Psychotherapy with LH patients

  • Psychotherapy with LH patients

    Posted by maureen gray on June 7, 2023 at 6:57 pm

    <div>The distress of many people seeking psychotherapy today seems related to an over reliance on LH. The contrast with those seeking therapy several decades ago is striking. Few therapist seem prepared to address this issue.</div>

    If anyone is working on or interested in this issue, I. Would love to hear from you.

    Don Salmon replied 1 year, 1 month ago 6 Members · 28 Replies
  • 28 Replies
  • Don Salmon

    June 7, 2023 at 7:12 pm

    Hi Maureen:

    (Fellow therapist here) I’m SO glad you asked this. I mainly joined this channel for experiential/practical exploration, and a large percentage of comments and questions are related to neuroscience, theories about psychology and philosophy.

    Hard to know where to start – there’s just a ton of good stuff out there.

    1. Video on effortless mindfulness: on our home page, http://www.RememberToBe.Life, if you scroll down to the 2nd video, you’ll see what is, in essence, a method for shifting from LH to RH (I have written a lot in these groups on the McGilchrist channel, that making the dividing line between “LH” and “RH” is not something I think is very helpful – and in fact, I don’t see Iain doing it as much as his students and followers seem to do – be happy to take about that if you like

    2. The work of Les Fehmi. Dr. Fehmi (a physiological psychologist) spent over 50 years training people to shift from narrow, linear, logical, controlling, detached attention to wide, non linear, intuitive, spontaneous, immersed attention. He was able to help people reduce or eliminate medication for the most severe kinds of chronic pain (intense migraines, back pain, pain of all kinds), depression, anxiety, trauma, and more. He trained Olympic athletes, helped people in their relationships, and much more. His book “Open Focus” is probably the best introduction, but you really need to practice to get a sense.

    With one patient, he taught her simply to notice space. That was it. In 3 weeks, decades of severe migraines and stomach cramps along with severe anxiety were completely gone. She said in 3 months of practicing this, every single area of her life showed significant improvement.

    3. Culadasa aka Dr. John Yates. Culadasa’s work, I find, is much more powerful than that of Fehmi. I’ve known of Fehmi’s work for years, but just came across Culadasa’s “The Illumined Mind” in 2016. Culadasa distinguishes “selective attention” (roughly related to LH, thought not as rigidly as Iain sometimes makes it out to be) and “peripheral awareness” (which Culadasa considers to involve both hemispheres, not just the right). I should mention that as Dr. Yates, he was a neuroscience professor, so he knows this stuff from the inside.

    he had meditation students with 20, 30 or more years of experience, who came to him, stuck in their practice. Just teaching them how to watch the breath with this awareness of different modes of attention enabled to them to reach an almost entirely silent mind within months.

    I had the same experience reading Culadasa. Over the decades, I’ve had spontaneous moments – sometimes hours – of almost total mental silence. But I never understood how it was possible to simply shift attention and watch thoughts vaporize. he teaches how to do it!

    I’m assuming you know all the conventional means, music, art, improvisational acting, breathing, imagery, etc etc etc. They’re all immensely helpful, but if your LH patients are highly resistant, having VERY scientific, well researched practices that don’t have any “woo” feeling or “New Age” quality to them can be immensely helpful.

    I find that not just with LH folks, but just about everyone in this tech age, being able to talk about the effects of these practices on the prefrontal cortex, on the brain stem, etc is immensely helpful – especially because it’s equally effective with atheists and religious fundamentalists – it’s a no-brainer!”

    Speaking of which (I got the no-brainer joke from this guy) I find Dan Siegel’s writing almost impenetrable, full of jargon and unnecessary complexity, and he’s not great at teaching practical methods, but some people love his stuff. I will say, I used to recommend – and sometimes buy extra copies to hand out – one of his books; “The Whole Brain Child” – and the techniques and practices in the book are applicable to teens and adults as well as toddlers, for whom the book was intended. It was co-authored with a child psychologist, which may be why it is so good!

    So that’s a start. I love this topic and I look forward to hearing more from you about it. I’m especially intrigued by your observation of how those seeking therapy nowadays have become MORE LH. My experience is generally the opposite, but perhaps it has something to do with where you practice? I’ve been living in the Southeastern US the last 20 years (originally from NY City).


  • Nic Hartshorne

    June 7, 2023 at 8:23 pm

    Hi Maureen,

    I’ve found a similar observation. I’m based in the U.K.

    • Don Salmon

      June 7, 2023 at 10:06 pm

      Hey Nic,

      Can you say a bit more about that? Do you think it’s something to do with UK culture, social media around the world, or something else?

      Is it possible both of you serve the same population?

      I could imagine among professionals the LH emphasis might have increased, but I’d be surprised to hear it’s also increased among the poor and working class….

  • Nic Hartshorne

    June 8, 2023 at 7:21 am

    Hi Don,

    I’m not sure, is the answer, I haven’t done any analysis, its just a general sense, maybe I’m focusing my attention on this more? My clinical experience spans twenty-four years, with a diverse population. I haven’t noticed a correlation between socio-economic groups, or gender, perhaps I see it more in people under forty.

    I notice a lack of meaning, a lack of conceptualising the whole, an aversion to stay with uncertainty and the not knowing. More dysregulation, and trauma symptoms.

    I see organisations such as the NHS and professional bodies, working from what I would class as left hemisphere dominant states.

    Social media may well play a part; I know a colleague is doing some research into this.

    I hope we can continue this dialogue, as I think it’s an important one for therapists.

    • Don Salmon

      June 8, 2023 at 12:09 pm

      Hey Nic – I’m going to answer you and Lucy together, below….

  • Lucy Fleetwood

    June 8, 2023 at 10:35 am

    Hi to everyone, what an interesting conversation.

    In relation to Don’s question as to whether this would apply to the working classes as well, I would say a definite ‘Yes’. I know lots of working class people, myself included, who are conditioned to operate from the LH through news, culture and social media, in fact I’d go as far as to say, we are caught and captured there. But I would love to hear if you feel or think differently. Such an interesting subject.

    • Don Salmon

      June 8, 2023 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Lucy and Nic:

      I thought Nic captured the quality of despair beautifully in this line:

      “I notice a lack of meaning, a lack of conceptualising the whole, an aversion to stay with uncertainty and the not knowing. More dysregulation, and trauma symptoms.”

      Yes, I see the same thing – but!

      LH/RH relate to very limited aspects of human consciousness – they’re different functions of the intellect. But we have a very ordinary physical or sensory mind, and an emotional mind.

      And we have the prana (sorry, there’s no English equivalent – it’s not exactly “energy” – in the Yoga tradition it’s the Life consciousness, “Prana-shakti”, that underlies all that we moderns ignorantly refer to as “matter”. And in therapy, about 90% of our patients’ problems have much less to do with EITHER the LH or RH but with distorted functioning of prana, related to disconnection, trauma, the meaningless of modern life, etc.

      Furthermore, all human societies prior to the actually quite recent period of ancient Greece (in other words, for over 100,00 years prior to a mere 2500 years ago), lived with a vivid, visceral awareness of vast realms of consciousness far beyond our ordinary waking state. Everything was alive, connected (and not merely in the RH way Iain describes). The world was magical, miraculous, alive, meaningful simply in its Presence.

      Now, at the same time I see see poor and working people get caught up in literalist superficial conspiracy theories or fundamentalist religion, I see many who are far more open to these vast, subliminal realms than most educated people are, whether LH dominant or RH dominant.

      And if we let go of rigid categories of LH and RH, and look closely from moment to moment at ANY of our patients, we may see that there is an utterly indefinable mixture of “all of the above” in them, in ourselves and in our interaction with them.

      So my own way has been to use these categories to help me be more mindful of various notes, various flavors that may arise, but then just as quickly let go of them and dive even more fully into experience, which is far beyond any of our neurological, psychological, scientific, philosophic categories.

  • Jennifer Foster

    June 13, 2023 at 8:08 pm

    Hi there Maureen,

    Ive spent many years developing some physical Towers that help people connect to their right hand brain and this really calms down the left brain attitude. This is partly because it goes straight into consciousness😀 as the Towers show what ‘who you are’ looks like as a physical object as well as emotions, and partly as it helps to focus ( or what Dr Iain calls ‘attention’) us to the elements of ourselves that create a true connection to reality.

    Happy to talk more about this. I have a website if you would like to take a look.

    • Don Salmon

      June 13, 2023 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks Jennifer. Looks fascinating – just signed up to subscribe!

  • Lucy Fleetwood

    June 15, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Don, ‘prana shakti’ interesting to read this. I work as an Ayurvedic coach with people between stages 1-4 of the disease process, training with the American Institute of Vedic Studies. I’m also a Tibetan Buddhist of 14 years. I am still learning 🙂 I wondered if TMWT addresses the idea of prana, and also the Tibetan Buddhist concept of mind (I haven’t read it yet).

    I have conversations with my Buddhist friends about AI and they will say, but Lucy AI cannot touch the mind. I find myself baffled in relation to AI and possible implants in the future, connecting the human brain to a machine, and how this impacts our humanness in relation to our (Buddhist concept of) mind, and in relation to prana (I’m still not quite sure how to think about prana in relation to the Buddhist ideas of mind).

    I guess these thoughts are a little off track with this thread. I need a better understanding of Iain’s thoughts in relation to the RH. Am I right in thinking that Iain explains the RH is the part of the brain that connects with the spiritual/animated/God/other word/ aspect of life while the LH doesn’t?

    One thing that does work for me in life though, in relation to working with people and living life, is to connect from my heart, the rest flows from there. How does the heart fit with it all? For a Buddhist the heart is the mind (as opposed to the brain), there maybe no words but there is knowing.

    When you have a traumatic experience, if you are in the company of someone who knows that experience and has moved through it to a place of healing, just being in their company can shift things for you. On the other hand you could talk till the cows came home to someone that had theories but not the experience, and stay stuck. I think that is what the heart brings, a mind that operates beyond the limited function of words and LH reasoning.

    Well, I am rambling, but all these different rambles, do go together 🙂 I’m just still in flow with my thoughts.

    • Don Salmon

      June 17, 2023 at 12:22 pm

      Hi Lucy:

      What you said about connecting from your heart really gets to the essence of it for me. I’m not sure that among the thousands of people I worked with over 25+ years, any intellectual knowledge ever made a difference. I know that every day of contemplation and meditation (and I don’t mean just sitting eyes closed but through all of life) affected every moment I spent with folks.

      As far as the RH connecting to spirit – it sounds like you’re studying Ayurveda through David Frawley’s institute (I think that’s it, or is it Vasant Lad?) In any case, I assume then you have some familiarity with Vedic/Vedantic psychology.

      So instead of RH/LH, let’s say intuitive/immersed consciousness (I-I Cs.) and analytic/detached consciousness (A/D Cs. ) Now, this has been known for thousands of years. Iain’s work, to my mind, is important mainly because so many people nowadays won’t trust anything in spirituality or psychology unless it comes across as “scientific” (no disrespect meant here; Iain has at times acknowledged this himself)

      So let’s look at how Vedanta relates to this.

      You have the intuitive and analytic consciousness, which are both aspects of the mind. Remember these are both related, as Iain describes them, to the conscious mind, related to the cortex, so there’s the whole subconscious, subcortical realm of the mind as well.

      Furthermore, all contemplative traditions (Tibetan Buddhist, Christian, Vedantic, Taoist, whatever) speak of intuitive regions of mental consciousness far beyond our waking mind (that is, beyond all that Iain writes about in both of his books).

      And all of that is just the mind.

      Then you have the life energy, or “pranic” energy. You also have the consciousness (shakti) of the body.

      And all of the above is just skimming the surface.

      You have vast realms of consciousness beyond the waking state, vast inner dream worlds that are not just private but collective.

      And you have the Pure Consciousness, Pure Awareness (which actually in some Tibetan schools IS individualized as well as non-individualized.

      So I would be very very careful about equating RH and spiritual awareness. So far, after 50+ years of study, I’ve never seen anything in the scientific literature (even the research that touches on Tibetan Buddhism, Vedanta, etc) that is remotely touching “the hem of the garment” of what the contemplative traditions know.

      But back to the heart – bipolar disorder and meditation. Many researchers will deny this, but I’ve also seen people who have been touched deeply by meditation, whose hearts – and pranic energy and much more – have woken up and through mindfulness, through heart-fulness, through connecting with other people, and countless more ways, have fully recovered, not just from bipolar disorder but from severe traumas, deep depression, and more.

      To the extent we’ve bought into the world view of modern materialism, we just have no idea of the infinite possibilities of the human spirit – or just, the spirit (which is no different in essence from matter – as Iain writes about quite well toward the end of “The Matter With Things.”

      I don’t think you have to read his books to understand this. David Frawley’s “The Yoga of Consciousness” goes into this in far more detail (or if I may add, our book, “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity” goes into this in great detail, and relates the yogic way to much of modern evolutionary neuroscience as well as psychology and psychotherapy)

    • Mike Todd

      June 17, 2023 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Lucy,

      I was alerted to your comment by Don’s well-considered reply. Regarding the connection between the RH and spiritual awareness, I take the view, which I believe Dr. McGilchrist advocates, that the RH is necessary though not sufficient to spiritual awareness (which, of course, entails the corollary that the LH is also necessary though not sufficient). As Dr. McGilchrist has variously repeated, we need both hemispheres, albeit in different ways and to different degrees.

      I hope you won’t mind if I share a snippet of a recent conversation I had with my best friend, which may provide some raw materials enabling you to answer your own questions.

      “My view, which I’ve pressed on you many times now, is that consciousness is fundamental and that it comprises “that which experiences” along with “that which is experienced”.

      There are many ways of looking at this life which reify “that which is experienced”, including scientific materialism on one side of the cultural divide and fundamentalist religion on the other. As polarised as these views are, they are nevertheless aligned in promoting division over unity, and this aspect of their nature can be seen in the dispositions of their adherents towards those with opposing views (think, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, the Taliban and the Republican Party).

      However, there are also views which reify “that which experiences”, including Advaita Vedanta and some schools of Buddhism. While it’s almost always the case that their adherents, in contrast to those of divisory world views, embrace rather than attack those who disagree with them, there is nevertheless a very real danger of renunciation, whereby adherents go the way of the ascetic, effectively devaluing all that appears material, including their own bodies and even the natural world.

      The following article, which may be of interest further down the road, describes this latter danger:

      While I accept that “that which experiences” (consciousness in itself) has primacy over “that which is experienced” (the world, others, the self, and anything else that comes to mind), that primacy is akin to the primacy of soil over flower: it’s a mistake to value one over the other; they must both be seen and valued for what they are, as versified in “Hyla Brook”, an attitude redolent in the title of another poem I recently shared: “The Harmony of Difference and Equality”, which has been more formally referred to as “the unity of division and unity”.

      One outcome of this view and corresponding attitude is that our reality may (fortuitously) come to be seen as a never-ending cycle of evolution, comprising nascence, unfolding and enfolding (RH, LH, RH), or in the language of flowers, germination, flowering and decay – bearing in mind that the third arc of the flower’s cycle serves to enrich that which nurtured its nature. This cycle repeats endlessly, as, within and between lives. This is the essence of the most fruitful world views (in my opinion): philosophical Daoism and Soto Zen. Advaita Vedanta, because it counters the majority inclination towards reifying either the material world or the immaterial self, is also a fruitful world view (once again, in my opinion): it affirms the reality and primacy of foundational consciousness, and, provided that one avoids interpreting this as a call to renounce the world as it appears to us, it also affirms that the immanent is no less sacred than the transcendent. (After all, Advaita Vedanta unequivocally states that all is Brahman).


      There are two prevailing responses to nightmares and nightmare situations: the first response is escape, which I believe is embodied, in quite different ways, in the world views of scientific materialism and fundamentalist religion (more on that later); the second response is confrontation, which I believe is embodied, again in quite different ways, in the approaches of postmodernism and certain spiritual traditions (more on that later, too).

      Before I get into all that, it may be helpful to provide some framing. The hemispheric hypothesis put forward by Dr. McGilchrist is based on an evolutionary theory which posits that the way in which the left hemisphere (LH) attends to the world is an adaptation conducive to acquiring food, whereas the way in which the right hemisphere (RH) attends to the world is, among other things, an adaptation conducive to not being acquired as food: both are necessary for survival. The LH way of paying attention facilitates honing in on food, taking hold of it and appropriately taking it apart; the RH way of paying attention facilitates detecting and escaping from whatever sees *you* as food – and much more.

      These two ways have been labelled, respectively, “approach” and “avoidance” – terms used, with an intriguing degree of overlap, in both biology and psychology. It’s tempting to equate “approach” with “confrontation” and “avoidance” with “escape” – it certainly looks that way prima facie – but I believe the truth is more nuanced.
      Scientific materialism and fundamentalist religion both see divided aspects of reality, the material world and the immaterial self, respectively, as manifestations of ultimate truth. In effect, they take one side of the coin and say, “this is the whole coin”. Each is a form of escape, a turning away from the flip side of the coin. But it’s more than just a turning away. This is evident in the scorn scientific materialists pour on religion, spirituality and any talk of consciousness that questions its basis in a material brain; and equally in the demeaning, prudish and ultimately destructive views of the hyper-religious on “brute nature” and the human body.

      Clearly, then, escape of this sort isn’t merely avoidance, since it involves also approaching what has been avoided in order to attack it and take it apart. In fact, the rabidity of those on either side of the cultural divide suggests that a desire to attack is their overriding motivation, to which avoidance is merely ancillary. As such, this kind of escape is indicative of RH (avoidance) subservient to LH (approach/attack/divide), which is, according to Dr. McGilchrist, and I concur, a back-to-front, inside-out, topsy-turvy way of thinking, feeling and living.
      Postmodernism and certain spiritual traditions accept that we must account for the realities of both sides of the coin, which upon reflection turn out to be the realities of the outer and inner worlds, including but not limited to, the apparent meaninglessness of an outer world composed of insentient matter and the apparent meaningfulness of an inner world composed of sentient mind: biology vs. psychology, if you will – admittedly, an oversimplification.

      Postmodernism confronts this dichotomy, often but not always, by denying the meaningfulness of the inner world, and this can be seen in the writings of many modern continental and American thinkers and in movements such as Dadaism, absurdism and nihilism. Undermining meaningfulness, I would suggest, is not only tantamount to reifying “that which is experienced” (of which the escapists are guilty), it’s also potentially self-destructive, as borne out in the sadly shortened lives of Woolf, Plath and others like them.

      Rather than reverting to denial, certain spiritual traditions confront this dichotomy, through introspection and contemplation of the inner world, by affirming the meaningfulness of the outer world. As you probably know, this is my approach, and I believe it is unparalleled, because the inner world – according to both contemporary science and ancient tradition – actually contains the outer world (“that which is experienced”) as well as something available only to introspection and contemplation: “that which experiences”. This luminous centre of contemplation is, as I see it, the body of the coin, hiding, as nature is wont, behind its outer faces, which are, in effect, undulations of the body impressed upon itself.

      Confrontation of the postmodern and spiritual kinds embodies what Frost had in mind when he said, “the best way out is through”. However, a further consideration is appropriate in order to understand the essential difference between the postmodern approach and that of certain spiritual traditions. Saying “the best way out is through” invites a question: “through what?” – or more pointedly: “where are we?”. The answer to this question reflects how we perceive reality: in the case of postmodernism, we are in a world composed of dead, insentient particles, out of which the living, sentient complexity of outer and inner worlds somehow emerges; in the case of certain spiritual traditions, we are in a world that is fundamentally alive, sentient and whole, which somehow self-divides (like a cell), unfolds (like a flower) and individuates (like a mind) – only to eventually enfold back into the whole – again, RH, LH, RH.

      Both postmodern and spiritual confrontations of reality can be seen as LH (approach) subservient to RH (embrace, another RH “function”) – the natural order, at least according to the hemispheric hypothesis, contrasting with the escapist approach. However, the postmodern approach ultimately embraces “nothing” – and that way madness lies – whereas the approach of certain spiritual traditions embraces “everything”, which promotes sanity and, consequently, liberation from nightmares and nightmare situations.

      Frost addressed the question “where are we?” with characteristic ambiguity in The Wood-Pile, which, in a clear nod to the outer/inner dichotomy mentioned above, begins: “Out walking in”.

      The Wood-Pile

      Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day,
      I paused and said, ‘I will turn back from here.
      No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.’
      The hard snow held me, save where now and then
      One foot went through. The view was all in lines
      Straight up and down of tall slim trees
      Too much alike to mark or name a place by
      So as to say for certain I was here
      Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
      A small bird flew before me. He was careful
      To put a tree between us when he lighted,
      And say no word to tell me who he was
      Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
      He thought that I was after him for a feather—
      The white one in his tail; like one who takes
      Everything said as personal to himself.
      One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
      And then there was a pile of wood for which
      I forgot him and let his little fear
      Carry him off the way I might have gone,
      Without so much as wishing him good-night.
      He went behind it to make his last stand.
      It was a cord of maple, cut and split
      And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.
      And not another like it could I see.
      No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
      And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
      Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
      The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
      And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
      Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
      What held it though on one side was a tree
      Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
      These latter about to fall. I thought that only
      Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
      Could so forget his handiwork on which
      He spent himself, the labor of his ax,
      And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
      To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
      With the slow smokeless burning of decay.”

  • Nic Hartshorne

    June 15, 2023 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Lucy,

    I know you addressed your response to Don, but felt moved to reply. I felt your writing, for me, described what I understand as a right hemisphere take, that connection to the heart and as such a way of being. Different from thinking about theory etc. which might be LH, to an embodied knowing, RH.

  • Mike Todd

    June 15, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    Could you clarify how these people with “an over reliance on LH” present?

    I ask because the literature examining the relationship between mental health disorders and hemispheric (im)balance, while bedevilled by inconsistent terminology, nevertheless consistently affirms the following relationships, some of which Dr. McGilchrist similarly affirms:

    1) Depression appears correlated with a relatively overactive right anterior lobe and relatively underactive right posterior and left anterior lobes.
    2) Mania appears, with respect to hemispheric imbalance, more or less the mirror opposite of depression.
    3) Schizophrenia, ADHD and ASD all appear correlated with a relatively underactive RH and a relatively overactive LH.
    4) OCD appears correlated with a relatively overactive RH and a relatively underactive LH.

    Should I therefore take your observation as implying that, among other things, schizophrenia, ADHD and ASD appear on the rise, while depression and OCD appear less prevalent? Or is there a more nebulous, diagnosis-independent, criterion behind your ascription?

    I myself have attended a number of therapists, been medicated, and on one occasion hospitalised, for symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder. (I say “symptoms consistent with” because I’ve yet to be given a formal diagnosis.) I’d love to hear your thoughts on how hemispheric dynamics plays out in relation to bipolar disorder. I’d also like to add that I’ve been pretty much symptom-free since I started meditating daily last year.

  • Nic Hartshorne

    June 15, 2023 at 4:30 pm

    Great to hear you’re pretty much symptom free Mike, since meditating.

    Others might have different opinions, but I suppose for me, as has already been alluded to its not that clear cut, between R and L hemispheres. But, I notice people having a strong desire to be cured. Whatever that means, and less wanting to explore and wonder, but be more reductionist, if that makes sense. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it, which I would like to ponder upon.

    • Mike Todd

      June 16, 2023 at 11:11 am

      Hi Nic,

      I appreciate the thumbs up, many thanks. It would be fair to say, I’m sold on meditation, for a variety of reasons.

      Re. exploration and wonderment, I don’t believe it’s reductionist merely to identify relationships; if anything, it’s the opposite. More to the point, correlation allows at most that a relationship may be (asymmetrically) bidirectional, which reflects a healthy openness. As such, research of the kind to which I referred is, I believe, something which may be fruitfully integrated with the insights into hemispheric dynamics that Dr. McGilchrist and others have shared.

      But, of course, I accept that many, perhaps most, people tend to look for easy answers that reduce the inherent complexity of mental health considerations, and correlation is quite amenable to such subversion. The right tools often end up in the wrong hands.

  • Nic Hartshorne

    June 16, 2023 at 11:43 am

    Yes, I agree, research looking into the different hemisphere takes and how they might present is important in the development of psychotherapy. My own research is underpinned by Iain’s work.

    • Don Salmon

      June 18, 2023 at 1:29 pm


      really great conversations. I”m replying directly to Nic but want to bring in a great point Mike made, about the limitations of Advaita, the implicit dualism, rejecting this world while claiming “All” to be Divine.

      This was the focus of Sri Aurobindo’s life teaching. Perhaps not coincidentally, before he “retired” to Pondicherry in South India to devote his life to bringing forward a new, life affirming approach to spirituality (as different from anything previous in the West as in the East) he was the leader of the independence movement in India (prior to Gandhi), and in 1907 was arrested and jailed as a terrorist (it was an inner “voice” that told him to leave Northern India to go to Pondicherry, which at the time was under the control of the French and therefore free of British rule)

      Sri Aurobindo saw that spirituality over the past 3 to 4 thousand years had (despite tantric exceptions and similar exceptions in the West, such as the Sufis – well, Middle East, at least) been oriented toward a negative view of the world, a celebration of renunciation and an orientation toward putting up with this life on the way to our eternal life in heaven.

      Sri Aurobindo radically shifted this view, incorporated an evolutionary view (one foreseen in the Vedas, and quite radically different from Darwin’s view) and actually saw humanity as “transitional” leading to a new species altogether.

      In the extraordinarily complex psychology of Sri Aurobindo, he described two modes of thought almost exactly the same as the descriptions of the LH and RH, and saw them as both belonging to what the medieval Christians referred to as “intellect” (NOT ‘intellectual” which we might identify with LH).

      Our true self is the Divine Consciousness which pervades the Universe, and we also have an evolving, individualized “Soul” which, using the Greek origin of the word “psyche” he referred to as “the psychic being.” (Aurobindo was one of the greatest Latin and Greek scholars who ever attended Cambridge University).

      The mind (including what we are calling here LH and RH), the “vital” or “pranic” consciousness and the physical consciousness are, for him, the instruments of the Soul/psychic being and Self. So spirituality in this view is not the RH (or that aspect of the thinking mind, as Sri Aurobindo puts it) but is shifting entirely out of identification with ANY part of the mind, vital or physical body/consciousness.

      Because his view of Advaita (an integral view as he puts it, “Purna Advaita” or integral non dualism) does not simply dissolve everything into some kind of pure Consciousness, the Soul or psychic being surrenders to the ultimate Divine Reality, which is dynamic and here in the universe, constantly evolving. All the chaos and polarization and climate change disasters and the rest are seen, in this light, as part of the evolution process in which the new integral (or “Supramental”) consciousness is emerging.

      I think if nothing else, this vast integral psychology puts the LH and RH views into a very helpful perspective, one which encompasses the full range of developmental psychology, evolutionary neuroscience, quantum physics, personality psychology, all psychotherapies, the humanities, and much more.

      Two friends of mine just published an overview of Sri aurobindo’s “cosmo-psychology’ – “Consciousness-Based Psychology.”

      Michael is a psychiatrist in Boston, Soumitra a psychiatrist in Kolkata. Their book is a much more detailed examination of the relationship of therapy and Sri Aurobindo’s views.

      The book Jan and I wrote, “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness,” was more intended to show how a non-materialist vision of the universe could be a far more profound AND far more practical basis for psychology than our current materialist/physicalist paradigm. In this sense the aim of the book was much closer to Iain’s, that is, to undo, to question, to challenge the materialist view. (by the way, I see it’s now ridiculously expensive; if anybody would like a PDF, just write me at

      • Mike Todd

        June 19, 2023 at 3:11 am

        Thanks, Don, I found that really interesting.

        I’ve long marvelled at the prospect that Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta each has something truly insightful to say about who we are, in terms of, respectively, the self as an aspect of “that which is experienced” (Buddhism’s no-self) and the self as “that which experiences” (AV’s Self). I see tantalising parallels between these two ways of understanding who we are and the Soul and Divine Consciousness Sri Aurobindo intuited.

        I believe Sri Aurobindo also intuited what he called the supermind, a level of reality between what Zen and other approaches have called Absolute and Relative levels of reality, or between unmanifested Brahman and the manifested world amenable to our senses. My own nascent metaphysic posits an intermediate level of reality, between unconditioned foundational consciousness and differentiated phenomenal reality, that I have elsewhere called noumenal reality. Donald Hoffman, drawing on the work of Nima Arkani-Hamed and others, has discussed the amplituhedron as a contender for this intermediate level of reality within a metaphysic of foundational consciousness.

        The amplituhedron is a mathematical construct, a spatially and temporally – quantitative time, that is – unbounded “jewel”, as it has been called, with, purportedly, an infinite number of dimensions. Mindful of Sri Aurobindo”s supermind, I feel a strong sense of yugen thinking of the amplituhedron as a “supreme gem” which is about to be retrieved from the mud:

        “The true nature of any state of mind is free of flaws
        And unaffected by the mire of existence and nirvana.
        Even so, if a supreme gem is placed in a swamp,
        Its radiance will not be clear.

        The analogy presented here is of a jewel that has somehow fallen into a swamp. The jewel itself has excellent color and shape and is completely pure in being a jewel. It does not degenerate at all while mired in the swamp; it remains exactly what it was. On the other hand, it can’t be used. The jewel’s qualities are not apparent because it is concealed. If the jewel is removed from the swamp and the mud is cleaned away, the jewel will be a perfect jewel and can be used appropriately.”,_Its_Nature_Is_Great_Bliss

        The verse is from A Song for the King by the Buddhist poet Saraha, c. 800CE.

        • Don Salmon

          June 19, 2023 at 11:29 am

          Thanks Mike,

          Now, how do we transition back to therapy?

          I’ve spent most of my life (since the mid 70s, at least) looking at the connection between what Sri Aurobindo envisioned and how it relates to psychology in general, and therapy in particular.

          So a radical difference between anything I’ve found in Buddhism or in any aspect of the traditional Indian OR Western (or indigenous) spirituality, is the dynamic evolutionary view. (wait, this will get back to therapy, I promise:>))

          There is, as far as I’ve been able to see over the decades, something everyone I’ve ever met and asked – without exception – knows and feels. St. Paul expressed it in the words, “All of creation is yearning for the return of the Christ.”

          The ancient Vedas (Lucy, you may be familiar with this term) spoke of the Agni – the fire – in our hearts. Ayurveda also speaks of Agni in the belly as crucial for digestion, but in a symbolic way, you could say the entire modern era has lost touch with this Divine Fire, the fire which Darwin vaguely (as “through a glass darkly”) glimpsed, but only understood it in terms of scientific materialism.

          Sri Aurobindo saw the present era as a “cauldron of Medea,” in which all the ideas and possibilities and challenges of the past several thousand years are being thrown together, creating more and more conflict and challenges. You can bring this right up to the crisis of depression and anxiety in teens, the increasing sense of drivenness and tension throughout the world, as time itself speeds up.

          All of this is calling us to through our desires and fears into that Fire deep within our Hearts (beyond both hemispheres) and to give ourselves to that evolutionary impulse (I don’t use these words when I’ve invited patients to look within and find what their deepest yearning is).

          Spirituality itself appears to be taking a new turn, away from several thousand years of renunciation of the world (Zen and Sufism and some Tantric schools being somewhat of an exception, though liberation, rather than transformation and Divinization, still being the ultimate aim). In the integral vision, the earth as a whole, the entire human population, is being called on to find that which is beyond our ordinary selves and to open to this Divine evolutionary impulse and allow it to transform us all.

          if it sounds Utopian, it’s actually quite the opposite. Without a sense of profound equanimity, infinite contentment, stillness, peace, vast Silence and spaciousness, we can’t truly let go. So even Eckhart Tolle’s simple practice of Presence (the “now” which is not the present moment – a Left Hemisphere take on things – but the Eternal Now) is a powerful assist to this evolutionary dynamic.

          Sorry, I was hoping to put it even in simpler language. I will often ask patients if they can think of times in their lives of utter contentment – playing sports or dancing or walking in nature or talking with a dear friend. I’ve never found one who didn’t know what this was. And most “get it” when invited to bring their attention to that sense of contentment “right now.”

          AND, even further, without any intellectual discussion, somewhat less often but still quite a few (the less intellectual the better:>)) can feel “something” of some kind of dynamic energy, a subtle, bubbling happiness that impels them more toward acts of kindness and care and love.

          This seems to be the most powerful foundation for radical psychological transformation. When we can open our hearts, drop our mental stories, and feel that Fire in the belly, so to speak, and allow it to express itself through us in kind words, wise actions, caring, empathic, loving connections, it opens up a possibility for radical transformation without the need to define it too carefully.

          • Mike Todd

            June 19, 2023 at 1:45 pm

            Thanks, Don.

            It wasn’t my intention to derail the discussion. I get pleasure – in terms of a dopamine-mediated sense of achievement as well as a serotonin-mediated sense of contentment – from thinking about things and, if I’m lucky, from seeing relationships between ideas separated by time, space and other contexts. This pleasure influences my mood and disposition, which in turn influences my behaviour. Let me fill in some real-life blanks to connect what I’ve just said with the theme of this discussion.

            At present I’m caring, more or less round the clock, for my mum (aged 90) who’s about five months into recovering from a near-fatal right hemisphere haemorrhage. I begin each day, around about 4AM, with 30-45 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation, followed by a few hours of reading and thinking about fairly beefy ideas, by which point my mum is awake and ready to be washed, dressed, breakfasted and entertained with a few hours of conversation before lunch.

            I find that meditation, reading and thinking – does it all count as contemplation? – puts me in a frame of mind most conducive to compassionate caring. Looking after my mum requires a great deal of patience and empathy: in addition to significant physical impairment, she has experienced a hefty cognitive and psychological knock from the haemorrhage; thankfully, and rather miraculously, she appears to be on the way to putting it all behind her, but there are still trying times every single day.

            I don’t believe I’d be able to adequately care for my mum day after day without the morning routine I mentioned, which includes a large slice of intellectualising. Last year the same routine also bolstered my own recovery from an extended period of mental illness; and there are many accounts of people across the ages rescuing themselves from private hells by having a good think about things, e.g. Boethius. Is it possible that intellectualising may be therapeutic for some of us?

            I’m aware that intellectualising is classed as a coping mechanism in some literatures, but the usage there appears to refer to abstracting one’s psychological state and thereby effectively distancing oneself from it. That’s not at all what I do each morning. To put it in a nutshell, I find that using my intellect (intuiting, rationalising and synthesising) goes hand in hand with, and can’t really be separated from, feeling good about myself, others and the world at large. How does that square with your view?

            I’m not in any sense devaluing other approaches which aren’t conceptual or even cognitive in nature. In fact, I believe that thinking and feeling (and raw experiencing) are complimentary and ideally should be integrated.

            Anyway, I’ve explicated overmuch here and elsewhere, so I’ll close with a figure. I like to imagine our evolution (spiritual or otherwise) as a work of poetry penned by the cosmos, and to borrow from my favourite poet: A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

            More on that theme here:


            • Don Salmon

              June 19, 2023 at 1:58 pm

              Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry if that came across as critical. I just mentioned “transitioning back to therapy” in case others were concerned. Personally I love intellectualizing (our integral yoga community does get into it a bit TOO much but a reasonable daily practice of it is marvelous)

              So sorry to hear about the challenges of caring for your mother but wonderful that it has provided a powerful healing routine for you.

              please don’t take anything I say as being critical. Just friendly sharing of these marvelous perspectives and observations.

            • Don Salmon

              June 19, 2023 at 3:14 pm

              Hi again – just to show you I can really enjoy intellectual discussions, I’ve been meaning to get back to you about your comment that physics provides an “exhaustive” account of our experience (“experience” is my translation of “the physical world” – which does not exist for us apart from experience – Whitehead didn’t think it existed apart from any experience but we’ll leave that for now)

              Ok, so here’s a story. A little over 40 years ago, i was in grad school studying music composition. I took a class on computer music, and learned a computer language based on Fortran (the most complex computer program of the time).

              We entered the data in the computer lab on the West Side of Manhattan, then went 1 1/2 hours by subway to the computer room at Brooklyn College, where we would hear the music.

              The data in the computer lab in Manhattan was entirely mathematical. It included precise mathematical descriptions of the wave forms (indicating amplitude, which is similar to but not the same as volume, pitch, timbre – tone color, which makes the difference between the sound of a clarinet, trumpet, violin, etc).

              It was in the computer room at Brooklyn College where we had machines that received the data from the Manhattan lab so we could actually hear the results of the mathematical descriptions.

              If physics truly provided an exhaustive account of our experience, I wouldn’t have needed to go to Brooklyn. I could just look at the equations I entered in Manhattan (it’s true, in undergraduate music school we did learn how to look at orchestral scores and “hear” the music – but that was only because we had prior experience – experience that is something more than mathematical equations – of the music.

              Now, I think you’d agree that listening to Bach is not the same as reading mathematical descriptions of sound waves.

              But it sounds to me like somewhere in what you write is the day that there is some purely “physical” world utterly independent of experience of any kind,

              I can’t imagine what that would be except abstract equations, which is all that physics provides us – and most important, I think, is that ALL physics (as with all science), the equations are BASED on initial experience, from which all the math is extracted (or abstracted).

              This is why Stephen Hawking’s question, “What puts fire into our equations, what makes them alive” is so typically delusional of most scientists, even the greatest ones, who haven’t thought through what they’re doing.

              The fire was there all along. The fire of experience, of awareness, of Consciousness, the Divine Fire the Vedic rishis referred to as “Agni.” Scientists, somewhere in the late 19th century, forgot this, and like the 3 card monte players on the street corner, have hidden the “Consciousness” card and then try to say, “See, there was never any consciousness to begin with.”

              It’s all just sleight of hand. And our patients are getting sicker and sicker the longer this game is being played.

            • Mike Todd

              June 19, 2023 at 3:50 pm

              Hi Don,

              No offence taken – and I hope none given. I’ll come back tomorrow or the day after, but just to clarify for now: I don’t remember saying that physics provides an exhaustive account of physical reality (which is a tautology, anyway); I think I said that “Physicalism is the view that reality may be exhaustively described by (the equations of) physics”.

              Bach and maths…

              You may enjoy this:


            • Don Salmon

              June 19, 2023 at 3:56 pm

              Glad to hear it was all taken in a friendly spirit:>))

              About Escher – it’s quite amazing how much his life reflected a struggle for meaning so fundamental to the 20th century.

              As far as physicalism, yes, I probably misremembered your comments. As far as the physicist view that physics provides an exhaustive account of the physical world, if “physical world” means the world we experience (it can’t mean anything else), then I think the simplest refutation of physicalism is simply to ask the physicalist, “If your view is true, then you don’t need to eat, you don’t need a house, clothes, money, etc. Use your exhaustive physics and see how far you will get in the physical world!”

            • Don Salmon

              June 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

              sorry, that should have been “as far as the PHYSICALIST” view…”

            • Mike Todd

              June 20, 2023 at 7:50 am

              Hi Don,

              The following article arrived on my feed this morning. I believe it describes the kind of intellectualising I mentioned previously, and it reminded me that I often used to wonder as I wandered, reflecting unawares on the latest book or essay as I walked through the local woods and fields (a la Wordsworth, as noted by Thoreau: “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors”). I regularly realised a truth that the article highlights: “many of our best ideas catch us by surprise while we’re … strolling through the woods”.


              Of relevance to this discussion thread is the following observation the article makes:

              While past research has focused on mind wandering’s negative impact on happiness and well-being, Schooler found that not all mind wandering is created equal. One of his lab’s previous studies showed that when people mind wander, they become less happy than when they’re mentally present and on task. “But we also asked people to indicate what they were mind wandering about. And if they were mind wandering about something they were especially interested in, they were actually happier than when they were on task.” This discovery led him to distinguish between mind wandering and what he termed “mind wondering.”

              And then there’s this:

              People who ask questions and really listen to the responses encourage a change in brain activity. They create more neural flexibility through open, exploratory questioning. And the people who do that, Wheatley found, not only have the ability to receive and integrate other people’s points of view, but they also act as hubs in their social network.

              By “really listen” I understand “pay attention”, which, when placed in the context of the above quote, appears to affirm the theme of recent discussions Dr. McGilchrist has had: [paying] attention [is] a moral act.

            • Don Salmon

              June 20, 2023 at 10:59 am

              Thanks so much Mike. That’s a very useful phrase to use when talking to people about the distinction:

              Mind wondering


              mind wandering


              This distinction is one of the main themes of our online courses on effortless sleep and effortless mindfulness.

              In the terms we use, mind wandering occurs when our attention is in “control mode” (trying to manipulate, control, manage experience) and mind wondering occurs when our attention is in “experiential mode” – just being here, or as we say, “remembering to be.”

              I think you’d enjoy the 2nd video on our home page, which is all about this distinction: http://www.RememberToBe.Life.

              Our theme song lyrics: (the “shift” referred to in the chorus IS that shift from control to experiential mode)


              whatever the place you’re in

              whatever you feel

              whatever is going on

              remember to be

              let go of the future

              let go of the past

              set all your concerns aside

              remember to be


              no matter the grief or pain

              we still can be free

              with just the most gentle shift

              remember to be


              whenever the silence blooms

              the heart can breathe free

              the chains on our wings are broke’

              just ‘memberin’ to be

              let go of the future

              let go of the past

              set all your concerns aside

              remember to be


              No matter the grief or pain

              we still can be free

              with just the most gentle shift

              remember to be

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