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Excerpt from "The Whole-Brain Path to Peace"

by James Olson

The Holistic Perspective is the Path to Peace

Two brain hemispheres — two perspectives on the world.

Are you taking advantage of both?

Many of the problems we encounter in life are the result of simple misunderstandings that result from differences in perspective. If our goal is to gain the cooperation of others and live in peace, a whole-brain perspective can enrich our lives and nurture individual and collective peace. If we are more aware of the effects of perspective, many of our problems could be easily solved, if not avoided entirely!

We manage our lives based on our perception. Perception is the product of many factors, but since it begins with our perspective—what we observe from our position (physical, mental and spiritual)—if we want to better understand perception, perspective is the place to start.

The importance of perspective lies in the fact that consciousness is largely fed by the information we receive from a combination of two perspectives; the left-brain’s dualistic perspective and the right-brain’s unifying holistic perspective. Although at any moment we can view the world from either perspective, for most of us one or the other will tend to dominate. Our choice of perspective determines what we see. And what we see affects what we believe and feel, which influences what we do, including what we create. Brain perspective resonates powerfully in everything we do.

The brain does not need conscious management; although we can assist it by managing certain aspects of its operation such as the information we feed it. Perhaps the best way to do this is to manage our perspective. To best manage it we need to understand the relationship between the two brains. We need to understand what each is designed to reveal to us and how each is designed to respond. In essence, we need to know what our options are.

Our left and right brain hemispheres are specialized. The right hemisphere gives us a holistic perspective, a vision of wholeness. It attempts to comprehend the overview, the context. In contrast, the left gives us a dualistic perspective, a perspective in which wholeness is broken down into at least two parts. The left serves us as individuals and is conservative and analytical (separative) in its actions; the right serves us as a culture, and is liberal and synthetic (it assembles things, is constructive). The left is competitive; the right is cooperative. They complement one another. Reject either brain’s perspective and the result is partial perception.

Because our two perspectives reveal radically different aspects of reality, the information they feed us can seem to be contradictory, and can seem incompatible. Should we conclude that one is correct and the other incorrect, the tendency is to fall into disagreement and become polarized. Left unchecked, this sets us on the road toward some form of war. Both the big picture supplied by the right brain and the details supplied by the left brain are essential. As such, the two perspectives need to be treated with equal respect, though one perspective will probably be dominant, which is fine.

We believe and act based mostly on what we see, hear, and feel. And mostly what we see, hear, and feel is a worldview that sees and discusses reality from a left-brain-directed perspective. It’s a competitive view that frequently derides the holistic perspective. Seen from a left-brain perspective, the holistic perspective often seems vague and lacking in detail—detail being something the left brain highly prizes. Nevertheless, when we act based on this worldview alone, the loss to consciousness, to our ability to make fully informed decisions, can be substantial—the combination of any two parts is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

To engage your holistic brain, ask questions that only a holistic perspective is positioned to answer—questions that deal with the larger components of life, with spiritual issues, with the Now, with feeling, with constructive processes. To engage your dualistic brain, ask questions that require a yes or no answer, questions that focus your consciousness on the smaller components of reality such as details, or on the past or future, or on questions that involve the act of separation/deconstruction, such as how to dissect an idea.

We can also assist the management of our perception by managing our attention and our intention. The belief or the acceptance that we can do or be a particular thing contains an energy capable of moving us along the path to success. We must also shape and guide that energy, which we appear to do through intention. Therefore, to be more holistic in perspective and perception, we can focus more of our attention on relationships, with the intent of developing greater harmony, especially with respect to our beliefs.

To create a greater experience of peace, cultivate harmony within yourself. As a start, bring the two polarized perspectives (the dualistic and the holistic) together so that they can take part in the same dance of life, rather than living in a struggle with one another. Let them fall in love with one another, and send your light of peace out into the universe. We have been taught that the two perspectives (and their typical counterparts in the political and social/cultural spheres, conservatism and liberalism) are opposites, one of which is bad, and that we must fight to defend our dominant perspective. We often encounter this attitude in social and political conservatives due to the strong drive for survival that comes with left-brain dominance, and commonly see this in the vigor with which they attack holistic ideas and perceptions, especially liberal ideology.

The fast track to peace, to spiritual harmony and its healing effects, shows up when we find ways to appreciate those who see reality from the opposite perspective—those we often view as the enemy. Appreciation is an extraordinarily potent spiritual energy. If you identify with conservatives and feel threatened by liberals, learning to appreciate their responses will result in being able to grow and be more creative in your own responses. If you identify with liberals and are uncomfortable with conservatives, learning to appreciate the contribution of conservatives will make them seem less of a threat to you and will make it easier to expand the scope of your holistic thinking and actions. None of this means that you must like or embrace opposing ideas—or even the sometimes ignorant people who espouse them; it simply means that they are no longer perceived as a threat. It means that you are at least open to considering those ideas and trying to see how they might benefit you and your culture.

To enhance your inner peace, harmonize your ideas; bring them to a state of peace with one another. One way to do this is to look for errors within your belief system by seeking conflict. Although truth is internally harmonious—and harmony is what we are after—it is perhaps best achieved by finding and removing conflict. Therefore, as an exercise in creating a harmony of belief, search for ideological conflict (such as we see, for example, in simultaneously harboring the belief that God is the essence of love and mercy along with the belief that God sends people to everlasting hell—a common but profoundly illogical combination) and find ways to resolve it. This process can take many forms. It might involve reconciling opposing points of view by recognizing common features and strengths on both sides. Or it might be much more complex, involving whole new ways of seeing things (for example, learning how to perceive and think holistically, or learning how to recognize arbitrary cultural pressures). Or the issues themselves might be of such complexity that we need to learn the art of critical observation. We also need to recognize that, to the extent that we use critical observation, we often use it as a weapon to attack ideas we don’t like. Yet at the same time, we often fail to apply this same process to our own ideas. Becoming intelligently critical of our own ideas and being willing to change them is a fundamental benchmark for attaining truth.

To acquire internal peace, remember to be peace. The removal of conflict from among our ideas and our relationships frees up our natural internal peace and moves us toward hemispheric harmony. Harmony does not require us to balance the two hemispheres; rather, it requires that any conflict between the two be removed so that each accepts the other as a beloved teammate. It means that ideological territory is defended firmly, though not angrily, as when two good friends wrestle for fun. One friend—or one position—might be large enough to dominate, but will be smart enough to exercise restraint. Your dominant side will remain dominant, but with full respect for and appreciation of the non-dominant side. If your dominant perspective is dualistic, make peace with holistic perspectives and processes, the beliefs they create and support, and the people who are guided by them, even those perceived as extremists. Acknowledge their value to you (for one thing, they tend to show you the context of your ideas and can help you refine them and make them stronger). If your dominant perspective is holistic, make peace with dualistic perspectives, processes, and beliefs. Understand that they bring you clarity, even if their wisdom is born out of conflict and out of details that seem unimportant from your holistic perspective.

Though we might think or speak of creating peace, remember that we don’t actually create peace; it’s already there. Instead, we have to get rid of the conflict that infects and thus distorts the harmony of peace.

Always remember that peace is energy and it is felt. Talking about peace might help lead us there, but peace is spiritual and is more a matter of being than doing. This means peace is an inner experience. Since most inner experiences start in the mind/brain complex, if our conservative left brain does not understand our liberal right brain and is afraid of it, then we are at war in our own brain, and that spills out into our feelings. To live a more peaceful life we must also recognize that we are not obligated to feel what others feel. Our feelings are a choice. The negative feeling of others are usually difficult to overcome due to the response programming we have been taught—such as the need to respond to angry words with our own anger—but we can learn to stay in our peace. There are those who have learned this. We will always encounter obstacles to peace. There will always be people who are having a bad day and direct their negative energy toward us. But we need not accept it. How we respond—not what they do—will dictate how peaceful we will be.

* * *

James Olson is an independent philosopher based in Northern California. He wrote The Whole-Brain Path to Peace to educate the public about the right-brain’s holistic perspective in an attempt to try to bring our cultural brain into greater balance.

Excerpted and adapted from The Whole-Brain Path to Peace: The Role of Left- and Right-Brain Dominance in the Polarization and Reunification of America (Origin Press), April 2011). For more info please visit: http://TheWholeBrainPath.com. Books are available online.

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