It’s Really Your Right Brain that Loves Mexico

By Bill Frayer

divided brain


So when someone north of the border asks you why you love Mexico so much, you’re likely to produce a predictable list: it’s cheap to live; the weather is nearly perfect; the expats are interesting (albeit, some are a bit crazy); the tacos are great; the tianguis is fun, the Mexican people are generous and kind, etc. True enough. But that list may not really explain why you are so captivated by Mexico.

According to a fascinating new book by psychologist Ian McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, those may be specific elements of your experience of living in Mexico which you may find appealing, but they are simply details, noted by your left brain. It’s actually your right brain that creates the overall intuitive feeling which keeps you coming back to Lake Chapala.

Most of us have an oversimplified concept of the right and left brain based on research from the 1960’s. The left brain is the logical, scientific, language-based side. Those with predominantly left brain strength become scientists, mathematicians, lawyers, physicians, etc. The right brain, so the trope goes, enables our creative, intuitive side. So those who are right-brain dominant tend to go into the arts, the helping professions, and other creative jobs.

In fact, according to McGilchrist, it’s the right brain which creates meaning and drives our perception of experience. He has conducted research with patients who have lost right or left brain function due to a stroke or other medical condition. The left brain is good at collecting data on a granular level but cannot sense the overall meaning or experience which those detail help create. He draws the analogy of individual notes that make up a beautiful piece of music. When we hear a lovely symphony, we may think we are hearing individual notes, but we are actually hearing a continuous sound pattern in which those notes blend with one another in a particular way. We may understand the process musically, from a left-brain perspective, but we experience the piece as an overall, unified aural and emotional experience.

As a poet, I have learned that you cannot really explain the meaning of a poem, entirely, to someone who has not developed an appreciation for a good poem. Jim Tipton, who mentored many writers here at Lakeside, understood that good poetry had to be experienced on an emotional, intuitive level. His poetry evoked feelings far beyond the individual words he used.

So why do you love Mexico? Certainly there are elements you must put up with that might be considered unpleasant: dog turds on the sidewalk, slow service, misunderstandings based on language, litter and graffiti for sure. Some left brained sorts might notice these details and decide this place is not for them. But for most of us, Mexico is an overall right-brained experience. I remember vividly returning to our winter casita at Six Corners and walking into town. It was a very emotional experience: the Mexicans shouting at each other in Spanish, the smell of carnitas, stepping around the street dogs, the colors, the bougainvillea… I was glad to be back.

Back in Maine, I cannot really capture my affection for Mexico for my friends. It’s a good thing I love Maine, not just for the snow, the good craft brews, the lobster, or the old friends, but for the entire Downeast experience!  

Albert Einstein may have summed up our left-brain bias when he wrote: “The rational mind is a faithful servant; the intuitive mind is a precious gift. We live in a society which honors the servant but has forgotten the gift.”


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