Thirty seven year old neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, rose on the morning of Dec. 10, 1996 to start her morning routine getting ready for work. It turned out to be anything but routine.
A blood vessel exploded in her left hemisphere leaving her unable to walk, talk, read, or write.
To understand what she experienced, it’s important to recognize how the two parts of the brain work. The right hemisphere thinks in pictures and connects us all as “energy beings” as Jill describes it. The right brain is all about being in the moment and sees us as perfect and whole. The left hemisphere thinks linearly, connecting us to past and future. It thinks and plans using language. It is the left hemisphere that creates the experience of the self as separate from everything else.
Jill woke that morning with an intense pain behind her left eye. Not realizing anything was truly wrong, she attempted to get on with her day and proceeded to her cardio-glider to get her exercise done. On the machine, she noticed that her hands looked like strange claws. Then she had the experience of witnessing her body as if it were a separate entity. Her head pain intensified so she got off the machine. It was then that everything seemed to slow down. Gone were her quick and fluid body movements. The rigid boundaries of her body evaporated as she propped herself against a bathroom wall. She watched as the molecules and atoms of her body merged with those of the wall. Next she lost her left brain chatter as her mind was silenced.
In the quiet, Jill was drawn into an expansive field of oneness. This was a peaceful, delightful place until the left brain returned telling her she had a problem and needed help. She would alternate between these two realities: one she called La-La Land which was a beautiful state of pure consciousness and connectedness and the other that called her back into the world with ever-increasing urgency. When her right arm became paralyzed, Jill realized she was having a stroke. She knew she needed help and attempted to call work. But by this time, she had lost the ability to recognize words and numbers and it took 45 minutes to finally make this all important call.
At the hospital, Jill struggled with the pain and sensory overload of being in the body. Those experiences were relieved at times by journeys into nirvana (her word); that profound place of peace, freedom, and expansiveness. On a deeper level she comes to understand that everyone can experience this nirvana state.
“That they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemisphere and find this peace.”
This is her stroke of insight, the gift she brought back into the world, the source that would motivate her year long recovery.
We have the choice to move between the hemispheres moment by moment. We choose, we create. Jill believes (and I agree) the more time we spend in the right hemisphere, the more peace we will find as individuals and the more peace we will bring back into the world.
Jill Bolte Taylor has written a wonderful book. It will especially appeal to the scientifically minded, but it will attract just as many mystics. The other true gift of her experience has to do with understanding what it’s like to have a stroke. If the medical community and family members had this level of understanding, it would revolutionize the care we give stroke victims. I would especially recommend her book to anyone who is caring for someone who has had a stroke. To learn from the inside out what it’s like can only make us more compassionate and more understanding.
WATCH DR. TAYLOR AT TED: