Letter 43: Meditation – the switch from left brain to right brain thinking

In the last two Weekly Teachingepisodes we have seen how the brain is a God-given instrument that allows us to enter into a deeper relationship with the spiritual foundation of our being, with Divine Reality.

The key to everything is paying one-pointed attention to our mantra, our sacred prayer word. Just that. Nothing else is needed. We saw how it led us from thinking to silence, from stress to relaxation, from duality to unity, showing how connected body and mind are.

Research on the function of the two hemispheres of the brain throws further light on the effect of the working of the brain. As Dr Shanida Nataraja points out in The Blissful Brain: “With respect to the processing of incoming sensory information and controlling movement, the left and right cerebral hemispheres have a similar function: the right hemisphere controls …the left hand side of the body, whereas the left hemisphere controls ….the right-hand side of the body. However, in other respects, the function of the two hemispheres is asymmetrical.”

Research has shown that, although everything in the brain is intricately connected, yet there is a difference in function between the two hemispheres of the brain. Shanida takes language as an example: “As the left hemisphere contains the brain regions associated with both written and spoken language, it is often thought to be the dominant hemisphere….Despite this dominance, however, it appears that both hemispheres are required for most cognitive skills… The right hemisphere contains regions associated with the comprehension and generation of emotional inflection to language. Cooperation between the hemispheres is therefore important: the left and right hemisphere each produce a partial but complementary description of the world. [To facilitate] this cooperation extensive connections between the two hemispheres [exist].

It is clear that many aspects of our behaviour arise from the activity in brain cells distributed across numerous different areas of the brain. However, our left and right hemispheres offer us two different modes of thinking and perceiving. The left hemisphere gives us access to left-brain thinking, which is more rational and analytical, but also unreliable and subject to our in-built and conditioned filters, [as the ego is at its centre] The right hemisphere gives us access to right-brain thinking, which is more abstract, conceptual and perhaps even more truthful, but its insights may be harder to grasp intellectually, [as intuition is at its centre].” (The Blissful Brain)

Our society values the rationality and practicality of left-brain thinking and gives it considerable weight in education. Its emphasis on rational, logical, narrow-focused concentrated thought and planning is considered to be needed for progress and success. But it could restrict us to a view-point, which only concentrates on our own benefit and survival. This is why meditation is of the utmost importance in our world today. By paying one-pointed attention in regular meditation slowly we are able to switch more easily to our right-brain thinking with its emphasis on intuition, creativity, spirituality and its wider more all-embracing perspective, which includes taking into account the emotional importance of the effect of our actions on others and their consequences for the world that surrounds us. Albert Einstein puts it succinctly: ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’

As Shanida said in the quote above, the perspectives of both hemispheres are partial but complementary – both are necessary for an integrated approach to life. Albert Einstein’s own achievements also prove that. Here again the regular practice of meditation plays a role. Not only does it allow us to move easier between the two hemispheres and their different partial views on reality, allowing us to take both into account. But also in doing so it strengthens these connections - the stronger the connections the smoother the switch between the two hemispheres and vice versa. Both our rational and the intuitive/spiritual part of our being can thus influence our actions, leading to a more balanced and harmonious way of being.

Kim Nataraja