Monday, January 7, 2013

Brains, gamers and enlightenment

I wish I had a set of right brains. And just right brains. No lefties allowed.

You are probably asking yourself what on earth I'm talking about.

Well, after my New Years' ritual of writing what I am grateful for (whom, mostly), and what I would like to focus on for the year (gratitude), I decided to think of some of the best times in my life. There are lots, just as you probably have as well. My tenth birthday when my parents gave me a tiny ring with a pearl, and took me to an amusement park all day outside of Montreal. Listening to "Les Nubiennes" while waiting for my flight in Boston when I was moving to Italy. The first time I saw a guy I really had a crush on in college Art History. And then there is a MASSIVE experience that happened to me in 2007...

I was driving back from a trip to Birmingham with my friend Erica. It was early April, and all the greens were perfect outside. Not burnt to a crisp like in July, but  cool, wet greens. The buds on the trees were peeking out, but far from fully displayed.  This trip was quite normal... dropped off some paintings to a gallery, turned around, had nice drive with best friend. No big deal.
But the next morning I woke up, and everything was very, very different.

I saw.

I really saw for the first time in my life, I think. I could see all the leaves on the trees. I could hear footsteps on the sidewalk under my apartment window. I could hear my sister walking barefooted on the carpet in our living room. I felt so, so happy. That is the only word for it. Happy and present.
I stepped outside, and could feel the breeze. I could smell the city and the mountains in it. I could hear tires and talking and trees. I got to my studio and started painting, amazed by everything. Had I mistakingly taken some sort of drug?? I could HEAR my paintbrush on my canvas. Like a tiny symphony at my fingertips. I didn't question any of it. I just relaxed and enjoyed... everything. Food tasted so wonderful. My heart was fully present for my friends. I could hear their stories, for real. I could be there for them without trying to fix them. I could feel my lungs, my body, my eyes. I even went to a local arts festival to see art for the first time, I think. No judgments. I just remembered being awed by what everyone was doing... that they had taken ALL that time to MAKE something. wow. What a gift.
This stayed with me for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. After a week, I couldn't imagine the world in any other way. I didn't need to listen to music in the car, I didn't need to read anything. I didn't have to force myself to get inspiration.... it was there, full-throttle in my face. I felt BIG. I felt very, very open, like there was no difference between me and the air everyone was breathing.

No, I did not take drugs!!!

Then, all of a sudden, I got terribly sick. Like pneumonia sick. I NEVER get sick in my lungs, but I did then. And then, all at once, that beautiful awareness went away. All of a sudden the chatter was back...the inner monologue that never shuts up. I couldn't HEAR the grass anymore. The only time the monologue stopped was when I put music on so loud that my monologue just became the lyrics of someone else's monologue.

So what the hell was that? I'm not making it up, it was real. When I read about people dying, it is similar, just as when I read about enlightenment, it is similar. And ever since that happened, I wish it would come back. More than anything. That was the most beautiful thing I have ever encountered, and it fully changed my beliefs all at once.

So, This New Years', I asked if there was any way to get closer to this encounter again.
Low and behold, I stumble onto this video. A lot of you may have seen it, but I had not.

Jill Bolte Taylor

What an amazing thing she describes! And how cool that a neuroscientist has a stroke and can actually watch her brain in the process. I almost cried when I watched this (I love that she is a neuroscientist at Harvard and sounds like a big hippie). That is a lot like what I saw. But not quite as extreme as she described it, and I still had my other functions intact, just a lot quieter. But that's it. That's how it felt.

So I guess in all of this, it makes me think of art as well. If the left side of our brain wants to classify, arrange, order, correct, make linear, and explain everything, then is there art that roots more from that place? And what about the other side? People often think artists are free of this "left brain thinking", and are free as the wind to experiment. And we are. But most don't. Not really. Art making is like banking or any other profession. When done consistently, we want to explain, organize, and make neat little piles out of all the information. We just LOVE rules in art. We love to have everything work properly, tidy, and orderly. Even if orderly means a messy studio at 3am. That is what we do. We paint in a messy studio at 3am. Do NOT mess with this.
But what about art made from the right side of us? This is tricky. The right side is open, curious, naive, feeling, disorderly, awe-struck with everything, childlike.  Let's take it a step further. Do you ever notice when you experience something TRULY new, how it feels? Not many things are new to us in our society. But when they are, we are really LEARNING. We see our world more OPEN. We are more curious all of a sudden. We feel exhilarated. We see others differently, often. We are less separated. And what is weird is that there are opportunities all the time to do this.

Going outside of my comfort zone has been on my mind with all of this lately. This relates directly with the right brain, as I can see it. But there are things that I say are outside of my comfort zone, but really are not. I'm planning a trip to SouthEast Asia. Wow. SOOO out of my comfort! A new culture, new religion, new adventures. And this is true. But in a way, I'm REALLY comfortable with foreign things. I don't know WHAT they are, but I'm very agreeable to have them around and try them. I think it is civilized. I think it is cultured to travel. And I'm correct. But that's not outside of my comfort zone in any way. Culture, especially education and foreign culture, are things I have come to revere and cherish. So that's not REALLY pushing myself, in a lot of respects, though it's still a good thing.
But last week something did push me.

 I met my first gamer.

Yes, like a Dungeons and Dragons gamer. And I liked him. And I was so, so uncomfortable. Role-playing?? Characters that go on for years and have make-believe battles with each other?? Folks, for those of you who are as clueless to this world as I am, it doesn't involve video games or board games. It is like theater acting on crack mixed with ultimate nerdhood.
So here this guy is, telling me very honestly and kindly, about what he likes to play. And there I was, trying my best to keep my judgments out of my head. "Do you have a job, young man?" was what I wanted to say. Yikes! How very conservative of me.
This is the funny part. If I had met this man in Cambodia, say, and he was a local telling me about this wonderful theater-acting game they play, I would have jumped on the occasion to play with him. But because I live in Tennessee ( and come from the oh-so-cultured New York city) and have this big ol' left brain critiquing what this guy was telling me, I could barely hear what he was saying over my own judgments.
What a chance missed! If I had been more present with this situation, I would have seen that this was a new place for me. I know nothing about that world. I have never played one of these "games". They have always been too uncool for me. But I don't even know what they are!! And this happens ALL THE TIME. I walk away from new things due to my own fears of them. So in a way, our right brain is also the place where fear comes from.
And as grateful as I am to have this part of my body, and feel fear to keep me alive, it is not the part of my brain that I want to paint by. Nor have relationships from.
Maybe I like art that breaks my own story lines. Something to think about .. no pun intended.

Gamers are my new heroes, by the way.


  1. I love every one of your posts.

  2. Mia;

    You totally captured an experience I had a few years ago, I don’t know how it happened or exactly when but I very distinctly remember going for a run and noticing that the trees seemed more alive, more colourful than usual, I felt so peaceful and full of energy in fact I remember feeling like I could run all day if I wanted to. I also remember being full of ideas and creative energy. This feeling only lasted a few days and I remember it fondly.

    Recently I have been doing a lot of soul searching trying to figure out what it is I should do when I grow up ( I finished university 20 years ago!) mostly wondering if there is a purpose to my life something I missed along the way.

    I work in a very left brain world but I used to be artistically inclined and decided to reconnect with my creative side but the mind chatter interferes an awful lot. I find when I am able to fully commit to painting or drawing my mind goes quiet, its like meditating, but it takes an awful lot of work to get there, get past the judgemental inner critic so I have looked for help and I have found two people whose words speak to me and make sense, Julia Cameron who wrote The Artists Way and Eckhart Tolle who wrote the Power of Now. I can see how some people might not fully buy in to some of the more existential parts of their writing but their message is the same, and Julia has a lot or really good quotes from Artists struggling with these issues.

    The point is, that non-judgemental, creative inner power is inside all of us but we need to get past the layer of consciousness that produces that ego in our mind that judges, critiques and fills any voids in our thinking with useless chatter. We need to get to the stillness that is found by living in the moment and connecting to that inner creative source. Finding that inner peace is slowly allowing me to find that artist that used to be me and let him come alive again. Hopefully I will find that place where the colours are so vibrant they can’t be painted.

    I love your work by the way, I particularly like the painting of the girl in the white sweater/shirt? lying down and looking up. It’s beautiful, she looks a little sad, but somehow still hopeful. The way you have let her hair and dress merge with the bottom of the frame and her white shirt mingle with the air above. It looks like she is torn in two directions, the ground holding her down, holding her back, the air, the spirit offering her hope and a new direction. She looks up but her hands are holding her down still, her spirit, her unconsciousness knows where the light is and where she needs to go. Her body, her consciousness, creates this dark fear and holds back in the place where familiarity is comforting even if harmful or restricting. I can relate.


  3. Peter! Thank you so much for your amazing comment! And thank you for taking a really long look at my work.
    I wish you strength and openness in your journey.

  4. That hank you SO much for sharing such a personal experience. I know it exists because I have had similar moments but they are fast fleeting. How do we get back to that right brain whole ness with the world and each other