves: “We are___.” “We need ___.” “We want ___.” It’s more creative, adventurous, and loves change because it knows that we are energy that is part of a greater, pure energy: the universe. How can we be fearful of life, when we are perfect beings of this perfect energy that has created everything from the source and absorbs everything back to the source?
But I am fearful. So are you. And that’s OK. That’s how it probably will be for us. And both hemispheres don’t fight each other. They typically work in tandem. For example, when I listen to what someone is telling me (left hemisphere) understand what they are saying (left) and interpret their non-verbal cues, tone of voice, facial expressions (right hemisphere) I can determine whether someone is telling me the truth or not. That’s powerful. That’s beautiful. And that’s a strong and necessary way to live in this world.
What we need to do, however, is begin to value that intuitive side of us more. We can start becoming more conscious of how we choose to live through experiences. The right hemisphere -also known in Eastern philosophy as The Heart Center- is the compassionate side of us all. It allows us to feel safe and secure, peaceful and joyful, and has our best interest in mind. Literally. The right hemisphere is where our body-mind connection, and our heart-spirit connection is made. When we cry, and we feel the tears well up in our eyes, that is the right hemisphere doing its work. When we laugh and feel a kinesthetic reaction (maybe our shoulders relax or our ribs tighten and then release, making us feel better) that is the right hemisphere doing its job. When we feel indescribable joy of looking at a loved one, or feel at peace wrapped up in our warm blankets, or are soothed by beautiful music, we are tapping into our truest self and experiencing life in the form of simply being.
Every time we can remember to ride the wave of emotion that surges through us and feel the sensations in our bodies, and experience the depths of the emotion, but release it (whatever the emotion is) and bring ourselves back to the present moment we are allowing ourselves to feel and to be moved to create new experiences and a new way of being. In short, we are rewiring our brains and bodies to be more compassionate. To be more spontaneous. To be more free. To be more loving. To be more creative. To be more adventurous. To be (dare I say it?) our most perfect selves.
Things I do to “tap” into my right hemisphere, will be shared in a later blog. For now, check out the link to Dr. Taylor’s website: http://www.drjilltaylor.com/