I learned how to shut down my Left Brain with the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. That book never helped me with drawing, but I remembered the techniques for shutting down the verbal left brain (vs. some odd techniques in Martha Beck books, like picturing your own bloodstream). I wrote a couple of blog posts about this in years past, but they didn’t survive my blog purge, not even the Rothko post (which will be redone as I work my way through the Laurel, MD Journaling Project pieces). I was disappointed when I looked for the Rothko blog post, but found that I had deleted it, so here is the story:
To shut down the Left Brain you have to give it tasks it doesn’t like, such as staring at something – anything – for a long time. Your Left Brain categorizes what is in front of you. For example, if you walk into a crowded shopping mall, it would identify and categorize everything you see: shops, people, do I know anyone here? Oh, what a cool t-shirt. Baby screaming. Sale at that place. I don’t like that store…I smell popcorn!
You need your Left Brain to sift through the continual input of data from your experience as you move through the world. But often the internal chatter can get to be too much. The Left Brain doesn’t know how to shut down and/or shut up. Ever lie in bed awake in the middle of the night unable to shut down your brain so that you can get back to sleep? That is your Left Brain chattering at you. It takes some effort to learn how to shut it down.
If you continually stare at something, the Left Brain gets impatient. It gets bored. Try it: stare at something – like a bunch of bananas on the counter. “Those are bananas. I said they are bananas. Bananas – that’s all. What more do you need to know? I already told you they are bananas. You don’t need to keep looking at them – just bananas! Nothing else to see here! COME ON! WE HAVE THINGS TO DO!” But if you continue to stare at the bananas (or other object - a cup, a book) the Left Brain will eventually give up and shut itself down. Then your Right Brain can take over – the creative and calm side of your brain, that has no sense of time.
Ever lose yourself while driving down a highway? Or zoned out while doing a repetitive task? You unintentionally shut off your Left Brain. For artists, this can happen while drawing, or painting, or any creative task - molding clay, even embroidery. The trick is to do this purposefully. Be persistent – it takes time and practice.
This is what happened when I visited The National Gallery several years ago to finally see the Rothkos (the entrance to the Modern Art area is kind of hidden – when you look at where the staircase is, it looks like it’s just a wall, so I never found it until I asked). Anyway, having just seen Simon Schama’s “The Power of Art” I was very excited to see some Rothko paintings in person.
So when I rounded the corner I was kinda…disappointed. It was just: Red square, yellow square, blue rectangle, green rectangle. Huh. So I sat down and took out a stack of Journaling Project paper and started to write. And I kept glancing up, and kept writing. And after about half an hour I looked up and suddenly…I saw. I really saw them. They were so beautiful. The red…how many shades of red? Dozens? Hundreds? The blue – so many shades of blue. The blue and the green looked like the ocean at night. And there was a hint of a bright color between them, like the sun setting.
It was amazing, surprising, and very peaceful. Once my verbal Left Brain shut down, my creative Right Brain could really see, without the Left Brain chattering and impatiently tsking in my ear.
I have also found that imagining something in metaphorical terms confuses my Left Brain, but my Right Brain understands.
While still in Laurel, I began to picture myself going into an art gallery, all white walls, and looking at a painting of a white circle on a white background. My Right Brain could see this, but it confused my Left Brain.
After we came to Indiana, I imagined myself walking into a bright sunlit green forest, and there was a painting of a circle on a background and it was all made of the green forest. My Right Brain could picture this, but my Left Brain just stepped back.
Currently, I try to think of images like these:
I am walking through a dark forest at night. It is quiet and peaceful. I come upon a lake. I wade in and sink down into the warm welcoming calm of the Universe.
I get into a canoe and row through the sands of the beach.
I fly up into the sky, into the clouds that are made of silence.
I walk down a quiet beach at dusk and the breeze is a soft warm blanket.
When I come up with something like these examples, my Left Brain gets confused and just shuts down (and shuts up!), while my Right Brain nods in approval.
For more information on shutting down your Left Brain, especially the fear-based ‘Lizard Brain’ part of your brain, I recommend books by Martha Beck. I first learned these techniques in her book about weight loss The Four Day Win. She covers this further in what I call The Starlight Book: Steering by Starlight. Her current book doesn’t cover these issues, because she has written about them so much previously, but after going through one of these two books, I recommend her current book, which I call The Wayfinder Book: Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.
There is a lot of peace and quiet to be found when you let your Right Brain come forward, as I am continually striving to spend more time in that state.