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Oprah's Soul Webcasts And My Stroke Of Insight By Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
Monthly Column by Marina Rundell
June 2008

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After seeing Oprah’s first interview with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor on Oprah’s Soul Series Webcast, I ended up buying Dr. Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight.  You can watch Oprah's interviews with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor here.  Below are excerpts from the hardcover book that I hope you will also find helpful.  From Dr. Taylor’s experience, we, too, can see how our brain works and thus, we can apply this knowledge to our lives.




Pages 67-71:

“I remember that first day of the stroke with terrific bitter-sweetness.  In the absence of the normal functioning of my left orientation association area, my perception of my physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air.  I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle.  The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria.  Finer than the finest of pleasures we can experience as physical beings, this absence of physical boundary was one of glorious bliss.  As my consciousness dwelled in a flow of sweet tranquility, it was obvious to me that I would never be able to squeeze the enormousness of my spirit back inside this tiny cellular matrix.”

“My escape into bliss was a magnificent alternative to the daunting sense of mourning and devastation I felt every time I was coaxed back into some type of interaction with the percolating world outside of me.  I existed in some remote space that seemed to be far away from my normal information processing, and it was clear that the “I” whom I had grown up to be had not survived this neurological catastrophe.  I understood that that Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor died that morning, and yet, with that said, who was left?  Or, with my left hemisphere destroyed, perhaps I should now say, who was right?”

“Without a language center telling me:  ‘I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.  I am a neuroanatomist.  I live at this address and can be reached at this phone number,' I felt no obligation to being her anymore.  It was truly a bizarre shift in perception, but without her emotional circuitry reminding me of her likes and dislikes, or her ego center reminding me about her patterns of critical judgment, I didn’t think like her anymore.  From a practical perspective, considering the amount of biological damage, being her again wasn’t even an option!  In my mind, in my new perspective, that Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor died that morning and no longer existed.  Now that I didn’t know her life – her relationships, successes and mistakes, I was no longer bound to her decisions or self-induced limitations.”

“Although I experienced enormous grief for the death of my left hemisphere consciousness – and the woman I had been, I concurrently felt tremendous relief.  That Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor had grown up with lots of anger and a lifetime of emotional baggage that must have required a lot of energy to sustain.  She was passionate about her work and her advocacy.  She was intensely committed to living a dynamic life.  But despite her likable and perhaps even admirable characteristics, in my present form I had not inherited her fundamental hostility.  I had forgotten about my brother and his illness.  I had forgotten about my parents and their divorce.  I had forgotten about my job and all the things in my life that brought me stress – and with this obliteration of memories, I felt both relief and joy.  I had spent a lifetime of 37 years being enthusiastically committed to “do-do-doing” lots of stuff at a very past face.  On this special day, I learned the meaning of simply 'being.'”

“When I lost my left hemisphere and its language centers, I also lost the clock that would break my moments into consecutive brief instances.  Instead of having my moments prematurely stunted, they became open-ended, and I felt no rush to do anything.  Like walking along the beach, or just hanging out in the beauty of nature, I shifted from the doing-consciousness of my left brain to the being-consciousness of my right brain.  I morphed from feeling small and isolated to feeling enormous and expansive.  I stopped thinking in language and shifted to taking new pictures of what was going on in the present moment.  I was not capable of deliberating about past or future-related ideas because those cells were incapacitated.  All I could perceive was right here, right now, and it was beautiful.”

“My entire self-concept shifted as I no longer perceived myself as a single, a solid, an entity with boundaries that separated me from the entities around me.  I understood that at the most elementary level, I am a fluid.  Of course I am a fluid!  Everything around us, about us, among us, within us, and between us is made up of atoms and molecules vibrating in space.  Although the ego center of our language center prefers defining our self as individual and solid, most of us are aware that we are made up of trillions of cells, gallons of water, and ultimately everything about us exists in a constant and dynamic state of activity.  My left hemisphere had been trained to perceive myself as solid, separate from others.  Now, released from the restrictive circuitry, my right hemisphere relished in its attachment to the eternal flow.  I was no longer isolated and alone.  My soul was as big as the universe and frolicked with glee in a boundless sea.”

“For many of us, thinking about ourselves as fluid, or with souls as big as the universe, connected to the energy flow of all that is, slips us out just beyond our comfort zone.  But without the judgment of my left brain saying that I am a solid, my perception of myself returned to this natural state of fluidity.  Clearly, we are each trillions upon trillions of particles in soft vibration.  We exist as fluid-filled sacs in a fluid world where everything exists in motion.  Different entities are composed of different densities of molecules but ultimately every pixel is made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons performing a delicate dance.  Every pixel, including every iota of you and me, and every pixel of space seemingly in between, is atomic matter and energy.  My eyes could no longer perceive things as things that were separate from one another.  Instead, the energy of everything blended together.  My visual processing was no longer normal.  (I compare this pixilated perspective to Impressionist pointillism paintings.)”

“I was consciously alert and my perception was that I was in the flow.  Everything in my visual world blended together, and with every pixel radiating energy we all flowed en masse, together as one.  It was impossible for me to distinguish the physical boundaries between objects because everything radiated with similar energy.  It’s probably comparable to when people take off their glasses or put eye drops into their eyes – the edges become softer.”

“In this state of mind, I could not perceive three-dimensionally.  Nothing stood out as being closer or farther away.  If there was a person standing in a doorway, I could not distinguish their presence until they moved.  It took activity for me to know that I should pay special attention to any particular patch of molecules.  In addition, color did not register to my brain as color.  I simply couldn’t distinguish it.”

“Prior to this morning, when I had experienced myself as a solid, I had possessed the ability to experience loss – either physical loss via death or injury, or emotional loss through heartache.  But in this shifted perception, it was impossible for me to perceive either physical or emotional loss because I was not capable of experiencing separation or individuality.  Despite my neurological trauma, an unforgettable sense of peace pervaded my entire being and I felt calm.”

“Although I rejoiced in my perception of connection to all that is, I shuddered at the awareness that I was no longer a normal human being.  How on earth would I exist as a member of the human race with this heightened perception that we are each a part of it all, and that the life force energy within each of us contains the power of the universe?  How could I fit in with our society when I walk the earth with no fear?  I was, by anyone’s standard, no longer normal.  In my own unique way, I had become severely mentally ill.  And I must say, there was both freedom and challenge for me in recognizing that our perception of the external world, and our relationship to it, is a product of our neurological circuitry.  For all those years of my life, I really had been a figment of my own imagination!”

When the time keeper in my left hemisphere shut down, the natural temporal cadence of my life s-l-o-w-e-d to the pace of a snail.  As my perception of time shifted, I fell out of sync with the beehive that bustled around me.  My consciousness drifted into a time warp, rendering me incapable of communicating or functioning at either the accustomed or acceptable pace of social exchange.  I now existed in a world between worlds.  I could no longer relate to people outside of me, and yet my life had not been extinguished.  I was not only an oddity to those around me, but on the inside, I was an oddity to myself.”

“I felt so detached from my ability to move my body with any oomph that I truly believed I would never be able to get this collection of cells to perform again.  Wasn’t it interesting that although I could not walk or talk, understand language, read or write, or even roll my body over, I knew that I was okay?  The now off-line intellectual mind of my left hemisphere no longer inhibited my innate awareness that I was the miraculous power of life.  I knew I was different now – but never once did my right mind indicate that I was ‘less than’ what I had been before.  I was simply a being of light radiating life into the world.  Regardless of whether or not I had a body or brain that could connect me to the world of others, I saw myself as a cellular masterpiece.  In the absence of my left hemisphere’s negative judgment, I perceived myself as perfect, whole, and beautiful just the way I was.” 

Page 140-141:

“My right mind character is adventurous, celebrative of abundance, and socially adept.  It is sensitive to nonverbal communication, empathic, and accurately decodes emotion.  My right mind is open to the eternal flow where by I exist at one with the universe.  It is the seat of my divine mind, the knower, the wise woman, and the observer.  It is my intuition and higher consciousness.  My right mind is ever present and gets lost in time.”

“One of the natural functions of my right mind is to bring me new insight in this moment so I can update old files that contain outdated information.  For example, throughout my childhood I would not eat squash.  Thanks to my right hemisphere, I was willing to give squash a second chance and now I love it.  Many of us make judgments with our left hemisphere and then are not willing to step to the right (that is, into the consciousness of our right hemisphere) for a file update.  For many of us, once we have made a decision, then we are attached to that decision forever.  I have found that often the last thing a really dominating left hemisphere wants is to share its limited cranial space with an open-minded right counterpart!”

“My right mind is open to new possibilities and thinks out of the box.  It is not limited by the rules and regulations established by my left mind that created that box.  Consequently, my right mind is highly creative in its willingness to try something new.  It appreciates that chaos is the first step in the creative process.  It is kinesthetic, agile, and loves my body’s ability to move fluidly into the world.  It is tuned in to the subtle messages my cells communicate via gut feelings, and it learns through touch and experience.”

“My right mind celebrates its freedom in the universe and is not bogged down by my past or fearful of what the future may or may not bring.  It honors my life and the health of all my cells.  And it doesn’t just care about my body; it cares about the fitness of your body, our mental health as a society, and our relationship with Mother Earth.”

“The consciousness of our right mind appreciates that every cell in our bodies (except for the red blood cells) contains the exact same molecular genius as the original zygote cell that was created when our mother’s egg cell combined with our father’s sperm cell.  My right mind understands that I am the life force power of the fifty trillion molecular geniuses crafting my form!  (And it bursts into song about that on a regular basis!)  It understands that we are all connected to one another in an intricate fabric of the cosmos, and it enthusiastically marches to the beat of its own drum.”

“Free from all perception of boundaries, my right mind proclaims, ‘I am a part of it all.  We are brothers and sisters on this planet.  We are here to help make this world a more peaceful and kinder place.’  My right mind sees unity among all living entities, and I am hopeful that you are intimately aware of this character within yourself.”

Page 141-144:

“As much as I obviously adore the attitude, openness, and enthusiasm with which my right mind embraces life, my left mind is equally amazing.  Please remember that this is the character I just spent the better part of a decade resurrecting.  My left mind is responsible for taking all of that energy, all of that information about the present moment, and all of those magnificent possibilities perceived by my right mind, and shaping them into something manageable.”

“My left mind is the tool I use to communicate with the external world.  Just as my right mind thinks in collages of images, my left mind thinks in language and speaks to me constantly.  Through the use of brain chatter, it not only keeps me abreast of my life, but also manifests my identity.  Via my left brain language center’s ability to say, “I am,” I become an independent identity separate from the eternal flow.  As such, I become a single, a solid, separate from the whole.”

“As my left brain language centers recovered and became functional again, I spent a lot of time observing how my story-teller would draw conclusions based upon minimal information.  For the longest time I found these antics of my story-teller to be rather comical.  At least until I realized that my left mind full-heartedly expected the rest of my brain to believe the stories it was making up!  Throughout this resurrection of my left mind’s character and skills, it has been extremely important that I retain the understanding that my left brain is doing the best job it can with the information it has to work with.  I need to remember, however, that there are enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know.  I learned that I need to be very wary of my story-teller’s potential for stirring up drama and trauma.”

Page 147:

“Nowadays, I spend a whole lot of time thinking about thinking just because I find my brain so fascinating.  As Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’  There has been nothing more empowering than the realization that I don’t have to think thoughts that bring me pain.  Of course there is nothing wrong with thinking about things that bring me pain as long as I am aware that I am choosing to engage in that emotional circuitry.  At the same time, it is freeing to know that I have the conscious power to stop thinking those thoughts when I am satiated.  It is liberating to know that I have the ability to choose a peaceful and loving mind (my right mind), whatever physical or mental circumstances, by deciding to step to the right and bring my thoughts back to the present moment.”

Page 151:

“Now that my left mind’s language centers and story-teller are back to functioning normally, I find my mind not only spins a wild tale but has a tendency to hook into negative patterns of thought.  I have found that the first step to getting out of these reverberating loops of negative thought or emotion is to recognize when I am hooked into those loops.  For some of us, paying attention to what our brain is saying to us comes naturally.  Many of my college students, however, complain vehemently that it takes way too much mental effort for them to simply observe what their brain is telling them.  Learning to listen to your brain from the position of a nonjudgmental witness may take some practice and patience, but once you master this awareness, you become free to step beyond the worrisome drama and trauma of your story-teller.”

Page 153-154:

“I’m a devout believer that paying attention to our self-talk is vitally important for our mental health.  In my opinion, making the decision that internal verbal abuse is not acceptable behavior, is the first step toward finding deep inner peace.  It has been extremely empowering for me to realize that the negative story-teller portion of my brain is only about the size of a peanut!  Just imagine how sweet life was when those cranky cells were silent.  Recovering my left mind has meant that I have had to give voice to all of my cells again.  However, I have learned that in order to protect my overall mental health, it is necessary for me to tend the garden of my mind and keep these cells in check.  I have found that my story-teller simply needs a little disciplining directive from my conscious mind about what I want versus what I find unacceptable.  Thanks to our open line of communication, my authentic self has much more say over what is going on with this particular group of cells; and I spend very little time hooked into unwanted or inappropriate thought patterns.”

“Having said that, however, I am often humored by the scheming antics of my story-teller in response to this type of directive.  I have found that just like little children, these cells may challenge the authority of my authentic voice and test my conviction.  Once asked to be silent, they tend to pause for a moment and then immediately reengage those forbidden loops.  If I am not persistent with my desires to think about other things, and consciously initiate new circuits of thought, then those uninvited loops can generate new strength and begin monopolizing my mind again.  To counter their activities, I keep a handy list of three things available for me to turn my consciousness toward when I am in a state of need: 1) I remember something I find fascinating that I would like to ponder more deeply, 2) I think about something that brings me terrific joy, or 3) I think about something I would like to do.  When I am desperate to change my mind, I use such tools.”

Page 155:

“I believe it is vital to our health that we pay very close attention to how much time we spend hooked into the circuitry of anger, or the depths of despair.  Getting caught up in these emotionally charged loops for long periods of time can have devastating consequences on our physical and mental well-being because of the power they have over our emotional and physiological circuitry.  However, with that said, it is equally important that we honor these emotions when they surge through us.  When I am moved by my automatic circuitry, I thank my cells for their capacity to experience that emotion, and then I make the choice to return my thoughts to the present moment.”

Page 159:

“This stroke of insight has given me the priceless gift of knowing that deep inner peace is just a thought/feeling away.  To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful.  It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.  I realize that for many of us, the distance between our thinking mind and our compassionate heart sometimes feels miles apart.  Some of us traverse this distance on command.  Others of us are so committed to our hopelessness, anger, and misery that the mere concept of a peaceful heart feels foreign and unsafe.”

“Based upon my experience with losing my left mind, I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry located in our right brain.  This circuitry is constantly running and always available for us to hook into.  The feeling of peace is something that happens in the present moment.  It’s not something that we bring with us from the past or project into the future.  Step one to experiencing inner peace is the willingness to be present in the right here, right now.”

Page 161:

“When we are hooked into cognitive thoughts and running mental loops, technically we are not in the present moment.  We can be thinking about something that has already occurred or about something that has not yet happened, and although our body is right here, right now, our mind is somewhere else.  In order to come back to the experience of the present moment, allow your consciousness to shift away from those cognitive loops that distract you from what is happening right now.”

Page 175:

“I have learned so much from this experience with stroke, that I actually feel fortunate to have taken this journey.  Thanks to this trauma, I have had the chance to witness first-hand a few things about my brain that otherwise I would never have imagined to be true.  For these simple insights, I will always be grateful – not just for myself but for the hope these possibilities may bring to how we, as a people, choose to view and nurture our brains and consequently behave on this planet."


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