Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rest and Renewal - Balancing your Brain

The Four of Swords as a four is part of the Emperor family. Yet in the picture we see something mysterious going on. The swords are divided into three hanging on the wall and one beneath the knight. The three swords along with the female figure and child in the stained glass window clearly bring in the energy of  The Empress.

So why is this card, which is essentially an expression of Emperor energy, so closely connected to the Empress?

Weirdly enough the answer lies in the structure of our brains - and in particular the difference between the right and left brain and the way they perceive the world.

The Emperor is concerned with civilisation - the structure and organisation of life - he creates rules, justice, punishments and hierarchies - the city state which must be protected and expanded. This is in contrast to The Empress who brings new life into the world encouraging it to unfold naturally and organically. Symbolically the Emperor is connected to the city and the Empress to the Forest and natural world.

So what has this got to do with our brains? Well the Emperor does not know when to stop expanding his empire - there is no rest here - there is never enough power or territory. Even if you are at the top of a hierarchy, if you are the best, the highest paid, the most famous, the one in control, there is always the fear that someone coming up behind you will be better and will tip you off your pinnacle of success. 

This is why we see him suited up in sharp, shiny armour in his rigid stone chair looking defensively to see who might be sneaking up on him. The Emperor is immersed in his material world - see how much red surrounds him - and does not realise that without the Empress and her desire to be in relationship, her connection to the unconscious springs of creative and spiritual renewal, his world becomes increasingly sterile and barren until, eventually, it crumbles away.

Neuroscientist Iain Gilchrist explains that the left side of our brain is also concerned with manipulating the world to our use, with controlling resources. It is very logical and linear and tends to rigidity and narrow focus. The left brain is concerned with quantity - getting more and more - and has no ability to appreciate quality. When it dominates the left brain tries to run our lives as if we were a machine. 

It is our right brain that has an appreciation for the particular experiences of life, for art, beauty, relationship, community, the unique, the individual, the spiritual. It is the right brain that is concerned with the meaning of life, with feelings and dreams and it is this part that can empathize with another and feel compassion. (The left side of our brain is also connected to feeling, but the feeling it is mostly connected to is anger.)

Civilisations in history where right brain values have led the way have flourished and quality of life has been full and rich. Civilisations where the left brain has been in control have dwindled or fallen apart and the quality of life for most of its citizens have been impoverished and miserable.

Now according to Iain Gilchrist the interesting thing about the two sides of our brain is that although the right brain knows it needs the left brain and values those left brain skills - the left brain thinks it can go it alone. The left brain does not understand or value the right brain and believes it is unnecessary - a bit like the Daleks on Doctor Who, living machines who, when faced with heart connected responses to the world, can only say: Does not compute - Does not compute!

So when the Four of Swords appears in a spread what it is saying is that we have become lost in fighting the battles of the Emperor. Remembering that swords is all about the mind, our thoughts, our communications - we could say that our thoughts have become too dominated with Emperor values, and we are in danger of pouring all of our precious life force into attaining or defending something that has no heart connection for us - something which brings us no joy. We are treating ourselves as if we were a machine with attention only on the material world of things and power games and contests of will.

The Four of Swords tells us it is time to retreat, time to find a sanctuary - a place of peace where we can lay down our weapons and reconnect to what brings joy into our lives - it is time for renewal, to find a new purpose, a new attitude, a new guiding light for our lives. Both the child in the window and the single sword under the knight speak of new beginnings. The child is the symbol of the new born, of hope, of play and light-heartedness.

To get to that new life we have to go through the Three of Swords that are pointing down at the knight - piercing through our defences to find what is truly in our hearts - to feel both the grief at what we have done and what we have lost, to get to the heart of who we truly are and what we truly care for. 

So where do the sea turtles come into this? Well this was my rest and renewal, my Empress experience. For a short time I lived like a wild child in a wooden hut called a Fale on the coast on a Pacific island called Savaii. I swam in turquoise sea, snorkelled with fishes, went about bare foot in the sunshine and had no contact with my ordinary world. No internet, no responsibilities, no chores or duties, no goals. My mind refused even to think of such things. 

Wild sea turtles came over the reef on the incoming tide and if you were lucky one of them would allow you to snorkel alongside as it peacefully grazed on sea grass and came up now and then for air. I saw several on this holiday, beautiful, peaceful giants. On the last morning I swam with one for fifteen minutes, close enough to see the wrinkles on its neck and to see the depths of that wonderful large dark eye as it turned to look up at me.  

The joy of that experience, the wonder and inner spaciousness it created are still with me even though I have returned to my everyday life. My values have been re-sorted and some of those Emperor compulsions released. I am allowing myself to slow down, to be spacious and to spend much more time doing what I love.

(If you are interested in finding out more of Iain Gilchrist's work I recommend watching one of his talks on YouTube or reading the very accessible 30 page essay: The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning  available from amazon on kindle.)  

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