Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Left brain, right brain. I have been thinking about Jill Bolte Taylor's work on this topic. Taylor was--is--a neuroscientist who experienced a stroke as a result of a brain hemorrhage. She almost died and it took her eight years to fully recover. Meanwhile, she says that what she experienced when her left brain was disabled from the stroke was Nirvana, a state where there was no separate self, just unending oceans of bliss.

I'd like some of that.

Meditators have been talking about this forever. Dancing and music can get you there. Even tennis. Intense love experiences. The opening of the heart all the way wide without the yammering intrusion of the critical brain.

I personally spend a lot of time in the critical brain, trying to shape sentences, order manuscripts, edit my students' pieces, look for places to sell my work, apply for grants, get my list of publications in order.

I think the reason C is basically a contented man when left to his own devices is that playing music gives him time and space in that magical other part of himself.

As Carla's ALS progresses I know that the only way to get through will be to dwell more and more in that right brain, the place where everything, even death is all right, because it's just energy moving into and through the body, into the vast beyond.

Taylor, who "died" in the ambulance as it was taking her to the hospital, and then came painfully back into her body, says she has learned how to "step into" that bliss state as a result of her stroke. She says she has conscious choice, and that one very simple technique she uses is to think of someone or something she loves deeply. This is so like the advice my mother gave me years ago when I was a child and couldn't sleep: "Think of pleasant things."

I've always been someone who thinks too much. There should be a 12-step meeting for folks like me who are addicted to our own obsessive-compulsive intellects. It can be good for the writing because in going over and over a topic, turning it around in my mind restlessly like a dog with a bone, I learn more about it. By the time i come to write, I've gone several layers deeper than the surface. It's tiring though. And not particularly ecstatic.

I want to practice stepping into that other side of my brain, both for my own sake and so that I can be a source of peace for others rather than a source of critical inquiry (and irritation.)

I am blogging about this now because that old Christian-Jewish Wing It! issue came up for me this week. Several of our members are being ordained as various flavors of Protestant ministers. I'm happy for them that they have managed to complete challenging graduate programs, and I wish them well. But I also notice in the din of an election year, with the newspapers full of Obama's pastor said this, and here's a photo of the Clintons coming out of their church, or McCain and family coming out of their church--that it would be virtually impossible to get elected President at this time in America if you weren't Christian.

Not just your average perfunctory non-churchgoing person of Christian descent either, but the full monte--someone who enthusiastically and whole-heartedly (and constantly) professes their faith. If you don't do that, might as well not run.

I'm not even talking about a Jewish American President, mind you. That would raise its own interesting can of worms. But just say, someone regular who was a non-believer, who said, "I don't know about this God business, and yeah, Jesus was a good guy, but I basically believe in kindness and respect and p.s. I have a plan to solve global warming and get us out of Iraq."

Which seems to me to be what we need. A secular humanist. A smart, science-oriented secular humanist.

And why, with all this media focus on the historicity of this election--first viable black candidate, first viable woman candidate--don't we take a minute to point out that--hey!--everyone's a professed, God-fearing Christian? In other words, our diversity work is not done. We may be inching toward more gender and race equality (though we've got a long way to go in both realms) but who is talking about the erosion of the separation of church and state in recent elections?

I wish we had a law that said you couldn't know a candidate's religious affiliation, if any. I wish religion were something private and sacred (root word: secret) instead of a show everyone feels they have to participate in. I wrote a little editorial to this effect and sent it in to Tikkun. They may or may not take it; they don't pay their writers anything, so it won't make any difference to my finances. But it's a good editorial idea I think, and one which I've been mulling over (read: obsessing) for several days.

The truth is, my critical mind is a little bit in love with itself. It's so witty. So intelligent. So capable of vivid images and wicked sarcasm. But it's not entirely honest; it prefers a good show of verbal pyrotechnics to the deeper more heartfelt truths underneath.

When I was at Melinda's church in '07 it was not a Wonder Bread experience. Eighty percent black attendees with an African American lesbian pastor, it was something of a cross between a revival meeting and a recovery 12-step group, with people openly wrestling with their addictions, their demons. I felt a variety of conflicting emotions. Confusion (why is everyone going off, screaming and shouting and getting happy every time the pastor says "Jesus"--which she does three or four times per sentence? I don't feel anything.) Envy ("It looks like they're orgasming while I'm just sitting here feeling stiff and awkward and trying to pretend I don't think it's crazy.) Anger: ("All those things they are attributing to Jesus are a normal part of the Jewish religion--he didn't make any of it up--they're co-opting us--and not even accurately!") And some other things I can't even name.

Obsessing and analyzing all this doesn't make me happy. Yet somehow my brain feels it needs to do it.

Someone once said that being right is the booby prize. I'm fairly sure I'm right on this one. I mean it's a well-reasoned point that's been brewing and stewing in my brain for a while now. But it's also been keeping me up at night and increasing my sense of separation from dear churchgoing friends. I don't want to feel separate. I don't want to give up my wonderful critical thinking abilities either. Is there a way to do both? Bolte Taylor suggests we can step from one side of our brain to the other, at will. At least she can, and by implication anyone can learn to. Can I?

1 comment:

Rae Hallstrom said...

"I don't know about this God business, and yeah, Jesus was a good guy, but I basically believe in kindness and respect and p.s. I have a plan to solve global warming and get us out of Iraq." Wow, well said! Yes! What a presidential candidate that would be! The self-professing Christian candidates, trying to out-Christianize each other for votes, tend to get on my nerves a bit.