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Friday, April 1, 2011

A Woman of Grace and Grandeur

Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight is one of those books that I had heard mentioned and referenced many times, but which I never actually got around to reading. Well, recently I did actually get round to it, and I have to say that I am very glad I did. This is a wonderful book. I have found it to be particularly useful for me, as someone who practices meditative and spiritual disciplines. It also has relevance to me as a futurist.

The most attractive feature of the book is the honest narrative of the author. This is not so much the retelling of a life-changing personal experience, but the generous sharing of great wisdom gleaned from profound personal and spiritual experiences.

The author was a 37 year old neuroscientist when she suffered a stroke.

One of the most fascinating and important aspects of the book is its detailing of the neuroanatomy of having a stroke, and in turn of spiritual experience and inner peace. This may sound dry to some, but I personally found it fascinating. It confirmed much of what I have felt to be true for a long time, according to my spiritual experiences.

The actual account of her stroke makes for fascinating reading in itself. It occurred early in the morning, and at first she does not know quite what is happening. She feels dissociated from her body. The aneurism in the left side of her brain begins to debilitate several key modules of the brain. One of these is the Superior Parietal Gyrus, which is responsible for the perception of physical boundaries. As a result her sense of self as a discrete individual separate from the world begins to diminish. She is filled with a great euphoria, even as she senses herself as being one with the cosmos. If this sound like a mystical experience, then this is precisely what she makes of it.

Assisting in her rapid and involuntary shift of consciousness is the fact that the stroke also affected two neighboring areas of the left brain, including the Superior Temporal Gyus (hearing and speech). Blood flow was thus restricted to Broca’s area (speech generation) and Wernicke’s area (comprehension of speech). This caused the chattering inner voice of the left brain to go quite. It also meant that Jill Bolte Taylor was virtually unable to generate any intelligent speech when she finally managed to phone a friend to tell him that she was having a life-threatening medical emergency!

The middle section of the book details Bolte Taylor’s rehabilitation. Some of the details given here are very useful for those passionate about spiritual and consciousness development. Though the author literally lost a golf ball sized chunk of her brain as a result of the after-stroke surgery, she is fully aware of the plasticity of the brain, and how important it is to immediately begin to fully activate her brain again after the stroke. She begin first by learning how to walk again, then how to speak, read and even go hiking by herself.

Bolte Taylor states that her complete recovery took eight years! However, what is most fascinating is that she chooses NOT to reactivate aspects of her former personality. For what changes most after her stroke is her value system. She comes to value inner peace and tranquility above all else. Her controlling and short-tempered personality traits are discarded. The story of how she does this is invaluable. I believe that much of her strategy can be applied even to those of us who have not had such a brain-altering experience! How does she do it? By determined self-discipline, and carefully monitoring her inner world. Reading the book I was struck by how much her personal methods mirror my own spiritual disciplines.

As a result of her stroke (in fact right in the middle of it), Bolte Taylor immediately sensed the importance of communicating a powerful spiritual message to humanity: that inner peace and spiritual love are an innate aspect of the human experience, and that they can be experienced at virtually any given moment if we simply still the mind. The key is to allow the left brain to go quiet, and the wonderful and spontaneous presence and mindfulness of the right brain to find expression.

My Stroke of Insight also contains some simple and effective processes for allowing inner peace. These are worth the price of the book alone.

The message of My Stroke of Insight is powerful and clear. Deep inner peace and “divine” love are available too all of is right here and now, and that a little understanding of neuroanatomy can help us understand how to allow this.

The book does indicate what I have long realized: that the physiology of the brain greatly affects the expression of consciousness. Bolte Taylor does not quite go so far as to suggest that the brain does not generate consciousness, but it is clear that her worldview is deeply spiritual.

For me the book has granted me further permission to allow presence into my own life. There is no reason for you, I and everybody not to experience perfect love and fulfillment. Not one tiny little reason! The ego sets up a host of reasons why it cannot allow “divine” love at any given moment. Let me be blunt. These reasons are all bullshit. Many years ago when I was a door to door salesman, my boss used to tell me “Don’t buy their lies!”. He meant don’t listen to the excuses of potential customers. Keep selling! “You”, as the manager of your mind, have to be the boss, and you have to learn to call BS on the mind’s endless tricks, it’s relentless excuses as to why you cannot permit love and peace in this moment.

What I love most about Jill Bolte Tayler is her personal courage. She has not been afraid to go out and tell the world about her experiences and the profound insights she has gleaned from them. What a remarkable contrast she represents to the dry, politically correct detachment of so much of modern education and science! More power and success to her, I say!

Why is this book important for the future? It is because this is a story of a scientist who is catapulted out of her mundane rational world and worldview by an extraordinary event. The insights she has gained are relevant to us all. In the modern world we spend too much time stuck in the head, in the rational mind. The non-ordinary perceptions granted by the right brain are only deemed extraordinary because the way we have developed our societies creates brain structures and processes which lock us into a fragmented, linguistic experience of life and world. Our society creates talking heads. It time we must permit the creation of feeling, listening, receptive souls. People like Jill Bolte Taylor have a special role to play in this regard, because she is literally accredited by mainstream science.

If you take the time to watch to her TED talk, below, you will see what a remarkable woman Jill Bolte Taylor is.


1 comment:

  1. I read something about this book or heard her speak somewhere - maybe NPR - and thought, ok, get this book. Then I forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me!