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July 2008 - A Stroke of Genius

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Have you ever had a moment in time when you felt completely at peace and connected to everything and everyone? It’s a time when you are simply in the moment and full bliss. If you’re like most people, it probably doesn’t happen often enough. It can happen out in nature or when meditating, or at other fleeting moments. It’s a time when our busy chatty minds stop analyzing and we’re fully in the moment of now.

Harvard Neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor had an amazing experience back in 1996 when she experienced her own stroke. This experience opened within her the greatest feeling of “oneness with everything” that she’d ever experienced. I wanted to share this amazing story with you, as well as the full internet links where you can watch her tell her story. As she shares her story you may begin to wonder how much of how we experience life is simply a byproduct of brain function. Is it possible for us to learn to use certain parts of our brain to connect with this feeling of oneness she speaks of? Those who meditate frequently and deeply often experience these deeper peaceful states. So here is an esoteric question. After you read this article or watch her talk, do you think her experience of “oneness” is just a byproduct of brain chemistry operating through the right section of her brain, or do you think that the right side of her brain opened up something inside of her that allowed her to experience life more fully and honestly in the moment? I hope you enjoy this.

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Stroke of Genius
By: Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD

On a December morning in 1996, Harvard Neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor woke up with a “caustic pain like you get when you eat ice cream” and the beginnings of a hemorrhagic stroke. The following are excerpts from a video of her amazing experience:

“How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?...In the course of four hours, I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process information. On the morning of the hemorrhage, I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life.

When I noticed my right arm had become paralyzed, it dawned on me that I was having a stroke.

The brain has two completely separate hemispheres. The left functions like a serial processor. The right brain functions as a parallel processor.

The left brain is the ‘I am.’ It is linear. It’s methodical about the past and the future. It categorized and sorts. It thinks in language to connect my internal world with my external world. As the left side of my brain shut down, I felt disconnected from my body. I lost my sense of self and 37 years of emotional baggage. Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter…I felt a sense of peacefulness in my euphoric state. ‘Wow, this is cool. I am having a stroke. But I’m a busy person. I don’t have time for a stroke.’ A wave of clarity would come and go.

The right brain is the ‘we are one.’ It is right here; right now. It takes in senses and lets us know what is going on here and now. In this mind I felt euphoric, and knew my loving connection to all. I lost the part of me that says, ‘I am.’

Your brain hemispheres communicate to each other via the corpus collosum with its 300-million axonal fibers…At one point I felt like someone had taken a remote control and hit the mute button. I was shocked to find myself inside a silent mind.

Then I focused on internal systems and heard my body saying ‘muscles you release and you contract.’ I merged with the wall. My brain chatter went silent. Then I was captivated by expansive energy. Then,  ‘I have a problem – get help.’ Then back to the beautiful la-la land. I felt lighter in my body. Peacefulness.

It took me 45 minutes to find my business card with my number and match the shape of the squiggles of the numbers on the card to the same squiggles on my keypad. I tried to talk and sounded like a golden retriever…

In the ambulance I thought I might leave and I surrendered.

Later in the hospital, I had a burning brain on fire and noise. I wanted to escape…then I felt enormous and expansive guiding through a sea of nirvana. I was enormous. How can this vast greatness ever become small enough to come into my body. Then I realized ‘I’m still alive.’ I’ve found nirvana and pictured a world filled with loving people who could benefit from my stroke of insight. It motivated me to recover.

They removed a tumor the size of a golf ball. It took me eight years to recover from the stroke…

We all have the power to choose who and how we want to be. We can be in the flow of all or stay inside ourself. Or we can be the ‘we inside of me.’”

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor can be reached at drjill@drjilltaylor.com

To hear her speech live go to: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/229

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