The Self-Esteem Repair Kit
Method 1: Draw Upside Down
For me, drawing is like taking hallucinogens—my mind goes silent, and beauty suddenly appears all around me, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "like shining from shook foil." Because many people are shy about drawing, I rarely force clients to use it to switch on their right brains. But this exercise can pull you out of the SEWER and into SEEING very rapidly. It's not about making art. It's about what Taylor calls "choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres."
The process is simple: Muddle your verbal mind by copying a picture that you've turned upside down. If that feels intimidating, buy a paint-by-number kit and turn it upside down before completing it. The inversion of shapes will confuse your left hemisphere. You'll begin perceiving nameless colors and shapes. Verbal thinking will slow down, and beauty will emerge from things you've never even noticed. Then chuck the picture—it's the awareness you want.
Method 2: Open Your Focus
The first time a yoga instructor told me to "soften my eyes," I thought she was insane. Strangely enough, I sort of did it, though I had no idea how. And suddenly, I felt wonderful.
There's a neurological basis for this. Les Fehmi, PhD, a brain scientist and author of The Open-Focus Brain, found that when our eyes are in "sharp focus," our stress responses increase; when they're in "soft," or "open," focus, we relax. An animal relaxing in the sun will maintain soft focus until something threatening or appetizing appears; only then will its eyes become sharp. Softening your eyes releases the sequential processing of the left brain and turns on the holistic perceptions of the right.
Try softening your focus now. After reading this paragraph, look up at whatever's in front of you. Then, without moving your eyes, allow your attention to broaden, taking in everything you see. Slowly expand your attention to include everything you can hear, smell, feel, and taste. As your focus opens, you'll stop thinking in words, become more present, and see beauty everywhere. Fehmi's research showed that if we do it consistently, this practice affects the brain like meditation on steroids. Try it. It works.
Method 3: Feel the Rhythm of Life
The right brain learns kinesthetically, through the movement of the body. Certain ways of moving activate the SEEING of the right hemisphere. The next time you're reeling from a self-esteem wallop, do the last thing logic would advise: dance. If you absolutely won't dance, engage in another activity that requires repetitive, rhythmic action—swimming, drumming, skiing, whirling like a dervish (the reason dervishes whirl is because it pushes them into right-brain awareness). I've felt this transform my perceptions while running, skiing, and learning to track rhinoceroses in the African wilderness. If you don't have a rhinoceros handy, dancing is your best bet.
I told you these solutions for self-esteem wallops would sound weird and illogical, so I won't argue if you go ahead and schedule more liposuction and Botox. Use every weapon in our society's arsenal against imperfection—but remember that Father Time, that treacherous bastard, has a lot more ammunition. When you're faced with incontrovertible evidence of this, just try falling into SEEING, rather than the SEWER. Learn to switch on the awareness in which mortality is not calamitous and in which you are obviously, empirically, eternally, breathtakingly beautiful.
If you do this, you'll find that culturally defined Barbie-doll beauty becomes steadily more boring. You'll find loveliness in the asymmetrical, the wrinkled, the lumpish, and the strange. The very thing your rigid mind finds ugliest may be what your true self loves most. Self-esteem wallops will become gentle nudges, then welcome reminders to "run the deep inner peace circuitry" in your brain. You'll win the war against your body by becoming its everlasting, compassionate, clear-eyed ally. Now, ain't that a kick in the head.
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