Shifting Gears / Summertime: Brought to you by your right brain
Published 12:15 pm, Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Summertime is a time like no other. Yet it's hardly time at all.
True summertime -- the kind we sing about and dream about -- is more like space than time. And unlike all our other kinds of time, which are brought to us by our left brain, summertime lolls around within our right brain.
This split of our cerebral cortex into right and left hemispheres is a fascinating phenomenon. Our left hemisphere is where language occurs. It puts words to experience and lets us communicate with others and share knowledge. But it is with our right brain that we experience. Without the experience, the left brain would not have anything to talk about.
Over the past 200 years or so, we've had a love affair with our left brain. It specializes in taking things apart, in seeing how they are made and in putting different things together to make new things. It thinks there's right and wrong and that things are either black or white -- or, at least, that everything can be explained. It believes it understands a feeling when it can put a name on it.
Not only has the left hemisphere brought us language, it has brought us a way of experiencing ourselves and the world. The Industrial Revolution, the factory, cubism, technology of all kinds, modern medicine, the binary way of understanding the world -- all are children of our left brain. Figuring out how the parts make a whole is left-brain heaven.
So what does the right brain do? Well, summer gives us a clue. Almost everything we love about summer is right brain kind of stuff. Going to new places by travel or camp experiences. Sleeping late and luxuriating on a sunlit bed or waking at sunrise for a run at the beach. A light and easy novel pulling you into an imaginative time and place. Hanging out with friends with no deadline. Long bike rides up and down unexplored roads. Melting into a sunset. Almost anything that is not the same thing, that has not become ordinary -- our right brain takes it all in. It's experience without a label.
Summer helps us remember what it's like to become engrossed in something with no awareness of time or goal. We did it when we were kids, and, hopefully, we still let our kids do it. Maybe we let ourselves do it, too. Being with oneself, in solitude, in make-believe and imaginary adventures, in drawing and building forts and sand castles, being awake with eyes closed and ears open, swimming -- one with the water.
Wonder resides in the right brain, as does intuition, awe and love. All these things take time -- or, perhaps, the absence of time.
Well, it's about time to close the book, pack up the suitcases, pull on shoes. We've put summer on a schedule, and it's almost time to shut her down and get back to business.
But hold on! Do we have to? Couldn't we take her with us, pulling her out on a brisk autumn day, just for a few moments, watching rather than blowing leaves? Or when snow closes school and shuts down traffic in January, couldn't we take out the book and the paints and go somewhere we have never gone before?
After all, summertime never really leaves us. Knock on wood, it's up there all the time.
Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.