[Note: For the past several weeks, I’ve posted about stress relief (the stress response, diaphragmatic breathing, stress pride, progressive muscle relaxation, and sleep hygiene) and clearing your energy field. Today’s and subsequent posts will shift toward more of a mindfulness and emotional intelligence focus, all of which are intended to have you living in the present with more peace, joy, and fulfillment.]
I have a very loud, very busy left brain that I call Lefty. (For those neuroanatomy purists, I use the term ‘left brain’ loosely. Our brains aren’t so neatly divided, but humor me for ease of description.)
Four things about Lefty before I get to our current dilemma:
1. Lefty is my highly verbal, analytical, strategic, ‘thinking’ mind, as opposed to the creating, imagining, and intuiting one.
2. Lefty is very persuasive; he’s a master of language. He talks a great game. When that doesn’t work, his yelling drowns out everything else. The other side thinks in pictures, feelings, and other non-verbals, which are easy to miss (particularly when Lefty’s so loud) – and to dismiss.
3. While I refer to Lefty in the singular, I actually hear many different, opinionated voices up there. Some are bossy, some eagerly helpful, and others critical and beyond. To minimize confusion, I refer to them collectively as Lefty.
4. I’ve spent most of my time in my head – thinking, worrying, replaying, and planning (vs. being in the present moment, with what’s happening in and around me). That means Lefty and I have had an overabundance of together time.
The Mindful Revolution
For most of our relationship, Lefty has played the dominant role, driving decisions, solving problems, and keeping everything (meaning me) mostly in line.
Lefty successfully got me through 10 years of college and a dissertation, as well as a great career in advertising. Lefty’s been in charge because he gets shit done, puts a roof over our head, and gets food into my mouth. He can plan, solve problems, and anticipate the future. He’s great in a pinch and always eager to help.
I’m extremely grateful, and I have no intention of leaving Lefty. I greatly value (almost) everything about him.
Like an awakening 60’s housewife, however, I’m no longer content to let Lefty run the show.
I’ve been deepening my exploration and practices of mindfulness, inner wisdom, intuition, creativity, energetics, spirituality, and other ways of being. It’s been hugely rewarding. I’m more grounded, guided, and connected. I’m less reactive and fearful. I feel much more peace, freedom, and joy.
There’s just one problem. Lefty doesn’t like it. Not one bit.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Left Brain Threatened
When Lefty feels threatened, he goes on the attack.
He fights dirty.
He distracts – no, harasses – me during meditation. He talks (or sings when talking doesn’t work) from the moment I sit down until I get up.
He tries to scare me out of taking even the smallest risks.
He admonishes me with the ‘right’ way to do things, especially as I deliberately expand far beyond those rigid boundaries.
At times Lefty is so obstructionist that it’s difficult to even access, let alone connect with, that more open, wide mindspace where creativity, connection, and consciousness flow. He makes it damn hard to hear the inner wisdom I’m growing to rely on.
Lefty’s scared to death that I’ll leave him (and that he’ll be extinguished). So he gets louder. And louder. And louder.
Can This Relationship Be Saved?
In the past, I would’ve caved. I’d have gone back to my normal way of operating and tried to forget everything else just to appease Lefty.
Giving in, however, is no longer acceptable. I greatly value these subtle yet profound shifts in my life, and I don’t want to go back to the way I was.
While I have no intention of leaving Lefty (technically impossible since he’s part of me), things must change.
Goals of Couples Counseling
We’re doing our own version of couples counseling. My hope is that Lefty will realize that he’s still relevant and valued. He will continue to operate as Chief Thinking Officer.
I also hope that I can even more deeply engage with this inner wisdom that comes from presence, intuition, and connection. I want Lefty to feel secure enough to welcome this Chief Experience Officer so we can all live in harmony.
Slowly but surely, we’re making progress.
Key Insights (Thus Far)
While everyone’s experience quieting a busy, noisy left brain are likely to differ, here’s what I’m learning so far:
1. Gentle compassion works best with Lefty. It’s true what all those Buddhist monks and others say: meditation is not about rejecting thoughts, it’s about continually returning to the present moment with compassion.
When I try to disavow Lefty, he freaks out. When I get frustrated that he won’t shut up, he’s smug because he knows he’s won. It’s far better to kindly acknowledge him and then refocus on what I’m experiencing.
2. As I make mindfulness, meditation, energy work, and inner wisdom a regular, consistent focus, Lefty finally understands that I’m serious. I’ve only dabbled in the past, including a 10-day silent vipassana. But I wasn’t serious or consistent.
Over the past couple years, I’ve shown up and committed, and I’ve deepened my practice even more in the last several months. Lefty still pulls something on occasion but not less so than before. I still get distracted – quite a lot, in fact – but it’s more from my thinking habits than from Lefty retaliating for feeling threatened.
3. ‘Brain washing’ helps. It’s my simple way of clearing my thoughts, and it signals to Lefty that I’m transitioning from thinking mind to wordless presence. When I ‘brain wash,’ I direct the inhale up and through my head, ‘washing’ the breath through my brain. I gather thoughts and the thinking mind and release them on the exhale. I do several rounds.
Brain washing clears my mind, enabling me to focus on the present and be in my heart. I return to this breathing when I get caught by thoughts, both during meditation and throughout the day. For me, it’s more effective in quieting thoughts than only focusing on the breath. Try it and let me know how it goes.
Lefty calms down when I ask for help and express gratitude. Who doesn’t want to feel useful and appreciated, especially if you’ve been accustomed to running the whole show? Lefty really likes it when I recognize his help. He also loves being handed a problem to solve or an issue to think through. I may as well have him keep doing what he does best.
The relationship between both aspects of me is strengthening, and I can feel the signal-to-noise ratio decrease. It’s becoming much easier to hear my inner guidance and maintain mindfulness. I feel more centered, alive, and calm, and I’m much more self-compassionate than I ever have been in my life.
I live more in the present moment – and in my body. Less time in my head = a happier me.
I have no idea if any of this is relevant or helpful to anyone else. I have heard countless clients, friends, and colleagues talk about their busy minds and loud mental voices, however, so I suspect that I’m not the only one with Lefty issues. You tell me.
The journey hasn’t always been easy, but given the progress Lefty and I have made, I’m confident our differences are absolutely reconcilable.
What’s your Lefty situation? Have you had issues with a very noisy brain? How does it affect you? How do you deal with it? Please share any thoughts, questions, or feedback in the comments section below – I welcome any more ideas I can get.
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