But when I started meditating, my right brain began to wake up. At first this was confusing as I toggled between two modes of existence, one of which was completely new to me, but in more recent years I have achieved some level of integration of the two hemispheres. My life is richer, more complex, more engaged, and frankly more fulfilling and much happier.
But I still do everything with my right hand.
In December, when friends and family were making their New Year resolutions, I decided I would experiment with the use of my left hand. I had no idea what to expect: Would I get the headaches that others have reported? Would I further engage – or integrate – my right brain? Would I start seeing or thinking in a different way?
I heard stories of people who have tried this before. One friend has lost the use of her right hand on two separate occasions as a result of her MS and sees a well-trained left-hand as a useful backup. And an artist drew with both hands simultaneously until they were equally competent. I decided to head down this path with no such goal: I simply wondered what I would see.
Actually quite a lot of what I’ve experienced has been surprisingly mundane. It is far easier for me to use a spoon or knife in my left hand than I had expected, and general manipulation of objects is pretty simple. I’m finding that in much of my life I am more dual-handed than I had realized. Not surprisingly writing left-handed is hard and slow – even more so drawing – and I am not very good (as you can tell from the picture!). But there are plenty of challenges and surprises – one of the greatest of both being how hard I am finding it to wipe my backside left-handed! The real benefits and learnings, though, are quite unexpected.
First among these is mindfulness.
It has been my growing intent over the last few weeks to take on more and more with my left hand, but I constantly find myself doing things right-handed – or worse, having done things right-handed without even realizing it! This is a humbling lesson in my lack of everyday mindfulness. I am also stumbling into matters of delicate manipulation that I had not recognized would be especially hard – like shuffling a deck of cards. I found myself kind-of managing, and it was really interesting to shuffle right-handed again and see how differently each of the two hands goes about the same task. Another example is cutting food in the kitchen: I did not recognize, again until I allowed the right hand to show me, that for precise tasks such as slicing a banana, my right hand naturally slides up the blade, a trick my left hand did not know.
I was also surprised by how I am simply unable to trust my left hand with some more complex and abstract actions. For example, part of my morning routine is taking an I Ching reading, which involves some intricate manipulation and counting of sticks. With the roles of my hands reversed, I have been finding myself second-guessing what I am doing, wondering if I am doing it right: there is so much muscle-memory at work here, even for a task I’ve only been doing for less than two years! How long will it be before the paradigm breaks and I can trust the left hand?
(I have to mention – though it is a little bit of an aside – that I have realized many everyday items are designed for the right handed – scissors, for example, as well as my computer keyboard and the layout of my kitchen!)
The most fascinating part of this exercise, then, is to see anew what I take for granted; to see how little I know of myself and of what I do; to see a little more clearly the extent of my inattention and lack of awareness. It is also extraordinary to discover, as I quickly learn coping and then competence, the plasticity of the human brain and my physical form. Leading with my left hand requires re-learning so much and I can’t help wondering, as I practice my handwriting, whether I will achieve the elegant script with my left hand that has so clearly eluded my right!
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