Two modes of perception

A few years ago I finally grasped what mindfulness is all about.  Let me explain briefly.

There are two distinctly different modes of perception.  One is peripheral awareness the other is focused attention.

Peripheral awareness is the wide-angle lens that connects you the world in its richness. Focused attention is the spotlight to zoom in on something in particular.

I used to think that mindfulness was about focused attention only.  But it is about an optimum balance between the two modes of perception.

Good mindfulness training strengthens both modes of perception and how they interact. Are there wider lessons for how we approach life?  I think there are and I will hint at a few.

I’m currently halfway through Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary, the sort of book you stumble upon once a decade.  It argues that the left and right hemispheres have fundamentally different ‘takes’ on the world.

The right side (think peripheral awareness) sees itself as connected to the world whereas the left side (think focused attention) stands aloof and analyses, divides and compares.

Already I’ve had half a dozen ‘aha’ moments from the book.  One aha is how the arts connect to the right hemisphere – and how poems, pieces of music and paintings each have ‘personalities’.  Harmony, complex rhythms, poetic language and depth in painting all play to the right hemisphere.  They bring works of art to life.

Another aha is how the left hemisphere has come to dominate the modern world.  Our modern age – where many of us are lonely, bored, anxious and complacent – is an outcome of a freewheeling left hemisphere.

Having read the first half of McGilchrist’s book I now realise how important the arts and culture are to our society and to our collective mental health.  However, much of the art we make now reflects that left hemisphere bias.  In a future post I will suggest ways we can shift that.

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