Photography for the Right Side of our Brain

Flower Energy

Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuro-anatomist who suffered a hemmhoragic stroke at the age of 37. She was bleeding into the left side of her brain, gradually losing function on that side and experiencing life from the right hemisphere.

Amazingly, she is fully recovered, although living differently (by choice) as a result of the experience. You can hear her popular TED talk here.

I’d heard Bolte Taylor’s speak before, in her TED talk and in interviews. Recently, I read her book, Stroke of Insight, and am so glad I did. In the book, she goes into much greater detail about how the brain works, what she experienced, and how she recovered (all quotes below are from the book).

“The two hemispheres of our brain communicate through the corpus calloseum. Each hemisphere is unique in the type of information it processes, but they work together to generate a seamless perception of the world.”

All very interesting, but what struck me most was this quote.

“Hemispheric dominance is not to be confused with hand dominance. Statistics vary, but generally everyone who is right handed (85% of the U.S. Population) is left hemisphere dominant. Over 60% of left handed people are also left hemisphere dominant.”

We’re all mostly left hemisphere dominant. Could developing more of our right hemispheres lead to a greater sense of well-being and compassion? Bolte Taylor thinks so and so do I.

Characteristics of the Right Hemisphere


The characteristics of the right hemisphere (as described in the book and listed below), seem to mirror contemplative living, where we judge less and appreciate more – experiencing a greater sense of connection, peace and even joy.

* Creates a master collage of this moment; what it looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like, and feels like.

* Allows us to take an inventory of the space around us and our relationship to that space.

* Allows us to remember isolated moments with uncanny clarity and accuracy.

* No time exists but the present, which is timeless and abundant. The experience of joy is in the present moment.

* We perceive and experience connection with something that is greater than ourselves. Everyone and everything are connected together as one.

* Thinks intuitively outside the box, and creatively explores the possibilities that each new moment brings.

* It’s spontaneous, carefree, and imaginative. It allows our artistic juices to flow freely without inhibition or judgment.

* It perceives each of us as equal members of the human family and enhances our ability to be empathic, to walk in the shoes of another and feel their feelings.

* There is a lack of critical judgment, likes and dislikes.

* Right hemisphere consciousness is more about being than doing.

* People are experienced as concentrated packages of energy. Rather than listening to words, energy is felt through facial expression and body language.

By practicing contemplative photography (or other contemplative practices), we are developing the right side of our brains – something that most of us could use.

Jill Bolte Taylor describes some of the benefits she realized from tapping into her right hemisphere.

“One of the greatest lessons I learned was how to feel the physical component of emotion. Joy was a feeling in my body. Peace was a feeling in my body. I could feel when a new emotion was triggered. I could feel new emotions flood through me and then release me. Most remarkably, I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me.”

“Before the stroke, I believed I was a product of this brain and that I had minimal say about how I felt or what I thought. Since the hemorrhage, my eyes have been opened to how much choice I actually have about what goes on between my ears.”

“One of the greatest blessings I received as a result of this hemorrhage is that I had the chance to rejuvenate and strengthen my neurocircuits of innocence and inner joy. I have become free to explore the world again with childlike curiosity.”

How do we begin?

“Peacefulness should be the place we begin rather than the place we try to achieve.” ~ Dr. Jerry Joseph, Stroke of Insight

Bolte Taylor interprets this quote to mean that we should stem from the peaceful consciousness of our right mind and use the skills of our left mind to interact with the external world.

“Since the stroke, I steer my life almost entirely by paying attention to how people, places, and things feel to me energetically. In order to hear the intuitive wisdom of my right mind, however, I must consciously slow my left mind down so I am not simply carried along on the current of my chatty story-teller. I listen to my body and implicitly trust my instincts.”

Contemplative practices, including photography, start with attention – to body, mind, and spirit – and aligning all three according to what feels right for us. We learn how to slow down and listen, and most importantly, to trust what we hear.

How do you develop the right side of your brain?

Related Posts

Listen to a recent interview from Sounds True with Tami Simon and Bolte Taylor on “Balancing the Brain and the Power of Choice.”

Listen to her TED Talk.

Buy the book, Stroke of Insight.

Blog Post: Perception and the Brain

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See You in September


During the month of August, I’ll be taking a break from blogging and my weekly newsletter.

It will be a time to simplify, create, spend time with family and friends. I’ll be wrapping up my Adventures in Seeing workshop and getting ready for a Labor Day weekend on Star Island, New Hampshire.

We all need a break sometimes. Here are some photography ideas for the month.

Susannah Conway’s August Break – Susannah offers a daily photographic prompt (and email) and an opportunity for everyone to share their images.

10 Tips on How to use Photography as a Tool for Personal Development – Catherine Just. I thought the description of her Nap Series, a way to use photography to shed new light on a “problem” is fascinating, and one I will do sometime myself.

* And, check out this post on ideas for photo walks, inspired by the book On Looking.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ― John Lubbock, The Use Of Life

See you in September

Registration is now open for fall workshops – The 50mm Project (September), Keeping It Simple (October) and Going Abstract (November).

I hope you’ll join me for one or more.

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Photography as Worry Therapy

rain, green, Kim Manley Ort

Nearly 1 in 7 Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. ~ Scott Stossel, Atlantic Magazine

Scott Stossel reports this statistic from the National Institute of Mental Health in his book, The Age of Anxiety, as well as the article in Atlantic Magazine. Treatment for anxiety accounts for 31% of expenditures on mental healthcare in the U.S. (with similar percentages in Canada).

Stossel should know. He’s suffered from generalized anxiety and many phobias since he was a kid. He’s tried every therapy and drug imaginable. In his book, he shares meticulous research on the history of anxiety, as well as stories from his own experience.

Of course, acute anxiety or depression should be taken seriously. There are no one size fits all answers. If this is something you struggle with, I hope that you’re getting professional help.

While I’ve never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I have experienced some social anxiety and, beneath my calm exterior, am a worrier (a milder form of anxiety). My mind naturally goes to worst case scenarios.

I believe that I gravitated towards photography, and especially contemplative photography, as a form of worry therapy.

Photography is one way to train our attention in the moment and away from worrying about a future that hasn’t happened.

* Contemplative photography helps us see what’s right in front of us without judging it as good or bad.

* By taking a longer look, we see perspectives and possibilities we might not have considered.

* We might even experience a moment of awe or wonder at what we see, just as we did when we were kids.

Martin Seligman, in his book, Flourish, writes,

We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well. ~ via Brain Pickings

The truth is we need some time every day where we’re just “being” and not focused on the future and our to-do lists – whether it’s meditating, photographing, dancing, or just staring out the window.

It just makes the whole day better.

Here are some more articles on this topic to consider.

Brain Pickings on Stossel’s Book – The Culture and Costs of Anxiety

Photography as a Balm for Mental Illness – NY Times (thanks to a couple of readers for pointing out this article to me)

The Broken Light Collective - an online place for photographers living with or affected by mental illness.

Art as Therapy – by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong OR see the exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Relationship between Creativity and Mental Illness – via Brain Pickings

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