A stroke of insight


Over the weekend, the New York Times had a story about Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist whose stroke changed her perception of the world and her place in it. Her theory is that most English-speakers are controlled by the left lobe, where language is processed and the source of our logic, judgement and context, over the right lobe, in charge of creativity and empathy. Her stroke rendered her left lobe temporarily incapacitated, so she could experience euphoria—the atoms in her body being connected to the air and living beings around her and the freedom of her spirit moving beyond her body.

While this sounds like a spiritual out-of-body experience, because Dr. Taylor is a neuroscientist her story adds a level of credibility especially useful for non-believers. She can explain what happened metaphorically, physically and scientifically.

Two things in particular touched me about her account.

  1. Her desire to recover so she could tell her story and "teach others about nirvana." Turning our own experiences into universal stories that everyone can understand and be moved by is a topic close to my own heart. I blogged about its power recently.
  2. The process she teaches for others to have similar (non-stroke induced) experiences. In her view it takes noticing when we are being lead by the left-side of our brains – being overrun by the nagging voice in our heads about work and other responsibilities – and giving the right brain a chance. No drugs, meditation or prayer necessary. The ability to do this is based on our powers of perception, what's happening right now, and persuasion, what thoughts would be more powerful/relaxing.

This is a simplified version of what she said, but not much. It is simple once you get the hang of really noticing how you feel, what's important to you and taking care of yourself.

Here are links for more about Dr. Taylor's book and her speaking about her experience.