Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul
Our conversation, Wednesday, was like a Sunday drive along an unfamiliar route. We followed where the terrain led, each having a hand at steering. At one point, we made a rolling stop at the intersection of two curious streets: What We Do and Why. After a moment or two of hesitation, it became clear that continuing blindly onward was not a viable option. We had a choice to make: We could turn left, onto an unlit lane that meandered down a steep slope toward the mysterious depths of the unconscious mind; or we could turn right, onto a spacious boulevard lined with research laboratories and clearly marked as the way to consciousness. We could delve into feeling, emotion, intuition, insight, and the unknown, or we could cruise along the well-marked route toward rational thought, empirical data, and shrewd analysis. This may surprise you, gentle reader, but we chose the scientific route and proceeded immediately to a subject even experts are sketchy on: neuroanatomy.
I've heard people say they don't believe there's such a thing as left brain thinking and right brain thinking, but I must respectfully discount that opinion as a possible case of wishful thinking. It's all right to wish that we are not torn between two ways of perceiving and operating in the world, dictated by nature's bifurcated design idea, to think that our precious brains are not split like a walnut into opposing forces we may or may not be aware of, but whatever the reason for wanting to believe in a simpler model of how we think, it's just not that simple. There is overwhelming evidence that our left cerebral cortex is in charge of certain of our functions (including being in charge), and our right cerebral cortex is charged with other functions (including not caring about who's in charge).
But really, what is there to explore? Why not just practice it? Why not spend some time, as our group did, using words and memories and logic to define what it means to use thoughts to describe our world and our places in it? This is a familiar street for those of us who try and think our way out of situations our emotions have gotten us into. And the familiar is always more comfortable than the new. Even familiar things (and places and people) which are painful or counterproductive or even destructive are often more acceptable to us than venturing toward the unexplored. But this familiar highway only goes so far. Eventually, we come to a dead end and we know we have to head back the way we came. We know it's time to descend down that darker roadway, toward the numinous depths of that thing that is sometimes called the soul.
You can call it your soul, your spirit, your unconscious, your psyche, your dark side, or anything else, because it doesn't care what you call it. It doesn't need to go by any name. It is the unnamed place, or maybe the unnamable place, it is the unexplored territory. Carlos Casteneda called it A Separate Reality or Ixtlan. Whatever it is, wherever it is, it is much harder for us to explore with our conscious mind. It is, by definition, unconscious. But we know it's there. We feel it when we make decisions that go against our "better judgment," or when we "know" something we couldn't possibly know, or when understanding defies description, or when when we fall in love.
When most of us feel imbalanced, it's our right brain that's feeling left out. But it's our left brain that must cooperate if we are to feel in our right mind. Our best guidance system is useless without a place to guide toward. If you want to feel more balance in your life, try this balancing exercise: stop thinking. It's easier said than done, but keep trying. Chances are, the harder you try, the harder it will become; so stop trying. Don't think and also don't not think. This will take a lot of effort and it will take no effort at all. It will make sense and it will make no sense. It will eventually stop being an it. It may transform to a "not-it." Or it may transform into transformation. Words don't help when describing this shift from imbalance to balance, so listen to music with no words, or in another language. Look at a picture. Or a tree.
Just as taking the scientific road on our journal to wholeness led us right back to the swamplands of uncertainty, your ego will not like this exercise. But it knows it needs to do things it doesn't like. It knows that it needs its better half, its soulmate, if it's going to ever feel fulfillment. It will eventually cooperate. And when it does, it will stop needing to.