A 2008 TED talk by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor gripped and moved me. She recalled how she had remained conscious as she suffered a stroke, experiencing first-hand now the two hemispheres of her brain cared about completely different things. The left thought linearly, in terms of the past and future, and defined her as an entity separate from her surroundings. But her right hemisphere placed her in the present moment; she was at one with the life force of the universe; she felt completely at peace and whole. It was “nirvana”. If she could experience it while alive, just as others also have the potential to then this insight could change the way we live our lives. We can be the “beautiful, peaceful, compassionate people who purposely choose to step to the right side of our brains”.
Studies done over the years have shown that a divide similar to the left-right brain also exists in how we think about values and prioritize our aims in life. The so-called intrinsic values such as “self-acceptance”, “physical health” and “community feeling” and extrinsic values such as “popularity”, “image”and “financial success” are in conflict with each other. when we deem image and financial success to be important in life, self-acceptance and caring for others become less of a priority. The values we uphold affect our behavior and have social consequences Studies show that people who prioritize intrinsic values tend to act more in caring, cooperative ways, and are more concerned about the environment. Those who value external rewards are more likely to show manipulative, competitive and unethical behaviors. The latter also report lower levels of well-being, life satisfaction and higher levels of stress and anxiety. What we choose to believe affects the quality of our life.
Just as the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate, so there is also a spill-over effect in values. It has been shown that just a few minutes spent explaining the value of community caused those who were strong proponents of external success to think more about the importance of intrinsic values.
The idea behind Ars Vitae is quite simple. It is to provide those few minutes of thinking about the intrinsic motivators that shape our thoughts and behaviors. A few short moments of stepping to the right side of our brains to achieve a more balanced life. We wand to talk about wisdom more than information, the important intangibles in life more than the tangibles. Ultimately, we want to talk about what it means to live well. And do it in a meaningful but not heavy-handed way.
Ars Vitae will take one theme per issue as an angle to explore various stories and perspectives. The theme of this first issue is “inspiration”
Why inspiration? Because in every life, there is a spark of inspiration, however small, that uplifts and transforms us. As you will read in this issue, sometimes it is love, a colossal tragedy, a divine touch, and even an encounter with death which, paradoxically, has a profound effect on the way we view life. It seemed fitting for the first issue of a publication about living well to start with stories about the moments, people and ideas that changed lives. As many wonderful people, life experiences, books and scientific studies have inspired me to create Ars Vitae, so I hope Ars Vitae will inspire you to take a pause from your daily life, breathe, and enjoy being in the moment.