Mary Molinary

Like Nothing's Missing

Poems Composed for by the Left Hand
by Mary Molinary, from Beloit Poetry Journal, Winter 2010


to keep dementia away
most of the doctors say
use the opposite hand --
          force new learning on the mind

my left hand laughs
says it's all silly,
doesn't buy the split-
          brain theory

but being a good sport, plays
along--works hard against being

it's my right that slays
me--sulking and skulking
at the margins--curled
          up like a forgotten turnip


Using Your Nondominant Hand
Excerpt from How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays

The Exercise
Use your nondominant hand for some ordinary task each day. These could include brushing your teeth, combing your hair, or eating with the nondominant hand for at least part of each meal.  If you're up for a big challenge, try using the nondominant hand when writing or when eating with chopsticks.

This experiment always evokes laughter.  We discover that the nondominant hand is quite clumsy. Using it brings us back to what Zen teachers call "beginner's mind." Our dominant hand might be forty years old, but the nondominant hand is much younger, perhaps about two or three years old. We have to learn all over again how to hold a fork and how to get it into our mouths without stabbing ourselves.  We might begin to brush our teeth very awkwardly with the nondominant hand, and when we aren't looking our dominant hand will reach out and take the toothbrush or fork away! It is like a bossy older sister who says, "Hey, you little klutz, let me do it for you!"

Struggling to use the nondominant hand can awaken our compassion for anyone who is clumsy or unskilled, such as a person who has had disabilities, injuries, or a stroke.  We briefly see how much we take for granted scores of simple movements that many people cannot make...

Deeper Lessons
This task illustrates how strong and unconscious our habits are and how difficult they are to change without awareness and determination. This task helps us bring beginner's mind to any activity--such as eating--that we do several times a day, often with only partial awareness.

See also: "Each Flick of a Digit Is a Job for All 5," by Natalie Angier, The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2012