Family Life from the Right Side of the Brain

Personal note- Today someone I love left the world, and unfortunately I am left wondering if any one of us *really* knew him or connected with him as his essential self.  Being *known* by someone is one of the greatest things we can experience in life, and I’d like to encourage everyone-  connect to your own truth, connect to your children for exactly who they are, and take the time to really see those you love, let them be known to you, and celebrate their unique being.  –  In sadness and love, Lesley

I don’t think I’m wrong in stating that most parents have, at one time or another, had questions about family life or parenting.  Of course, when we have these questions we look for answers by asking them of ourselves, or we ask our families and friends, or we ask the “experts”- or buy their books, anyway.  And many times, we don’t find the answers we seek.  This is because we are unique individuals.  Our children are unique individuals.   Our combination of unique adult individuals and unique smaller, less experienced individuals is in itself unique.  It’s also because, even if we were largely the same (and even with all that uniqueness, in some ways we are the same) there is no one right way for every family.  We can get advice from a variety of sources, but no individual family that is not yours has the answers that fit your family. 

 So, is there another way to approach this?  Yes.  There are thousands, millions, infinite ways to find answers to your questions.  Many of them come down to knowing your own family.  Knowing each individual family member and how he interacts with each other individual.  This all sounds very clinical, like you might sit down with an observation form and take notes, then take all these notes and sit and plan out what might work best.  I suppose you could, but then where is the joy?  This is where the right side of the brain comes in. 

 I think most of you probably have a general idea of what the whole right brain/ left brain thing is about.  It has been established that the left sides of our brains are largely responsible for logical thought, analysis, and orderly processing- the left brain tends to apply known concepts to the unknown in order to make sense of them.  The right sides of our brains are largely responsible for creative thought and making connections between seemingly unrelated information. The right brain takes things as they are and doesn’t so much worry about making sense of them.  While both sides of the brain work together in an integrated whole, we tend to think in an either dominantly left brained or right brained way.  Most people tend to be left brain dominant.  Whether this is human nature or it is related to our culture placing higher value on left brained thinking and action, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we can find new perspective on things by making a conscious choice to look at them from the right brained perspective. 

 So, how is this done?  There is a very commonly known art book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, that outlines an approach to using the right brain to create more accurate drawings.  The premise is that when we draw something from our usual left brained perspective, we draw it from our preconceived notion and concept of what that thing looks like.  The example my 7th grade art teacher used (and perhaps this is directly from the book- I haven’t read it, or at least not recently or thoroughly) was a face.  When people go to draw a face they generally start with a circle, representing a head.  Then they fill in the facial features based on what their brains recall about faces- the eyes are near the top, the nose below them and in between, the mouth under the nose.  This usually results in what my art teacher called “a pumpkin head”.  It’s not a drawing of an actual face, but of our left brained concept of one.  The book goes on with various methods of circumventing this left brained dominance to clearly see what is in front of us and actually draw what we see instead of our left brain’s mental concept of the object we’re drawing.  We can use the same idea in looking at our children and our families.

 We often have mental constructs of what children should be like and what our family life should look like.  These left brained constructs are very visual and rules oriented, as well as being results oriented.  This is where most parenting advice comes from.  You want your children to grow up to be this way, so parent them this way.  This has never been satisfying to me because it tends to suck the soul out of our lives, our interactions, and to some degree, our selves and our children’s selves.  Remember that whole thing about unique human beings?  Our uniqueness is where our joy, our happiness, our brilliance and radiance come from.  To find what’s right for us, we can’t take ourselves out of the equation (and here I mean collectively as a family, however, much of my work at this time is related to keeping our own individual selves in our equations).  We can truly see the uniqueness, the radiance, the brilliance and the joy of those around us by taking a right brained observer perspective.

 To do this, find a time when your family is home and all doing what they do, whether together or separate.  I suggest you start by taking a few minutes to clear your mind.  I use a brief sort of meditation to do this, closing my eyes and seeing the emptiness behind them, focusing on my breath and feeling my full presence throughout my body.  This gets you out of left brain analysis mode and into a more feeling, non-analytical, place.  Then take a look at your children, your partner, yourself, and your lives together.  Pretend you’ve never met these people, they are total strangers, and look at them without analysis or judgment, as if you are entirely new to the world and have no concept of what people do and how they interact.  Simply see what is in front of you.  See facial expressions, body movement, watch and listen to interactions, see what they are doing and how they are responding physically and emotionally to what they are doing, or to what others are doing.  Who are these people?  Why are they doing what they are doing? Just let this view of your family as strangers sink in and try to hold off on analysis for a little while. 

 Once this view integrates into your mind a little bit, check in with yourself.  Were you surprised by what you saw?  Did you notice anything new that you hadn’t noticed before? Are there, just maybe, things you were seeing through a filter of your own thinking that aren’t at all what you thought they were?

 This is a practice that, once you become accustomed to it, allows you to step away from your usual preconceived notions.  It is a way of seeing, from your right brain, things you may have missed from your usual left brained approach. It can become incredibly useful in the moment. When a family member is struggling with something, and maybe this family member is yourself, you can often see that either the problem isn’t the whole problem, or that it is.  There are times when spilled milk is the culmination of a series of tiny or gargantuan personal disasters that has pushed one to their limit.  And there are other times when someone just really wanted a freakin’ glass of milk, and that glass was the last of the carton.  The right brained perspective can show you the difference, which allows you to see more clearly and find a helpful response.  Response creates connection, which can uplift everyone.

 Give it a try!

Advertisements

3 Comments to “Family Life from the Right Side of the Brain”

  1. regarding your personal note-
    i will apply your right brain excercise to my memories of him,
    as there was always a part of him i could not understand.
    perhaps i will learn something there.
    i know he is at peace now but i certainly have not found any peace in his passing yet.
    perhaps i can find a good place to proceed in my grief.
    but i am also so frightened by what i might find.

  2. I had a fabulous drawing teacher (I’m not a great drawer) that taught out of this book. I took this class as an adult and had major hang ups about how I was NOT an artist. This teacher insisted that it wasn’t about being/not being an artist. It was about learning to SEE.

    Then she taught me to look and see. Instead of looking at a basket of fruit I saw lines and shapes and I simply began to draw them. You know what? I was pleased with the result.

    I love the relationship you draw here between learning to draw and learning to KNOW our family. Because I learned to SEE and it was so profound for me, I will take your advice and slowly and ponderously look at the shapes and contours of my family members. Rather than seeing them as the whole people they have come to represent in my life, I will try to see them as their lines and shapes dictate. I have no doubt it will offer a fresh perspective.

    I am sorry to hear about your loss. From the way you frame this here, it makes me wonder if this person died because he was not KNOWN. You sound misty about that and you seem to be using this opportunity to make that right. But perhaps I am very wrong in this assumption.

    It is very difficult to have a loved one leave, no matter the circumstances. I am so sorry for your loss. Please know that you are not alone.

  3. Hi Lesley, I really enjoyed this essay. I had never thought about the left-brained-idea-of-something and how it can not only blind us to reality, but can cause stress because it creates so many expectations! Thanks for sharing!

    Also, my condolences on the loss of your uncle.

    With love,
    Allison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: