Reading My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. She witnessed her own massive stroke – and, being a neuroanatomist, she understood her brain was being destroyed. In her own words, “Within four brief hours, I watched my mind completely deteriorate in its ability to process all stimulation coming in through my senses……I could no longer walk, talk, read, write or recall any aspects of my life.” (Jill’s video description.)
What is most amazing is that she not only understood what was happening, but was able to recover so that she could write not only a blow-by-blow account, but clearly explain the mechanics of her stroke.
She tells how, as her verbal left hemisphere shut down, her self-talk died away, that endless chatter of our egos, bossing us, fabricating our explanation of ourselves to ourselves and she entered a warm world of bliss, the nirvana of the right brain.
But as her speech and reasoning drained from her, she found some essential part of herself that was able, reluctantly, to drag herself back from the huge warmth and breadth of a larger self, a self connected not just to her daily identity but to the universal ground. She made the choice to fight to reclaim her lost left brain. She had to relearn everything, speech, motor skills, logic. To find lost data, to make broken connections. It took her eight years, but she did it.
What stunned me was her description of the holistic bliss she experienced when freed from the busy, carping, chattering left brain. It sounded so like what a dying friend once described to my mother: “I almost died last night – and it was wonderful. Everything made sense.” My grandmother, a simple soul, put it more simply as she drifted in and out of consciousness, “I’ve been to a wonderful party – and your father (dead many years) was there.”
She made me very aware of the restless activity of my chattering left brain and, more, that I have a choice. I can try to select my right brain, quiet my left. She found she could tell her left brain to stop mithering her and it would obey. I had never tried that, but I have long known I can broker deals between my hemispheres.
Now I will try to be less placatory and more authoritative. We do know, at some level, what our silent right brain needs. I remember asking a super-stressed accountant friend, “What does your right brain want to do?”
Her answer was swift, immediate, “It wants to draw.”
Yet, again, a young friend called me, crying before her finals,”I can’t concentrate. My mind is buzzing!”
Again I asked, “What does your right brain want to do?”
She knew, “It wants to go kayaking.”
“Well, promise it that if it sees you through the next three days, you will go kayaking – and keep your word.”.
She called back an hour later. “My mind is calm now. I can study.”
I have found it possible to ask each hemisphere what it wants and negotiate. The first time I did this was when I was teaching community college. I was driving in to work with my head buzzing and spinning with stress. It felt like civil war in my brain.
As I delved further, two camps emerged: my factual, driven left brain wanted to get the information out; my holistic right was reading body language and subtle signs.
In any interaction, only 7% is verbal, 55% is body language and 38% tone and pace. Which explains why I can say to my husband after a meeting, “I don’t think that went very well.”
“What did you say?” I will recount the conversation verbatim. “That sounds all right.”Yes, it does and my left brain is self-satisfied, but my right brain has seen the warning signs, feet pointing towards the door, restless movements. It knows things aren’t right, but lacking speech can only send me agitated discomfort, which my left brain robustly discounts as “flaky.”
To deal with my teaching stress, I asked the left brain its goal, which, depressingly, turned out “to be important.” So I suggested it could achieve this more effectively if it used the right brain input to tell it when and how to speak. Rather like having your own domestic spin doctor. Amazingly, my brain quieted and I think my lesson went better.
So Jill’s insight was very freeing: my left brain and it’s chatter doesn’t have to run me. It is NOT me, as I always thought it was. There really is a wider, deeper self connected to the universal ground. It is not something I hope is there; it is there and has been witnessed.
Quick test to know whether you are having a stroke and what to do next – Stroke? How to Know and What To Do