The study of brain science has always fascinated me. I think perhaps early interest in shamanic dreaming and meditation lent itself to even larger curiosities. What happens in the brain after meditation that allows for a deep sense of centeredness and presence? How do we heal our trauma? Why is it that children can be raised relatively similarly in the same household and have completely different perspectives and personalities? When we have a transformational experience, what happens in the brain and why do we go through this process in the first place?
I recently visited Carl Sagan’s book, Dragons of Eden. I approached the book with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Carl Sagan is a lovely writer and thinker, and yet, the book is relatively outdated, maybe not in cosmological theory, but certainly in neuroscience. While there are parts that are outdated (like most of the chapter on computer science), one concept really stuck with me. Sagan examines human brain evolution by breaking down the major parts in the brain and theorizing what early humans might think as the additions developed, leading to current brain topography centered on the right and left cerebral hemispheres.
The R-complex, the reptilian brain is the base brain. Referred to in this way because of its similarity in make-up to reptiles, Sagan points out that in evolution removing a structure will surely cause death to the creature as we know it, so structures are built on each other instead of scrapped and completely recreated. It poses an interesting problem when we reflect on the inner world with the outer world. Today as I look at many social, economic, and political structures I think how many of the systems need to be completely obliterated and recreated to be something totally new. What that means is death to humanity as we know it. I mean, maybe we wouldn’t all literally parish, but it would feel like it and most certainly many could die in the trauma of major change. In fact, while I have been a long-time proponent of change like this, I can not deny it would hurt. I wonder if the amount of trauma it would inflict on humanity as a whole would be worth it? If we in fact sindged our old ways to nothing and built a new from the ground up, would we not, somewhere in our personal energetic system bear a great weight of embodying the event in the same way that cultures still hold on to catastrophic or horrific events centuries old? Could there be a better way?
When the human brain grew it added to the old brain. We see in psychology that a lot of the processes the old brain is responsible for need a place to go. After all, the brain is still there, just because we added a new system doesn’t make the old one obsolete. It can be bypassed, but not ignored. Most people today, probably beginning academically with Freud, believe that the process involved in domination, hierarchal societal structure, and foundational sexual functions end up repressed and are underlying motivators in our actions, or at least seep through the dreaming process. Ideally, it appears in our brain activity harmlessly, during sleep.
The next major development of what is now the human brain is the addition of the limbic system which includes systems like the pituitary gland, and operating hormones, and is often compared to concepts of the third eye. We see more layers to sexual function appear here moving us beyond fundamental procreation. We also find the amygdala here which is commonly called the fear or alarm center of the brain. The addition of these two parts is where caring for our young is thought to have begun in humans and higher mammals. Perhaps this is where love is born too.
So that brings us to the neocortex, specifically the cerebral hemispheres commonly referred to as the right and left brain. It also brings me back to one of my original fascinations with the brain. I usually identify myself as being more left-brained-centric. Really, I think most people are, even those who heavily engage in right-brained thinking. Our societal structure requires it. To reduce it down to black and white, the left brain processes information sequentially, the right, simultaneously.
It brings me to question everything. I have gone through much of this life feeling truly divided, wondering who am I, wondering from the right brain sense of who am I searching for a feeling; wondering from the left brain sense, how do I translate this feeling into something I can map, something I can write, something I can define? Sometimes I feel like there is supposed to be a bridge inside me, but it actually feels like a gaping hole. I know you feel it too at times.
Our ancestors seemed to process and perceive the world more with the right brain, using archaic communication and whimsical ritual to act out what they felt internal. To this day, we still rely mostly on the left. Numbers, dates, academics, structure, processes, empirical data, move along, be productive, write it down, put it in a system, and move on to the next. Then we need a break and come back to the right brain. We meditate daily; we do yoga; we spend 51 weeks in the left-brain world and blow off some serious left-brain steam by saying okay right brain, your turn and get ancestral at a retreat or music festival. We have centuries of mythology highlighting the pendulum swinging from yin and yang, masculine and feminine, right and left brain, right and left-wing, one side to the other and we know in our hearts we just want it to land in the center. But there is a major problem. These sides really don’t know how to communicate. It’s like, impossible. The right brain will take in information in a way usually described as epiphanies, things that can’t be explained. How do you break down an experience, a feeling that processes thousands of things at once and try to write that down? Poetry? Art? Sometimes that works, but the left brain is left circling it like a hungry dog just trying to break it down and it can’t. How do you spell God?
Meanwhile, the left brain is doing a lot of work to keep us safe. It is how we perceive and process the world. It makes sense why can’t you just make some sense right brain? If I could just talk some sense into you, we could move on our merry way. Sometimes the right needs the left to process and let it go, otherwise, it just swims around and around in the right brain and never gets out, be it fear or love.
Often, the most powerful moments in our life are moments that use both functions at the same time. When we communicate through art, we are using the left brain to demonstrate something that comes from a deeper place in ourselves that is felt by the right brain. You feel that when you are with someone and you feel a vibe or energy and then someone dares to speak it and it means so much more than just language alone because you felt the greater presence behind it. It was an experience using both brains at once.
In my life, I am working on making room for more. I am deconstructing places the left brain has kept me stuck, reaching out trying to grab air that slips through my hands and instead rest my hands on my knees, open to the universe. I am working on communicating better, more fully, and more embodied. I don’t need to explain it all the time because there is room for understanding and I don’t need an explanation all the time because there is also a thing called knowing. Popular cognition and new age beliefs seem to come to a similar conclusion these days. It goes, that what you experience in the internal world of self is actually reflected in the external world. When you are filled with fear on the inside, the outside looks scary. When we ignore our inner demons they find a way out and attack us from the outside. When we think positively, positive things happen. Go ahead do a daily affirmation for a while and see. Let the left brain see the direct connection that the right brain knows but can only silently scream.
As much space as I try to give feminine thinking, and right-brain thinking, as much as I communicate energetically and follow my excitement and use my intuition, I love numbers. I eat them up. I love grids. Give me a deeply philosophical book and a few pages of graph paper and I will devour it up and spit it out as a diagram. My left brain is sharp and it is difficult not to lean on it all the way sometimes, especially when I am in a fear mind or scarcity mind. But my right brain is my heart. It knows the way, it’s just, that my left brain wants a map.
As I write this, I sit here and wonder to myself if the great schism we see in the US and in much of the world where the right and left-wing seem to get further apart as they become more aware of who they are, is this the external reality of my inner world? Is it they simply cannot communicate in the same way my two parts of the brain can not?
For me, I see the bridge to the new earth born here. It is born in bridging the two brains. After all, we know from brain evolution and evolution in general that structures get built on the old system instead of wiped out and replaced with entirely new ones. Imagine yourself walking on the bridge inside your own head connecting the two brains. That is the bridge to the new world that we are building together. Shine some lights on it, or maybe just close your eyes and take a step in the dark, whatever you need to do. The possibility is there, and it starts in you.