My Stroke of Insight

A brain scientist’s personal journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor (a summary by Pat Evert)

At age 37 she had a stroke. She was a brain scientist and teacher. In this she learned by experience more than she had in all her education and research. She journeyed into the peace and bliss of the right hemisphere of her brain and then later recovers the abilities of her left hemisphere.

Pre-stroke life
Her older brother at 31 years of age was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This motivated her to become a brain scientist. Neuroanatomy was her specialty. Why could she dream and realize her dreams, but her brother could only develop delusions. The author became involved and a board member of NAMI, National Alliance on the Mental Illness. There are at least three different neuron systems in our brains. In 1996 she had her brain hemorrhage.

Simple science
Humans have evolved biologically over all these eons and continue to evolve. Our brains have evolved tremendously in the past few thousand years. We humans share 99.99% of our DNA with any other person. All our differences are part of the .01% of variance. Our brains consist of two hemispheres that function quite differently. Together they cooperate seamlessly. Our left half thinks very linearly; language, time, logic, and abstracts. Our right half is the emotional side of us, i.e. emotional reactions and feelings. Jill’s stroke was due to a hemorrhage, arterial veinous malformation AVM, a flooding of the left half of her brain with blood.

In a sense we have a double mind. When surgically separated the two hemispheres perform as two minds. Together they work as two halves of a whole, complimentary. Our right hemisphere contains memories with emotions, mental collages. It is intuitive, spontaneous, carefree, creative, it sees all as one and is empathic. Our left hemisphere strings things together, like time, it analyzes details, organizes, compares, judges, describes by story, it fills the brain with chatter, it is the home of my ego center, my identity, it loops thought patterns, predicts our response to sensory stimulation, categorizes good and bad. The left interprets verbal communication, while the right interprets all the non-verbal. Left is concerned with past and future, the right with the present. It took the author eight years to recover from her stroke. She experienced the deterioration of her left brain and the recovery of it.

Morning of the stroke
She awoke to bewilderment, to a headache and unusual sensations. It gradually dawned on her that she was losing her mental abilities, muscle coordination and physical response system. Auditory, equilibrium and breathing were malfunctioning and life threatening. She searched for an explanation. Thoughts were intermittent. Blood pressure dropped. She was conscious, but confused. Great peace and euphoria began to envelop her. Consciousness soared into all knowingness and being one with all the universe. She no longer felt separate. She was a sea of water with consciousness. Fascination and bliss were her experience. Shocked back into the awareness of her life in danger, her right arm dropped and she realized, “I’m having a stroke!” Half of her was in blissful delight, while the other half struggled in danger to survive.

Orchestrating my rescue
It was a constant struggle of a little over an hour, trying to get a plan to get help and follow it through. She barely made a phone call to a coworker, but unable to speak coherently. The coworker was patient and understanding enough to know she was in trouble who went to her apartment to pick her up and take her to the hospital.

Bare to the bone
She arrived at the hospital as an exhausted, wounded animal in the midst of a bustling bee hive. Without the aid of her left brain she could no longer recall memories or compute what all was happening. She had become a pile of waste, but with consciousness. Her self perception had changed. She felt like she no longer had boundaries. Jill had died and now who am I. All her past was gone. All the doing was gone, now all that was left was ‘being’. No longer limited, but boundless. No longer a single solid, but rather a fluid. Part of the eternal flow of a single boundless sea. Peace pervaded her entire being. As the time keeper of the left brain was no more she no longer fit in the bustling fast-paced world around her. But she was no less than before, a light being, perfect, whole and beautiful. Her left ego personality had diminished and her right personality was coming alive. We need to quiet and slow down to respectfully care for a wounded, or aged person.

Neurological intensive care
She felt rushed by her care takers, energy drained. She became empathic to others feelings. Some made her feel safe and brought energy, but many felt unsafe and robbed her of energy. She was impaired, but not stupid.
There was a dramatic silence in her head now and thinking in pictures was in. Language and communication was very difficult and came much too slowly for the world. It took much effort and hours. She was unable to search the database of her brain. Imagine loss of ability to distinguish certain sounds from all background noise, to no longer be able to see three dimensional or follow movement, no sense of temperature or time, no memory connection, but great euphoria. How motivated would you be to return to your previous life?

The morning after
She loved deep inner peace, knowing she was fluid and at one with the universe. Did she want to recover and rejoin the rat race? Not sure.

Day three – Gigi comes to town
She as yet did not know who Gigi, or mother, was. It was like being born to her mother a second time. She was in need of surgery to remove the AVM remaining in her left brain.

Healing and preparing for surgery
She now had an infant brain and had to learn how to walk, talk, read, etc. When she saw her art room of stained glass and music room with guitar and cello she was motivated to recover. Daily she received get well cards full of love, an average of ten/day.

She needed to practice daily. Also, there was a great need for others to believe in her. The brain has a tremendous resilient ability of adapting. If neurons’ jobs were no longer needed it would look for whatever need to serve and learn to do it. She was careful to not sulk in self pity, but rather focus on those things she was grateful for. She needed to have others not be afraid of her, but come close and patiently teach her for the twentieth time. It became natural for her to blame others, but she learned that no one had the power to take away her peace or joy.

Milestones for recovery
Before her stroke she thought her brain was in control. But since then she sees how much choice she has in regard to emotions, I.e. Patience, kindness, etc. She began to drive again and live on her own. It was critical she did not see herself as less than before. She returned to work after eight months. Later she moved back to Indiana. She began teaching anthropology. It took 4 years before she could walk smoothly with a rhythm. Daily walking with weights helped very much. After 4 plus years she regained her ability to do math. After six years she could climb steps two at a time. Through this experience she has seen the beauty and resilience of the human body, but also the generosity of the human spirit of others in accepting her back. After seven years her dreams began to once again reflect a motion picture, instead of many still shots with little relation to one another. After eight years she shifted back from seeing herself as a fluid, and again seeing herself as a solid. She misses the constant reminder that we are all one


My stroke of insight
Journey into her brain has been very challenging, but most rewarding. How much of her right sided authentic self would she have to give up to be normal? The recovery of the left side brought with it judgmentalism, fearfulness, selfishness in a world seen as lacking. There is a clear delineation between the values and personalities of the left and right mindedness. She remained committed to peace, love and joy in this world. Many of us are aware of these conflicting personalities within us. They stem from the two halves of our brain. Becoming more aware of these differences in us gives us more power of choice.

My right and left mind
Our brain blends together our left and right perceptions and personalities to present a unified person. What a masterpiece we are! When you berate yourself, have you ever asked who is yelling at you? The left is my more serious, critical side. The right is open to new possibilities and enthusiastic. It celebrates freedom. It sees unity among all. By my left I become a separate, unique entity. It is a perfectionist, judgemental, a multitasker. It processes information extremely fast and makes the right look lazy. The left can weave terrific stories. Brilliant at making things up in order to fill any gaps. It will exhaust all those ‘what if’ scenarios. And it expects my right brain to accept these stories. Note, though it is doing the best it can with the information it has, there are enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know. It is genius at stirring up drama. We need to garden our thoughts or they will go rampant. We can be mean or a worry wart. Life is too short to be preoccupied with hurts of the past. The author has been able to recovery her left brain functions without giving renewed life to some of these old circuits.

Own your power
Responsibility is the ability to choose what emotions we want controlling our bodies. Our brain releases a chemical into our body which takes 90 seconds to surge through my body and dissipate. Anger for example will go thru my body. After 90 seconds I need to choose for it to continue in my body. We can so easily be carried along unconsciously by our lymbic system. I can stop those thoughts when I am satiated. Due to failure, don’t allow negative thoughts to loop round and round. How much painful baggage we are programmed to carry around. Sharing kindness is always a choice. Forgive yourself.

Cells and multidimensional circuitry
Start with the peace of your right hemisphere. Then choose which emotions and attitudes you will allow into your life. Be aware of what is going on in your right and left brain. Pay close attention to what is flowing around you. Step to the right and experience the situation with compassion. Careful which mental loops you hook into. Listen to your brains thoughts from a position of non-judgement. Do I feel anxious, light headed, tight in the chest, shallow breathing, etc. Consciously tell yourself what types of stories you will not allow. Put your foot down. The author lets her ego engage in whine time twice a day for half an hour and no more. Pay attention to your self talk. It is very important in maintaining your mental health. Your story teller just needs a little guidance. They are just like little children, so you need to persist. In times of negativity, remember what brings you great joy or what you would like to do. Our patterns of thought are linked to memory circuits of the past. Don’t get caught in the loops of anger and despair. Give them 90 seconds, allow and feel them fully for this time and then tell it ‘no more’. Every morning and nite thank your 50 trillion cells for a great job. Pain tells our whole body that there is trama in the body.

Finding your deep inner peace
Deep inner peace is just a thought away. It is located in our right brain, in the present, not something we bring from the past or future. Our society rewards our ‘doing’ left brain, rather than our ‘being’ right brain. Enlightenment is not a process of learning, but rather unlearning. Remember you are a part of the greater whole. We must consciously slow down our minds. Be aware of your thoughts, put them on pause. Draw in a deep breath. What sensation are you feeling throughout your body. Relax into your body. Celebrate you are a living, thriving human being. How does it feel to be here? Doing this? Taste – enjoy the pleasure of eating. Notice how different foods make your body feel. Smell – this will quickly bring you into the present. Scents. Improve your sense of smell. Vision – your right brain sees the whole, your left separates and categorizes all the details. Listen – stop and listen to what you hear. Music and silence are also good to bring you into the present. Earplugs are good in preventing sensory overload. Skin – touch, pressure, temperature. Pay more attention to these inner body sensations. This sensitivity enables you to more easily return to the present. We are energy beings, learn to sense energy. This intuitiveness comes from your right brain, slow down the left brain to not miss it. Don’t focus on the target, but rather the process. I can send my energy to you by intention. Relax your muscles, squeeze and relax. Use your voice to interrupt negative looping thought patterns. Mantra = place to rest the mind. My right side is compassionate and joyful. It is thrilled to be alive. Your natural state is joy. You just need to stop those thought loops of unhappiness. We have control over our emotions. The alert system of anger, fear or grief when triggered by the physiological response has passed out of my body in 90 seconds. When you realize you are one with the universe fear loses its power. Pain may not be a choice, but to continue in suffering is a choice. Gratitude will lift you out of it.

Tending the garden
I am so grateful for the insights gained in my stroke. The universe has entrusted me with the consciousness I share, the garden of my responsibility. Pay attention to what is going on in your brain. Own your power.