When I’m teaching or coaching other writers, I focus heavily on the power of right brain, and on balancing the two hemispheres of the brain. Generally, our culture over-trains the left brain, to the detriment of important right-brain functions, like the ability to access our intuition, to understand the parts that work together with such intricacy to create a gorgeous whole.
When we bring the right brain into an activity like writing (which requires so much left-brain verbosity and yes, often, logic), new avenues and pathways open up. Our intuition begins to speak to us and magic happens. Without knowing why, we know what we need to say.
Yesterday I had one of those days. You know, those days: when dragging yourself to the computer to write and work feels like an impossible chore; when putting words to ideas feels more like pushing a boulder up a very, very steep hill.
I love the romantic image of the inspired poet, from whose gifted brain poems fly like birds, in tune with the wind and at ease, always moving in the right direction. Like most romantic images, it doesn’t hold up so well to reality.
To assist my inner-poet, I pulled out one of my favorite brain-balancing activities: the jigsaw puzzle.
I started doing jigsaw puzzles during a time of crisis in my life–I had a brother in the hospital, and we weren’t certain of his recovery. I spent endless hours in waiting rooms and other areas set up for the families of the seriously injured.
In restless emotional pain, I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I found the collection of jigsaw puzzles on the shelf of one of these rooms, chose one that depicted a field of sunflowers, and dumped out the pieces.
The task looked hopeless–all those tiny pieces of yellow and gold looked the same. Yet the process calmed me. I started sorting out the flat-edged pieces first, and painstakingly constructed the puzzle’s border. I created a system for sorting pieces, testing them against each other to see what fit and what didn’t.
This task became a deep comfort to me–a meditation of sorts. Something felt almost sacred to me as I sat in a quiet room, winter sunlight pouring onto me through a window, as I quietly sorted pieces and fit them together, one small victory at a time, hour after hour.
I finished the sunflowers and moved on to the next puzzle in the waiting area, then the next, and the next.
I was younger then, and didn’t realize I was meditating. I hadn’t learned, yet, that any activity can become a meditation if you allow yourself to become quietly, patiently absorbed in it; if it causes you to lose track of time.
So yesterday, out of frustration and moodiness, I pulled a long-untouched puzzle off of a shelf. It depicts five ballet dancers posed carefully on a set of stairs.
And I began to sort pieces. I put on music and, like a child, let myself be pulled with calm patience into the task of sorting, re-sorting, trying one piece and then another, enjoying the small triumph that comes with each successful piece. (Here is the face of a dancer and here are her hands; now just to connect them by way of a slender arm surrounded in snowy white tulle.)
Feeling child-like and calm, I let the afternoon pass in this manner, seeing it not as a waste of time, but as a powerful exercise that would calm me and draw me back toward my intuition.
Working jigsaw puzzles balances the brain because it calls upon us to see the whole picture, as opposed to seeing an endless set of disconnected parts. The right brain is the part that sees the whole picture first, then works intuitively toward a solution. (The left brain, on the other hand, requires logic in order to solve a problem or puzzle: it wants move from point a, to point b, to point c, until it reaches a conclusion. Valuable as the left hemisphere is, it does little good in the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle).
Now I have the puzzle, less than half-assembled, on my living room table, and have been taking frequent breaks to quietly move pieces around. A piece here, a piece there, each tiny victory leading toward the creation of a whole–rather like writing a novel, no?
A major piece of the Invincible Summer ecourse involves opening up and strengthening our right brain functions and processes–by reaching for your intuition, you reach within and start to hear your own voice. That’s why the course is full of exercises and projects to help students balance the brain. If you want in on the next session, now is the perfect time to sign up. Early-bird prices are only available through June 30th–July is fast approaching.