Quick Right Brain Access
If you want to pop into the right brain, here is the quickest method I’ve found:
Look straight ahead. Become aware of your peripheral vision. Now, try and “see” everything in your entire visual field at once, as though you are looking at a complete picture.
Typical responses I get include an emotional “drop” in my abdomen, followed by relaxation and breathing re-regulating itself to a steady rhythm (breaking the left brain’s stranglehold and the muscle tension patterns by which it “thinks”). Sounds may also get louder and smells stronger.
With practice, you can hold that state indefinitely. This is how I have found bliss states and states of complete presence to arise.
You can also practise it with eyes closed by trying to “see” everything all the way to the sides of awareness. It’s the exact same trick, just with eyes closed, and using the swirling black eyes-closed crap as your “picture” to try and “look at all at once” (also called “expanding awareness”). I believe the gyan mudra, pictured above, works by bringing awareness to the periphery.
Why It Works
If there is just one idea you should memorize to help you understand the roles of the left and right brains, it is this:
- Right brain sees “the whole”.
- Left brain zooms in on “parts” of the whole for analysis.
The right brain handles the whole picture including peripheral vision. The left brain in contrast only focuses on what is right in the middle of the visual field. So, by placing your awareness on the whole visual field including the periphery, rather than on specific elements within it, you are disengaging the left brain and returning awareness to the right brain.
While the right brain sees the whole, the left brain’s job is to zoom in on items of interest within that whole and analyse them, and its method of analysis is verbal thought. “Items of interest” could be something in your visual field, e.g. an object, but is most often something in your conceptual model (in other words your mind) such as a person, or the concept of “your job”, or something that happened earlier which you are now dwelling on, and so forth. Dwelling is always accompanied by verbal thought. Meditation is largely about letting that left-brain focus fall away and getting back to a right-brain “seeing of the whole”.
In practical terms you can think of the right brain as being a “zooming out” tool, because zooming out does make you see more of the whole picture. In the exercise above you could say you are “zooming out” from your central focus (left brain) to include the whole visual field in your awareness (right brain). Metaphysically “seeing the bigger picture” when considering your life, plans, strategies, situations etc. is the same thing. You can see it as a zooming out in order to see the whole (= right brain).
In reality however, none of this is “zooming out” per se but is instead cancelling the left brain’s zoom-in. Semantics, sure, but I think it’s worth pondering. The right brain is always there, seeing the whole (as proven by advertising “priming”). However, it’s the left brain’s central focus, or “zoom-in”, which then steals the majority of conscious awareness, piling it all into whatever it is focusing on at the time. Cancel the zoom, and you get back to right-brain awareness of the whole. So, again, not “zooming out” as much as “cancelling a zoom-in”.
If the above method is a right brain engagement, what does a left brain engagement look like?
You can see this for yourself, as it’s something you probably do a hundred times times a day.
Next time you catch yourself staring into space, deep in verbal thought, notice what your vision looks like at that moment. It will be practically entirely dark all around the edges (no periphery), right the way to the middle where there will be an intense focus on the central point of vision (tunnel vision). This is the left brain fully engaged. Deep visual zoom-ins always co-occur with intense verbal thought. It’s a left brain full engagement. This is why people who are locked in left-brain thought, such as schizophrenics, tend to walk along in straight lines muttering to themselves whilst staring at a single point.
Disclaimer: Everything I’ve written in this post is just stuff I’ve observed or made up, rather than things “proven scientifically”. As usual, I’m just saying what I see.
So a right brain access always coincides with an immediate drop-off in verbal thought. How long you can hold that state before giving in to the left brain’s compulsion to zoom in on and and analyse some aspect in your conscious awareness (remember, whether an object “out there”, or some concept in your mind) depends upon your level of practice. Half an hour a day will see rapid progress.
Neat Trick: Tip of the Tongue Syndrome
Want a neat demonstration of my right brain access method?
“Tip of the tongue syndrome” is the playful name given to the phenomenon whereby you know you know a word, or someone’s name, but you just can’t think of it in that moment. The harder you search, the harder it gets. Usually you then go away and do something else and the word magically pops into your head a short while later.
Iain McGilchrist theorizes that this is because the word is “held” outside the left brain’s current narrow focus and this focus must be relaxed so the right brain can pop the word into awareness.
So, here’s the trick. Next time you have tip of the tongue syndrome, do the right brain access method described at the start of this post. You’ll find the word in a matter of seconds, or your money back! 😀