Harvard-trained brain researcher has a stroke and figures out the mystery to life

In Mind & Body, Philosophy & Culture
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In an incredible twist of fate, a Harvard-trained brain researcher had a stroke and lost access to half of her brain. Being trained in brain science, she was able to reflect on what was happening and ended up surviving to share an incredible insight.

What she learned is truly remarkable.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a published neuroanatomist and was able to experience what it meant to have access to only the right hemisphere of her brain.

Many years later, she shared her inspiring story and answer to the mystery of life on the TED stage, which has gone on to become one of the all time most viewed TED talks.

Here’s the talk which we recommend watching in full. If you don’t have time to watch, read on where we share the key points.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s incredible stroke of insight

“We are energy-beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect, we are whole and we are beautiful.”

What do these words remind you of?

If you have any interest in Eastern religious doctrine and practices or Christian mysticism, you will recognize it as a state of consciousness described by mystics of all world religions.

In this particular case, it was the state of being Bolte Taylor experienced when she suffered her stroke. Being a neuroanatomist she immediately realized what was happening to her, including that the stroke was affording her an incredible opportunity to study her own brain from the inside out.

Bolte Taylor’s stroke brought the different workings of the two sides of her brain into sharp focus, something that we don’t normally experience – (we never stop to think: now I’m using my right brain or now my left brain is taking over).

She describes the right hemisphere as having no language. It thinks in pictures. “It’s all about the right here, right now.” The left hemisphere thinks linearly and focuses on details, and it thinks in language. “It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world.”

On the morning of her stroke, for a while her left and right brains alternately dominated her awareness. Her left brain warned her to get help, but she kept on slipping into a space of complete peace and lightness.

At one point the chatter in her head went silent.

“At first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.”

Contrast this with how she describes the workings of the left brain: “It’s that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, ‘I am. I am.'”

“And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me ‘I am,’ I become separate. I become a single solid individual, separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.”

And this was the portion of her brain that she lost on the morning of her stroke – the part that focuses on details and sees separateness; that judges what is right and what is wrong.

The stroke happening to a brain scientist who could afterward articulate the experience in detail, seems like a well-aimed stroke of luck for us all.

It took Bolte Taylor eight years to fully recover from her stroke and to be able to share her what she learned through her experience with us:

“So who are we? We are the life-force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world.”

We can choose to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, or we can let the left hemisphere keep us separate. What are you choosing?