Life certainly has a sense of irony! Several years ago, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a 37-year-old Harvard-trained brain researcher and a respected neuro-anatomist, suffered a stroke.
During this difficult time, Dr. Bolte Taylor was prevented from accessing half of her brain. She suffered complete amnesia and was unable to talk, walk, read, or write. It was only the previous training in neuroscience that helped her survive and recover.
The doctor shared the details of her unbelievable experience in her book “My Stroke of Insight”, which has been published in 37 languages worldwide.
In one of the most popular TED talk videos, the doctor describes how she was able to see beyond the physical boundaries and what’s like to live with only one functional brain hemisphere.
Here are the key points of her speech:
Dr. Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Luck
On December 10, 1996, the woman who had dedicated her life to researching mental disorders faced a mental disorder herself. What started as a pain behind her left eye, resulted in a massive stroke that left her completely dysfunctional.
After a blood vessel exploded in her brain, Dr. Bolte Taylor felt that both sides of the brain dominated her awareness interchangeably. The moments of sliding into complete peacefulness were interrupted by moments of awareness when she knew her brain was sending a warning.
From a physical aspect, the two brain hemispheres are completely separate from one another. Normally, we can’t tell which half of the brain is active at the moment. The doctor claims that after the stroke, she was able to clearly distinguish between the functioning of both brain halves.
The two brain halves are entirely different in the way they process information. The left hemisphere is linear and methodical. It is in charge of organizing, describing, analyzing, and judging right from wrong.
The left hemisphere associates the past with the present through an infinite analysis of details. It contains the language center and thinks in language, producing that constant chatter in your head. It is the intelligence that makes you aware of your being, i.e. separates you from the energy around you and makes you a single individual.
The right side, on the other hand, has no language and is much calmer. It is entirely focused on the present moment. It thinks in pictures and learns through the movement of the body. This part of the brain makes us aware that we’re energy beings “connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family”.
Suddenly, her mind became silent. At first, she was surprised but then she felt the amazing energy around her. Her consciousness shifted into a different reality. After she lost control over the calculating left side of her brain, Dr. Bolte Taylor entered a state she describes as being “at one with the universe”. This is similar to the so-called “state of high consciousness” often described in Christian and Eastern religious books.
When a stroke happens to a brain researcher, the humanity is in gain. Suffering a stroke gave the doctor an opportunity to study her own brain. Thanks to her understanding of how the brain works, Dr. Bolte Taylor found the strength to recover. The recovery lasted for 8 full years, but today she sees this experience as a gift and eagerly shares it with the world.
Dr. Bolte Taylor urges us to exercise our right side of the brain more often with a purpose to become more humane. She learned that humans are “the life-force power of the universe…We have the power to choose who and how we want to be in the world.” Stepping up into the consciousness of the right hemisphere is a step towards an inner peace and, eventually, a more peaceful world.