I recently heard a man on the radio insist that where there are contradictions, one thing is wrong and the other is right. In his mind, to believe that there are things in common among different religions is, to use his words, “silly”. That contradictory things can be true is an issue of perspective. Pull back and everything has an oppositional state equally important to keeping the whole thing moving. Alan Watts wrote of the “familiar tension between law and grace, works and faith, discipline and spontaneity, technique and inspiration, a synthesis of which is of the utmost importance for the living of the moral and spiritual life.” The issue is balance. Favoring one side over the other is untenable. The views of different cultures can at first seem contradictory, but each expresses a truth of its own context. To impose a standard from another context invites disharmony and misunderstanding.
On the mental plane of right and wrong, the fear a being wrong inhibits creativity. After all, creativity is by its nature trying something new. How could that ever fit a pre-existing idea of right? Depending on how past instances of wrong were treated, this can be paralyzing. With satisfaction in life dependent on growth, the inability to grow curls one into separateness. Though every specific instance may have right and wrong choices, it’s something we know in our heart at the moment. The more general the categories of absolute right and wrong the less likely there will be justice and understanding.
I found it interesting that in the wonderful talk by Jill Bolte Taylor describing her stroke from the inside, she said she couldn’t find the edges of her arm. Since her left hemisphere was the one not working, this suggests that the whole motivation of absolute boundaries is part of the fabric of this analytical and symbolic, verbal and numerical side of our brain. The right is the hemisphere of full perception of wholes. As soon as the brain starts to delineate, the first stage of symbolization begins. Once we define an arm as an arm we’ve already begun to substitute our representation, the thing we think of as an arm, with the living, active arm that’s carrying out our purposes in the world. The right side recognizes that we are in the world and part of it, whereas the left side sees it as something observed from the outside and manipulated. The excesses of left-brain dominance and this tendency to see the symbol and not the reality, exacerbated by digital menu culture, may be part of a detachment that seems to be affecting so many people today. We locate, separate and label, and this offers an illusion of control.
The right side sees the arm in motion, participating in a dynamic universe that we don’t control but navigate. For the right hemisphere, building a bigger picture of the whole increases our overall perspective and ability to function within it.
The idea of pooling knowledge, going beyond simply acknowledging different views to actively seeking them out, allows us to enlarge our picture of the world, reorganizing our worldview at a higher, more comprehensive level. Organized properly the new image will regain simplicity offering an ease of understanding that includes the full range of ideas and their context of relevance.
More attention to imagery will help us build the neglected right side of our brains. Finding artists whose work strikes a chord, spending time in nature and looking at the world around us, exploring new places and looking carefully at a friend’s face as they talk, are just a few ways we can begin to balance our minds and develop our perceptual wisdom. The skill of seeing what’s important in the picture may diminish our anxieties about the world by building our capacity to respond from within the whole.