A Stroke of Enlightening


stroke of insight

One morning a blood vessel exploded in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain. She felt a deep pain—like a head freeze from eating ice cream—behind her left eye. Slowly she watched as her brain functions shut down—speech, cognition, motion. Jill was a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist—a brain scientist, observing a brain undergoing a stroke . . . from the inside out.

In a famous Ted Talk (to watch the video click here), Jill recalls that moment when her brain’s left hemisphere slowly shut down. Her ability to break things down, analyze and categorize them, judge things—and people—was slowly ebbing away. She couldn’t pick a few pieces out of her vast field of perception, evaluate them from previous experience in the past, and project likely outcomes for the future. She could only see the whole: Everything. She was amazingly, astonishingly stuck in the present moment.

All she had was the right side of her brain, the part that specializes in spatial ability, face recognition, music, visual imagery; the part that sees that vast field of perception and can hold the whole—with no need to break it down and start “managing” it. Gone was the brain half that draws rigid boundaries around the self, sees itself as one distinct entity. All Jill had left was the half that sees the self as flowing in and out of all the other energy forces in the world.

In the middle of her stroke, Jill got up and tried to walk to the bathroom. She was disoriented. She couldn’t define the boundaries of her body. She leaned against the bathroom wall. “The atoms and molecules of my arm blend with the atoms and molecules of the wall,” she recalls. “All I can detect is energy.” She felt enormous, expansive, as if she were a genie let out of her bottle, wondering how her vast self could ever be squeezed back into the limits of her body. “It was beautiful,” she says. She knew herself to be one with all things.

All the stressors that the chattering side of her brain used to churn up were gone. She felt peaceful. “Imagine,” she says, “losing 37 years of emotional baggage. I felt euphoria!”

Then she realized—you don’t have to have a stroke to find this inner peace. “People could purposefully choose to come here, to step to the right of their left hemisphere.”

What a beautiful description of, and compelling invitation to prayer.


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