You’ve been dating for three months, and it’s fantastic, but a question gnaws at you- Are we in a relationship? You want to know where you stand. You ask her, and she leaves you, because she does not want to be pinned down.
Certain things have to remain implicit, and I have to accept that, however uncomfortable I find it. I have a model of my spiritual growth where I become my true self, living in the moment, responding to reality as it is. Rather than worrying about the future, I see something I can do in the present to make it better, and do it. Instead, I am trapped in ego, attempting to propitiate the insatiable critical parent, where facing what I have to do is too painful so I do not do it however much I worry about it.
Iain McGilchrist, in “The divided brain and the search for meaning”, explains: the right brain deals with perceiving the world as it is, and the left brain manipulates it, so divides it into discrete concepts, a map not the territory. To the left brain, a table has no meaning or existence except when I need to use it. So I use it then forget it again. To the right brain, it can be a thing of beauty and as if on an LSD trip I can be transfixed by the detail of the wood grain.
For McGilchrist, Zeno’s paradox shows how a left-brain attempt to codify the world is a delusion. The arrow must first go half the distance to the target, then half the remaining distance, and so on, so that it never reaches the target. When we observe the real world, the arrow travels as fast at the end of its flight as at the start, and hits the target rather than slowing down before getting there. The “paradox” shows that privileging logic over perception can mislead us.
The spiritual practices I spend most time with seem to encourage right-brain thinking. I sit in silence, seeking awareness in the moment of myself in my surroundings. The surroundings are kept as non-distracting and non-triggering as possible to make this easier. So there are rules- no knitting, for example, in the Quaker meeting, as it means you are not “centring down” properly. And I am now analysing with left-brain- I do this to achieve that- rather than simply sinking into that right-brain mode of being.
In reality, the left and right brain are both involved in anything I do. McGilchrist writes, “The meaning of an utterance begins in the right hemisphere, is made explicit (literally folded out, or unfolded) in the left, and then the whole utterance needs to be ‘returned’ to the right hemisphere, where it is reintegrated with all that is implicit – tone, irony, metaphor, humour, and so on, as well as a feel of the context in which the utterance is to be understood. To achieve meaning in the world requires what linguists call the business of pragmatics, which comes from the right hemisphere.”
When I cook, I chop things up and put them in a pot, manipulating, left-brain, then use judgment of smell, taste, appearance- right-brain.
On the twelve steps, I seek serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and ACA defines this as other people. In making amends I would concentrate on the things I did wrong: any wrongs by another are irrelevant. Seeing someone as a cipher without an internal reality, whom I could manipulate, sounds to me like left-brain thinking. Attempting to relate to a whole person sounds more like right-brain.
McGilchrist says that in Western culture, “the ideal, theoretical world began to triumph over that of experience”. We think in terms of manipulating the world. As tax or benefit law gets more complex, with each rule getting more defined, any exceptions precisely delineated, there is a hunger for control which collapses on collision with messy reality. Yet “the left hemisphere sees truth as internal coherence of the system, not correspondence with the reality we experience”.
If my culture emphasises left-brain manipulation, and so my spiritual practices emphasise right-brain perception, I seek taijitu balance. But Right-brain good, Left-brain bad is classic left-brain thinking. I never understand sufficiently to formulate an iron law.