Thoughts about the brain

I find the brain fascinating;  It runs my body, and my life without any input from me, or so it seems.  When I pondered the brain in the past I didn’t usually think of it as being divided into 2 sections, I knew it was, but I focused more on the thought processes it came up with, not its physiology.

I’d like to share some insights and thoughts I’ve had since I began reading a book entitled “My Stroke of Insight, A Brain Scientists Personal Journey”  by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.  She had a stroke at the age of 37 which damaged a large portion of the left hemisphere of the brain.  Because she is a brain scientist she was able to stay aware of the changes that were happening in her personality and body funtion, then chronical her experiences and what she learned as she recovered.  The book has made me aware of which hemisphere people are using in certain situations.  It has given me more empathy with the special needs children I work with because their brains are functioning much differently, and sometimes I have had expectations for them they could not possibly meet.

So we have a right and left hemisphere, pretty common knowledge, when we think about it.  Our brains give us clues that make it’s two halves apparent as well.  When we talk to ourselves, who are we talking to?  When we have the mind chatter looping over and over in our heads like a cd on replay, constantly telling us what we should or shouldn’t do, or how we screwed something up, who are we talking to? There is also a common analogy about the angel and devil on our shoulders duking it out to make a decision, for good of self, or good of all concerned.  Think about your own angel and devil; which side would you point to or look at if you were listening to your angel?  For me it’s my right, and most people I’ve asked agree.

I think it’s because the right side is our feeling or heart side.  It is our intuitive, percieving mind. Jill states in her book that when she had her stroke it damaged the left hemisphere of her brain, which gave her first hand experience of what it’s like to be extremely right brained.  She loved it, it sent her into a state of bliss, where she felt as though she was at one with everything, she was sensitive to non-verbal communication, used much more intuition. She wasn’t bogged down by the past or the future, she was settled into what was happening now, and didn’t have an attatchement to how a situation turned out.  Whatever happened happened.

As she started to lose the function of her left hemisphere, she realized the incesstant chatter disappeared.  I have had a lot of personal experience telling myself to stop going on and on about how anything and everything I was doing was wrong, because a part of me realized I was blowing things out of proportion.  Since reading this book I know it was my right hemisphere telling my left to stop.

The left hemisphere is the ego center, this side is all about me, it defines who I am, and how I measure up to everyone around me.  It’s the judging, analytical side that is preoccupied with details and is much more serious.  It makes decisions based on what it experienced in the past and is attatched to those descions forever.  I imagine this is the stubborn, strong willed side.

The right does not function well on its own, it needs the left to catagorize and organize the information it brings in and then give us the ablility to communicate what we’ve learned and how we feel to the outside world.

As I mentioned earlier reading this book has made a difference to me at work because the children often don’t have the same ablility to communicate and share their knowledge or feelings.  They have defects to either the right or left sides, possibly both and often time the neuropathways that are supposed to connect the two are not attatched.  This makes learning very difficult for them, and at times frustrating for those of us working with them.  Now that I have a better picture in my own mind of how their brains are functioning (that would be my right side I believe) I can try to use different techniques, or just more patience when working with them.  Some of the behaviours that I have come into contact with are quite fascinating now that I know where they originate.  Some kids will ask the same questions over and over again…and I’m talking for years they’ve been asking these questions…that would be left brain.  Others have this amazing creative side, they can draw things in perfect perspective; also one girl stares off into space and makes happy squealing noises, another little girl has seizures where her head turns to the right and she gets the biggest smile on her face  I’ve always imagined she’s imagining herself out running in the field with the other children…turns out she might really be in a state of bliss.

The author speaks about finding a healthy balance between functional abilities of her two hemispheres, and also having more say about which character is in control of her perspective.  We have to be careful because the left hemisphere has an innate ability to weave stories based on minimal amounts of information;  I imagine this is where the negative self talk comes from, or the assumptions we can sometimes jump to based on how someone looks at us or the tone of voice they use.  Whereas the most fundamental traits of the right hemisphere’s personality are deep inner peace and loving compassion.  Jill states that the more time spent running that circuitry, the more we project it out to the world, a better place it will be.

In conclusion, now that I’ve learned a little bit more about the physiology of the brain, and can picture how it works I am going to try and lead a more balanced brained life.  One last statement from the book that I’m going to try to keep in mind:  Negative events can be percieved as valuable life lessons…if we are willing to step to the right and experience the situation with compassion.

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