I’ve recently been thrilled and inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s excellent book, The Master and his Emissary, a tome of incredible research scope, which posits the central idea that the left hemisphere of our brain has hijacked much of our cultural, political, economic, social and spiritual history in the West for the past two millennia, and that many of the challenges that face the planet right now are due to our imbalanced cerebral view and treatment of the world.
Fundamentally McGilchrist describes how it is the job of the right hemisphere to present new realities and scenarios to our consciousness, through intuition, emotion, metaphor or empathic responses, which then the left hemisphere must re-present to us in the form of language, structure and relative experience. However, the left hemisphere has a tendency to take over, such that we begin to rely on re-presentations of reality rather than being present with what is.
One example of this is perhaps when we fall foul of hasty assumptions, which are formed on the back of past experience rather than on current reality, and which, to coin a phrase. “make an ass of u and me”.
Furthermore, according to McGilchrist, we have left-hemisphere dominance to blame for the all-pervading drive towards physical perfection which plagues our western culture. The left hemisphere’s influence causes us to view our bodies as lifeless appendages which ought to be moulded and sculpted to suit whatever image of perfection is currently in vogue. Disturbingly, he also attributes the increase in incidences of anorexia nervosa and self-harm to this type of wilful “disembodiment”, denying the holistic, healthful view of the mind, body and spirit as being part of the same living system.
So imagine how far we are in our left hemisphere world from imagining ourselves as individuals which nevertheless collectively form part of the same living ecological and planetary system. This is an idea that enviromentalists and conservationists have been propounding for decades, but perhaps we can now understand why they’re having such a hard time getting through: we have become by and large cerebrally prohibitive towards concepts of holism and connectedness, thanks to left hemisphere dominance.
But what I know about journal writing is that it involves features of both halves of the brain in equal measure. Use of language, fine motor skills to wield the pen, use of metaphor, intuition, emotional reflection, spiritual values, not to mention cognizance of how the body feels, and what it’s trying to tell us.
Well before I read McGilchrist’s book I would tell my workshop participants of my conviction that journal writing is cerebrally integrative. I would speak with verve about the need for us to reacquaint ourselves with our inner resourcefulness, creativity, responsibilities and resilience that have somehow been abandoned somewhere along the way, resulting in a dangerously dependent and selfish society.
Now I know why. And more importantly, I also know one way that we can begin to redress the balance.