Blog and Artwork by Lana Marie Willow, MA, RCC
We are living in a traumatised world. Wars, natural disasters, climate change, pandemics, epidemics, starvation, extinctions, create complex situations that interfere with healthy functioning and relational dynamics which then continue to perpetuate trauma. Further, our world is currently run by the machine of economics and the idea that we need to keep producing more and more and grow bigger and bigger. Technology is valued over human connection. Art is becoming more mechanised. There is a notion that perfection is required in order to be of value. Value is placed on appearance, accumulating and consuming, growth and money above sharing, giving, the natural cycles of growth and decay, and connectedness to each other on the human level.
When experiences are too overwhelming to feel, comprehend and process through the psyche and nervous system, we create ways to manage. One way the western world has collectively learned to manage is by orienting to the left brain experience of the world, where things are separate and narrowly focused, and there is a drive towards an idealised and unrealistic perfection. Although this allows us to go on with our day to day lives, what we need in order to actually heal and potentially reverse the current course of destruction on this planet, is to shift our orientation towards the right brain experience of connection and embodied knowing, attending to the larger picture where everything is seen as a whole and considered as connected.
Iain McGilchrist (2009), author of The Master and his Emissary researched hemispheric differences for three decades before writing his monumental book on brain bilateralization. He explains that although both sides of the brain are active and involved in all mental processes, “each hemisphere has its own way of understanding the world” (p. 10). He makes the important distinction that,
the right hemisphere pays attention to the Other, whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, with which it sees itself in profound relation. It is deeply attracted to, and given life by, the relationship, the betweenness, that exists with this Other. By contrast, the left hemisphere pays attention to the virtual world that it has created, which is self-consistent, but self-contained, ultimately disconnected from the Other, making it powerful, but ultimately only able to operate on, and to know, itself p. 93
Although we need both hemispheres working together to properly function in the world, McGilchrist’s research has profound implications for understanding and potentially shifting the way humanity is stuck in a toxic cycle of disembodied individualistic values and actions.
In order to be truly alive and aware of the miracle of being in a living body on the earth. what is kept inside, hidden and protected, held safely in its quivering vulnerability, needs to be known, seen and welcomed. Otherwise, how will we ever be able to fully and deeply know our own precious nature and fulfil our unique purpose in this world? Perhaps even more importantly, when we can truly feel what is alive and real inside us, then we can also become aware that we are not separate and isolated on an island of self. Our essential nature is to be loving and connected. When the blocks created through trauma have been healed, we naturally know the importance of reaching out to each other and considering the Other.
What is known through the body and intuition gets buried along with the undigested material of traumatic experience, including relational abuse and neglect. Blocks are created to protect us from perceived danger, even when the danger is long over, and we learn to rely on mechanisms that are not based in present truth to provide a sense of safety. The left brain needs things to be predicable and known, and yet to see anything that way is simply illusion. The universe is not predictable, and as much as science tries to quantify and understand the nature of life, those understandings keep getting more elusive and out of reach.
We need to learn to sit in the unpredictability of the magic of existence, to marvel at the miracle of simply breathing and being alive, heart pumping blood and moving oxygen through our bones and cells. Then we can remember that we are alive and, on the earth, and surrounded by and part of Otherness. We are more than a number or a configuration of mechanical parts.
I suggest that coming back into the intuitive realms of the imaginal, while maintaining awareness of our physical bodies and our interdependence on everything around us, is a way we can start to reverse the current devastating trajectory, opening us to embodiment, relational connection and healing. Greene (2005) states,
Although it begins with a physical sensation, it often transforms that sensation into a feeling or image so that the border between imaginal and embodied modes of experience is blurred, at which point their reciprocal relationship becomes apparent. Both are symbolic ways of working. Each mode compliments the other. The imaginal approach to psyche needs the grounding effect of the embodied awareness to bring the intuitive insight into the present moment of actual experience. The embodied approach to psyche needs the expansive effect of imaginal awareness to allow the sensate insight to take flight into the mythopoetic dimension of experience. p. 202
Greene is essentially describing the right brain function: awareness of the present embodied knowing, along with the ability to use the expansive thinking that goes with the imagination.
As therapists we must hold the container of wholeness and stay grounded in our own imperfect earthiness and connectedness to each other as we offer our clients a relational holding that facilitates reconnection to the ways of the right brain functioning. Schore highlights the role of the therapist when he states, “we must depend on someone holding us in being while we ourselves knit together our broken parts” (Schore, 2019, p. 93 citing Ulanov, p. 60). We can further this process by remembering to include metaphor, image, sounds, smells, all the things that make us truly human, not just a machine. As we gradually bring back the ability to feel alive and to know love, we will naturally start to be able to orient to the right brain awareness of connectedness, to what is perceived as Other, and then perhaps the world will be a more livable, more loveable, and safer place for all.
Greene, A. (2005). Listening to the body for the sake of the soul. Spring 72, p. 189 – 204.
McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: the divided brain and the making of the western world. London: Yale.
Schore, A. N. (2019). Right brain psychotherapy. New York: WW Norton.
Lana Marie Willow, MA, RCC is a therapist, artist and writer. Lana weaves creative expression, transpersonal psychology and somatic psychotherapy into her online therapy practice. www.yourtruenature.ca