Stroke Of Insight- Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor


Due to an untimely computer meltdown, I had to make a last minute trip home last weekend. Lucky for me, this provided the opportunity to visit a friend of mine, Bruce on his last night in Connecticut before he shipped off to Georgia in order to begin his 6ish month trek of the Appalachian Trail. In a euphoric state Bruce showed me the contents of his new (but well broken in) pack one by one until the satisfied look on his face notified me that the small pile of gear on the ground next to the pack would be all that would accompany him on his 2,200 mile journey. Once we were through with this customary pre-hike inventory, Bruce told me there was a TED Talk that he had to show me. He said he had already watched it many times. My mind filled with possibilities of ideas worth sharing pertaining to insanely long hikes and survival tips. When he sat me in front of the TV and the text Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor- Neuroanatomist appeared, I could not have been more surprised. Bruce didn’t know what courses I am I taking this semester, and I would classify him as more of a humanities student so I was shocked to see that he had become obsessed (apparently) with a seemingly science-heavy TED Talk. Then I watched it, and I fully understood why my most spiritual, self-aware, and sometimes “out there” friend would appreciate this particular talk to such an extent.  Watch it!:

What at first  seemed to be a story of a neuroanatomist’s meta experience of living through a stroke turned into something even more profound. Dr. Taylor began by explaining to her audience the difference between the two hemispheres of the brain. She likens the right hemisphere to a parallel processor of a computer. She says that the right hemisphere is concerned with the “right here, right now”, the present moment. It takes in information in the form of energy and “explodes into an enormous collage” of all the sensory details relating to your surroundings.  In her quirky and captivating way she states “I am an energy bean (or maybe she says being?) connected to what surrounds me by the consciousness of my right hemisphere.” I thought that was a quote worth sharing.  She then starts into her description of the left hemisphere which she likens to a serial processor.  Concerned with the past and present, this linearly thinking entity connects the internal world with the external world, it separates from the energy flow which consumes the right hemisphere. Dr. Taylor says that the left hemisphere says “I AM…I AM…I AM”,  allowing an individual to understand their position in time and their environment.

After the brief anatomy lesson, with a level of self-awareness which is difficult to attain, Dr. Taylor begins to relay the fascinating story of her stroke  (Watch it…seriously!).  As she portrays her experience of the world with  her sometimes silent left hemisphere  (this is the site of the hemorrhage)  she becomes animated when describing her encounter with her right hemisphere. She  claims that her time spent solely processing with her right hemisphere allowed her to find nirvana. She says that if she could find such happiness and euphoria, everyone has the ability to do so. Dr. Taylor says that we have the power to choose which hemisphere we “step” into.  Is it possible to consciously take one hemisphere “off-line” and experience life only through the energy of the present moment? Just as we are able to silence one voice in our consciousness –the Angel or Devil on your shoulders– I see the ability to intentionally focus on the hemisphere associated with the present moment as a possibility. It appears that meditative and mindfulness practices bring us closer to this skill of partial brain silencing.  Dr. Taylor uses this as a call to action, she asks with the power to chose which hemisphere we experience life through, which would we chose?  And when? Well, I’d say she makes a pretty compelling argument for life in the right hemisphere through the sharing of her story, however she takes it one step farther to alert her audience of the power of the right hemisphere. Dr. Taylor sees that the peace associated with the right hemisphere, and thus the peace we project onto those around us has the potential to bring more peace to our world.

Thoughts?? Do we really have the power to choose? Is there danger in becoming caught up in our right hemisphere? Does this choice have the potential to incite more peace in the world?

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