The third and most powerful step – helping the red brain to disappear

It is encounter that allows the red brain to finally fade away. Where meditation and mindfulness are solitary, encounter is a social practice: we do it in the presence of, and engaged with, someone else.

We practice encounter when we pay full attention to another without judgement or comparison, responding with kindness and compassion whatever the other person says or does. Paying full attention means that our conscious mind is quiet; we allow everything we see and hear to flow, unfiltered, into our brains.

This activates the right hemisphere and its way of paying attention to the world, since the right hemisphere connects to things beyond the self. Our attention on the other person stimulates their right hemisphere, which, in turn further encourages our own. This mutual activation of each other’s right hemispheres means that we achieve a state of genuine empathy and trust, and new information can flow uninhibited into our neural networks.


For the red brain to fade away completely, we need to practise encounter in every aspect of life. It is often easier to practice in professional life: when we change jobs or roles we can decide to behave differently with our new colleagues than with our former colleagues. This is particularly true in a school as, each year a new cohort of students arrives, and a teacher can choose to behave differently with little risk of embarrassment.

 It can be much harder to practice encounter in our personal lives, particularly if we have been with a partner for a substantial period. Many of our responses will have become hardwired through being repeated over and over. It is much harder to change our behaviour with someone who knows us well, and it is much harder to change deep-seated habits.

Having said all that, there is no more valuable endeavour in preparing ourselves and those around us for an uncertain future.

John Corrigan