Living Upside Down
When I was in my mid-thirties I wanted to be a “Renaissance Man”, meaning I wanted to be really good at a lot of different things. Like any self-respecting Renaissance Man, I felt I should draw and paint, things I hadn’t done much up until then. My art career never got very far, but I acquired some important insights in the process.
To learn how to draw, I studied a book called, “Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain”, by Betty Edwards. It’s an excellent tutorial on drawing, to be sure. But even more it’s a book about seeing.
The main premise of the book is that to learn to draw and be more creative, we need to overcome our old habits of seeing, analysing, and judging with a new and unfamiliar skill–the ability to see everything with objective, non-judgmental eyes. Only then can one learn how to draw accurately.
I remember a key exercise early in the book which was designed to jolt the reader into understanding this pivotal idea. The author tells us to copy a somewhat detailed line drawing of an old woman. As you can imagine, as a neophyte artist, my results were nothing like the original.
Then the author tells us to turn the same drawing upside down, and copy it again. I copy the upside down lines as best I can, and it doesn’t look like much. But when I turn it right side up it’s a pretty close approximation of the original drawing!
Edwards explains that copying the drawing upside down forces us to use the right side of the brain instead of the left. The right side is experiential and intuitive, whereas the left is analytical and judgmental. We need both, but seeing the world objectively relies on suspending analysis and judgment and just seeing what’s actually there.
I think this is exactly what we try to achieve on a larger scale with our practice of Yoga. We suspend our ego, our judgments, our preconceived notions, our accumulated life filters, and our dysfunctions to see the world in all its wondrous glory.
Eventually, just as in the case of the drawing, we turn the picture right side up again. But now we can see even our ego, judgments, preconceived notions, filters, and dysfunctions with some objectivity and clarity, and our whole spiritual world is transformed forever.