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Soulful Sundays: Faith

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns." -Anne Lamott

Among numerous other complexities, one of the defining features of the human brain is the sheer size of its corpus callosum. Only present in placental mammals, the corpus callosum is a structure composed of white (myelinated) nervous tissue that sits between the left and right hemispheres of the the cerebral cortex. While it was originally thought to facilitate communication between the hemispheres, it actually exists to inhibit signals from passing back and forth too easily.

The left and right halves of our brains share little in common with each other. The differences evolved early in vetebrate biology as a solution to two distinct problems of survival: the need to gather resources and the need to avoid danger. The left half of the brain acts as a reducing machine, simplifying sensory inputs down to the most relevant components and then acting on its conclusions. As the seat of language, the left is concerned with clarification and certainty. Right-handedness, a preference that is conserved across the animal kingdom, comes from the left brain’s mastery of minute and repetitive tasks. This hemisphere is what allowed our ancestors to select the appropriate food, water, tool, mate, etc. over many iterations.

The right hemisphere, on the other hand, takes a more global approach to sensory input. It is responsible for scanning the environment for potential threats and then activating the entire system (mostly unconsciously) in order to respond. Often called the intuitive brain, the right is anything but illogical—it is vastly more intelligent than its counterpart, despite what the popular memes may say. Because the right hemisphere does not attempt to reduce variables in order to reach an immediate conclusion, it is more inclusive in its findings. People who have dysfunction in their right hemisphere are far more likely to develop schizophrenia, OCD, and other mental disorders. People with damage or dysfunction in their left cortex, however, live mostly normal lives.

This leads us back to the corpus callosum and it’s role in our daily lives. By inhibiting signals between the two hemisphere, the callosum acts to segregate the tasks that each side is performing. Ideally, we would function primarily with the right hemisphere leading the show, only delegating tasks to the left when necessary. The left brain is a wonderful tool, but a terrible master. Spiralling thoughts, negative rumination, and self-destructive narratives all arise from an unchecked left hemisphere.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is left-brain dominant. The ability to see things as they are (and not how we wish them to be) is becoming an increasingly rare trait. We are instead programming ourselves and our children to over-focus on minute details to solve problems, instead of searching for the overall gestalt. We are becoming a society of specialists (who do have a place, just not one of majority) instead of generalists (who are far more robust). We are outsourcing our minds increasingly more to machines, instead of taking on the responsibility to struggle a little extra for outcomes. We are looking for certainty in a world that is anything but.

To change these trends, we are called to take back what rightfully belongs to the right hemisphere:

By developing a deeper relationship with nature, spirituality, and the company of others.

By embracing uncomfortable and messy situations instead of trying to simplify them.

By taking on the hard work of staying present in everything we do.

By having faith that our brains, our bodies, our intuitions, and our souls contain all that we’ll ever need.

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