Left Brain/Right Brain/Everybody’s Got Both

January 25, 2010

by Phil Porter

For the longest time, I wasn’t big on that left/right brain thing. Seemed a bit simplistic to me and besides, I could never remember which side did what! I had heard people debunk it and people support it, so I wasn’t sure which way to turn.

two eggs sunny-side up

This is your left brain and your right brain…sunny side up!

But recently I have recognized it as a simple way to talk about how we need to use all parts of ourselves in order to be effective both individually and in groups. We need lefty sorts of stuff—facts and data and numbers and spreadsheets and logic and plans and evaluations and PROOF! But we also need righty sorts of stuff too—intuition, connection, affirmation, vision, creativity, emotions, dreams, hope, mystery, and a bit of knowing about what to do when it seems like it is getting very, very dark.

Now maybe those functions are isolated on one side of the brain or the other, and maybe they aren’t. I don’t need neurology or physiology or psychology to know that I know something about the elements on both the left-brain and right-brain lists above.

In our schools and organizations and corporations, we seem to be just a bit obsessed with the first list—the quantifying stuff. (Some might even call it the “tyranny of the left-brainers.” Not me, of course, but some.) We’re much less sure what to do about those “qualitative” experiences. But in your group or staff, wouldn’t you want people to know how to deal with fear or disappointment or jealousy or just being stuck in ways that work better than just sweeping those uncomfortable experiences under the rug?

Where do we learn those sorts of skills—the right-brainy stuff? Turns out this training often happens in the realms of the arts and the spirit and the physical. We learn it in faith communities and through spiritual practices. We learn it by playing with the building blocks of creation: color, light, space, movement, sound, energy. We learn it by challenging our bodies through exercise or sports or other physical engagement.

Does your workplace teach you how to fully use the right side of your brain in the same way that it would commonly expect to utilize the left side? Does it call out and affirm the right-side skills that already exist in its members? Do organizations recognize the artists and spirit people amongst them that bring these gifts to the work of the whole—the person who creates ease in the group, the one who knows how to turn adversity into new directions, the ones who know how to “work well with others,” those who are appreciative or grateful and bring out the best in others, the ones who can imagine Plan E when A, B, C and D have failed?

No one living in today’s complex world can afford to ignore the importance of all parts of our experience.

Unlocking Body Wisdom

December 10, 2009

by Phil Porter

As individuals and groups we have resources that we are hardly tapping at all.

Why? Because as we grow up and even as adults we are taught to “behave.” In the process, we have limited our physical expression, our spiritual awareness and our emotional intelligence. Consequently we have trouble accessing certain parts of our “wisdom” for either our own good or for the good of the groups, communities or organizations in which we live and work.

an illustration of sending or minds, hearts, bodies and spirits off in all different directions

We take our experience and divide it into four neat boxes, then we store the boxes on separate shelves in warehouses in cities miles apart.

Behaving is a good thing. Learning to sit still, being quiet in a group, taking turns, not hitting—these and many others are nice skills to have. But what if we suppress parts of ourselves in the process? Parts that might help us cope, cooperate, dream or innovate. Parts that help us deal with fear, disappoint, frustration. Parts that give us joy and satisfaction or create mystery and awe. Parts that help us persevere. Parts that help us cope with difficult people or even those we care about. Parts that convince us we belong.

We have neatly packed our experience into separate boxes. Not only that, we have kept them far apart from each other. It is almost as if we have packaged them up and UPSed in all different directions.

To “unlock body wisdom” means opening up those boxes and taking a closer look at their contents. We can notice our experience, believe that it is important even if others seem to be telling us it isn’t, and pay closer attention to it. It can help us make better choices in our lives. Since a lot of people have been telling us what to do (families, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, bosses), this may be more challenging that one might think. Suppression has likely compromised our internal authority.

Unlocking body wisdom means paying attention to the fullness of our physicality. Body, mind, heart and spirit—turns out all of that stuff is physical. Not only can we bring the boxes back together, we can actually dump their contents into one big pile—a great big pile of resources to draw on when we need them.

InterPlay is a set of ideas and practices that do just that—it teaches us, in an active and creative way (that is also fun!), to notice our own information and to use it for our own good, the good of others and for the world.