Ever wonder why life feels like a constant tugging between two sides of your one-self? One part of you wants to eat fried chicken, while the other part of you tempers that desire (or tries to anyway) so you don’t eat too much of it or too often. One part of you wants to lie on the beach all day and watch cloud-tv, while the other part of you keeps track of when it’s time to go and get some errands done. It’s constant unrest and feels a little crazy sometimes. It’s like the Odd Couple, sharing the same house of ‘you’.
This blog entry makes an argument for the idea that you are not crazy and the reason for the constant tugging is because you are a composite of two distinct selves; further these two selves are the Odd Couple with opposite personalities, but a couple nonetheless, and a couple whose strength is in fact their oddness.
Your two distinct selves, in no particular order, are 1) the human body and 2) a spiritual being. Your spiritual being is a higher level of energy, your life force, and is eternal, while your body vibrates at lower energy levels and is a physical temporary form.
The structure of your brain gives direct evidence of your dichotomous design and of how your opposing selves work together rather than against each other. Your one brain consists of two distinct hemispheres (the left and the right), each evolved to perceive the world as two distinct selves–the odd couple of both body and spirit.
The left hemisphere perceives the world as your physical self, allowing awareness of your individuality and in fact celebrates your separateness from others; it is your ego, the self tasked with doing. The right hemisphere perceives your spirit self, allowing you to reside in the power of now, unconcerned with the chores of life or how you compare to others; it is your being, the self tasked with dreaming.
Most importantly, the two hemispheres link together with such high-speed connections that they work together blending seamlessly to create a new single entity—the human being. As a human being you have the best of both worlds; you can both dream and manifest that dream into physical reality. But the duality can also be tough to navigate.
Using our fried chicken example, you sink your teeth into a juicy, tender, yet crunchy piece; your higher self living completely in the moment, notes both its taste & texture, while at the same your physical self notes how much you have eaten and when it is time to stop. But maybe your spirit goes a little crazy on the texture and taste so you continue to eat even though your body says you have had enough (way enough). This is the human condition. Both sides are completely different and want different things, yet work together to eat both for survival and for flavor. Are you a balanced human being? Do you eat mainly for flavor and tend to overeat? Or do you eat mainly to survive, not caring so much about texture and ambience?
If it’s true that we are a composite of two distinct selves–the body and the spirit and the brain is a reflection of that, then turning one hemisphere ‘off’ ought to give us a monopole experience. I believe, meditating attempts to do that, to turn off our left hemispheres for a bit so we can better perceive the world as our spirit self.
Based on this theory, pressing the pause button on our left hemispheres ought to conveniently stop the constant “chatter” of our mind. If there was such a button, would it work? Are we meditating in vain or is there really something to it? Is the left hemisphere of our brain the ‘mini-brain’ of our physical self, separate from the ‘mini-brain’ of our spiritual self? If so, what would it feel like?
One woman knows the answers. Jill Bolte Taylor did not have a magic button; she had a stroke, damaging only the left hemisphere of her brain. And she not only miraculously lives, but is a neuroscientist, remembers the experience, wrote about it in her book, “My Stroke of Insight”, and talks about it at a TED conference in one of the most viewed TED talks.
One morning Jill wakes up with a sharp pain behind her left eye. She decides to get her blood flowing by jumping on her “cardio-glider.” But as the left hemisphere of Jill’s brain shuts down, she reveals a one-sided, right-hemispheric perception of the world in the ego-less state of the spirit.
Jill writes, “I seemed to be witnessing my activity as opposed to feeling like the active participant.” Perceiving the world as spirit, she feels detached from her physical body referring to it as a separate entity and one that is fleeting in comparison to her spirit. She realizes the body provides the spirit with a “marvelous temporary home”; as a spirit she is just a ‘visitor’ here.
Despite being alarmed at her physical condition, she is mostly in Zen mode and in awe of life. Transcending the physical (albeit without choice) and thereby accessing higher knowledge, she gains an “experiential understanding” of the fifty trillion cells “working in perfect unison to maintain” her physical form.
She also notices “the constant brain chatter…[is] no longer a predictable and constant flow of conversation. Those little voices…that customarily kept [her] abreast of [herself] in relation to the world outside…[are] delightfully silent.” The ego alone, which perceives ourselves as separate from others, is affected from the stroke in the left hemisphere, while the perception as spirit remains intact in the functional right hemisphere.
Without her ego, she finds “a growing sense of peace,” feeling “enfolded by a blanket of tranquil euphoria.” She steps into Nirvana. She feels an “all-knowingness, a ‘being at one’ with the universe.” She is like a “genie liberated from its bottle” and “no longer clearly discern[s] the physical boundaries” of her body.
Made of light and energy she “blend[s] in with the space and flow around.” Radiating outward, she feels as expansive and as enormous as the universe. Jill finds without the ego, nothing else matters, but the present moment. She has no memories of the past, no baggage, nor any ambitions for the future. She is completely in the moment with no rush to be anywhere else (like, say a hospital).
With massive damage to the left hemisphere Jill is totally unable to operate as a physical entity and respond to danger. Language being a physical construct, she is unable to talk or to execute the simplest of tasks, like dialing numbers, particularly 9-1-1. Surviving in the physical realm requires her physical counterpart. As euphoric as Nirvana is, Jill realizes she cannot be human and live on earth without a sense of her physical self. We need our egos in order to survive here.
Despite losing her ability to talk, she is interstingly still able to think in complete sentences, inferring that the spiritual self has a consciousness of its own, independent from its connection to the physical body.
During times of functionality in the left hemisphere the ‘odd couple’ of Jill’s two selves surfaced. Her spirit yearned to release from her physical form, which throbbed in pain, while her physical self, her ego, full of survival instinct persisted with a plan to call for help.
Eventually, through periodic flashes of functionality, Jill manages to execute her rescue. The transport to the hospital would mark the beginning of an arduous eight year recovery back to being human—an integrated entity of both body and spirit, of yin and yang.
What Jill Bolte Taylor’s story confirms is that we, as human beings, are the Odd Couple in-of-ourselves; we are a composite of two distinct entities—the body and the spirit, and our brains are a reflection of that reality. Moreover, just as our brain links left and right hemispheres together for continuous communication, we as human beings are both ego and spirit, simultaneously, for the better.
Our right hemisphere with its distinct other-worldly attributes gives us tangible evidence of our other-worldly selves. And we can use this tool, at will, for a connection to the intangible world of spirit, of Nirvana, anywhere, anytime. We don’t have to die first or have a near-death experience or a stroke in the left hemisphere of our brain. We can sit, when we choose, and literally tell our egos to relax for a bit, putting our left hemispheres on standby, while we activate our right hemispheres to bask in, or rather, check with our awareness as spirit. So meditate away. There really is something to it.
Living in a world where the tangible and being individualistic is easier to focus on, the trick for us is to keep our egos in check. Being of higher energy, perhaps the spirit should always lead. The spirit imagines and the ego executes. The spirit connects with others, with the universe at large, aligning our individuality accordingly. It’s an odd pairing for sure, but one designed to be potentially highly effective here on earth.
The odd couple of ourselves–our duality, isn’t to drive you crazy; rather it keeps you in constant motion between both realms of higher imagination and of slower physical manifestation. The spirit dreams our realities first, then our ego goes to work building it.
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