Skip to content

These Monks Were on a Search-and-Destroy Mission Against Their Left Hemispheres

Photo by Katherine Hanlon / Unsplash

It's hard to admit this, but here goes:

Back in my twenties, I decided I wanted to be a mystic.

Such a thing is absurd: The goal is foiled by the goal. You might as well decide you want to be a poor man with money (one of Pablo Picasso’s claimed desires . . . he finally opted just for the money part).

And yet, mysticism is a good state that ought to be desired.

Or rather, ought to be welcomed.

The left hemisphere desires, the right hemisphere welcomes.

That 1970s "left brain/right brain" fad was ridiculous. Both sides of the brain do the same things.

It's their attitude that differs. And that difference makes all the difference.

It's the difference between holding the door open for a woman because it's polite and holding it open so maybe she'll bang you later.

We need to approach existence with our right hemispheres. "Right hemisphere forward" is how my gin connoisseur friends would phrase it (British gin: juniper forward; Western gin: botanicals forward).

And if you relentlessly seek to put the right hemisphere forward, things start to fall into place.

And that's what these primitive texts in Christian spirituality talk about: how to put the right hemisphere forward. The writers of The Philokalia were on a constant seek-and-destroy mission against the left hemisphere: storming porches, ripping open cellars, looking behind trees.

If there was a left hemispheric disposition lurking somewhere in themselves, they'd find it.

Granted, they never referred to the "left hemisphere." They were writing over 1,000 years before such a thing was even imagined.

Rather, they referred to "devils."

Which is great. It really brings it home.

If we follow their advice, we'll put our right hemispheres firmly in control. The right hemisphere is the device that connects to transcendence. The better the connection, the better your chance of becoming a mystic.

The better chance, in other words, that you'll receive grace.

How I Moved Beyond Stoicism
The largely-forgotten literary tradition that takes Stoicism to the next level