My Left Hand… An Unexpected Teacher

Not long ago, I participated in a writing workshop. Having recently published a piece on a health scare I’d experienced about a year ago, I wanted to further hone my writing skills and continue sharing my prose, even if I did not feel totally confident doing so.

Little did I know the impact that a simple writing exercise would have on me.

Leslie, our teacher, began the workshop with a free write. “Write about anything” she instructed. “Try not to let your pen off the paper, even if it means repeatedly writing ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m stuck.’ The point is not to censor your words or thoughts. Just keep writing!”

With lush instrumental music softly playing in the background, I began writing about my recent health scare — thoughts, emotions, and hand flowing effortlessly.

“Now, switch to your non-dominant hand.”

Using a non-dominant hand to arouse cognitive and creative function is certainly not a novel concept. However, it was unfamiliar territory to me. Being a lifelong self-critical perfectionist (I can easily obsess over a misspelled Facebook post I’ve written or ruminate for days about a slightly off-pitch lyric during a vocal performance) made the task less than inviting.

As instructed, I placed the pen in my non-dominant hand. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, thoughts came to a grinding halt and with it, my prose.

As is almost always the case when I am embarking on a task out of my comfort zone, my throat began to tighten and stomach contracted. With palpable tension rapidly rising in my body, I placed the pen in my left hand and continued writing –barely legible and painfully slow.

“Sh*t.” I mumbled, thankfully inaudibly.

After a few minutes (an eternity, it seemed) an interesting thing happened.

My body and self-critical mind began to calm down. By the time I finally completed the sentence “This is weird!” – I felt a warm surrender wash over me – akin to what I feel after a nourishing meditation session.

I was relieved and surprised.

While I was absorbed in accidental bliss, Leslie instructed us to return to writing with our dominant hand and, in the remaining few minutes, write as quickly as we could.

I felt torn. Quite unexpectedly, writing with my left hand had provided an exquisite, albeit brief, sojourn from my nagging thoughts. I felt more mindful, relaxed and open.

Ironically, my inelegant hand proved a useful and unexpected little lesson to view challenges with less resistance and more curiosity. My experience also was a reminder that so often we overlook the subtle yet significant teachings that are right in front of us. We just have to be open to noticing them.

I’m not sure that writing with my clumsy side has opened doors to lasting nirvana. I still prefer my right hand despite the wisdom the other has imparted. However, I pay a lot more attention. And for now at least, that’s enough for me.

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