Jill Bolte Taylor had what she calls a "stroke of insight." In her case it was an actual stroke – which produced a blood clot the size of a golf ball that pushed on her language centers in the left side of her brain.
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.
Taylor's central theme is that the analytical left side of the brain cuts us off from the marvelous oneness revealed by the intuitive right side of the brain. As she lost her left brain functions, she felt pretty darn good.
However, it took her forty-five minutes to figure out how to call for help. And she went through eight years of post-stroke therapy to recover her left-sided capabilities. If her brain damage was as enlightening as her talk suggests, why wouldn't mystics destroy part of the brain instead of meditating for umpteen years?
The many comments on Taylor's video and transcript are as interesting as the talk itself. Viewers and readers have widely divergent opinions about her experience.
Here's a cynic:
This is a joke, right?
People paid $6,000 to hear this bozo ramble on about a super cliche psychedelic experience?
You can read thousands of very similar (but often much more profound and interesting) accounts at websites like erowid.com (not to mention thousand of books about drugs and altered states of consciousness, and millions of books and movies that have been influenced by them).
… Jeez. Smoke a joint. Drop a hit of acid. Eat some mushrooms, or try any of hundreds of other ways of altering your consciousness... it's a hell of a lot less painful and dangerous than having a stroke.
And here's an admirer:
This is incredible. amazing. beautiful. I happen to be reading the new Eckhart Tolle book right now - A New Earth - Awakening to your Life's Purpose. These two people have walked very different paths but somehow ended up at the same place, and saying more or less the same thing. It inspiring and gives me so much hope for humanity and this place. It is really even difficult to give words to how deeply this talk struck me. I just kept wanting to thank her for sharing herself and her healing with us.
I'm somewhere in between. Which, to me, is the point. We need both sides of the brain. To deny one half or the other is to deny half of human experience.
Taylor says that when she finally reached a colleague by phone, she couldn't understand what he was saying. Nor could she communicate her own thoughts.
Eventually the whole number gets dialed, and I'm listening to the phone, and my colleague picks up the phone and he says to me, "Whoo woo wooo woo woo." [laughter] And I think to myself, "Oh my gosh, he sounds like a golden retriever!" And so I say to him, clear in my mind I say to him. "This is Jill! I need help!" And what comes out of my voice is, "Whoo woo wooo woo woo." I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, I sound like a golden retriever." So I couldn't know, I didn't know that I couldn't speak or understand language until I tried.
Yet now she's able to share her experience with audiences, because she has the left side of her brain back. And what is her main piece of advice?
I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.
Yes, it is. There are lots of ways to get more in touch with our right brain – meditation, dancing, athletics, drugs, sex, to name a few. Getting into "the zone" is a good thing. But for sure, it's not the only thing.
Yesterday I felt great in my Tai Chi class. At the end of it we did the long form, 108 moves that should take around 20 minutes to perform (or "play," in Tai Chi parlance).
About a third a way into the form I thought, "I'm flowing today." About halfway through I thought, "There's no way I'm going to stumble or make a wrong move."
As soon as I said that to myself, my analytical side responded with, "Oh no, you shouldn't be thinking that way. You're going to jinx yourself. You're going to talk yourself out of the zone you're in."
But I didn't.
I kept on feeling in the flow. Part of me was in the zone, and part of me could say "You're in the zone." The two parts weren't interfering with each other, as they sometimes do. I didn't have to shut off half of my brain to play the long form proficiently.
And that also is Taylor's message.
So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world.
Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are -- I am -- the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is.
Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the "we" inside of me.