I’ve yet to write about the written word. Odd. I love to read and do so frequently, but the experience gleaned from reading a book is usually so personal, so rich in depth and detail that it’s difficult to truly discuss or recommend with anything but a skewed perspective. I suppose everything I’ve shared has been from my own opinions and experiences but I choose to extract my own lesson and then express it in hopes it’ll snowball with positivity. Much of my favorite philosophical material makes its way into my writing and my yoga classes but to summarize the inspiration packed into a good book feels daunting. Kudos to those of you who can and do that brilliantly. I respectfully ask for your open-mindedness as I sum up and recommend a beautiful book I read recently, one that carries within truths I’ve learned from other sources, but so precisely and exquisitely provides useful information and such wise insight that I must encourage you to read it yourself. This book is My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I love novels, imagination, stories, but I’m drawn to varying perceptions and expressions of reality, of truth. I suppose that’s why I studied psychology and why I pursue other artful sciences, because they live almost permanently in the gray. I like the back and forth, the theoretical tennis it involves, the minds you encounter and discover and the lessons you learn about yourself and life. I love to think and I love to laugh. I read mostly autobiographies, memoirs, satire and philosophy. This is predominantly, not entirely. I will read almost anything, this just seems to be my tendency. My Stroke of Insight is at once a stunning true story told from the author’s perspective and also a meaningful lesson on both the duality and the ambiguity of the human existence. It’s 200 pages of fascinating information, beautiful insight and impassioned story-telling. I can’t wait to re-read it.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was a brain scientist, a career she pursued after growing up with a brother afflicted with schizophrenia, a tragic neurological disorder widely misunderstood in the medical community, whose sufferers more often than not take their own lives. In between hours of neuro-chemical research, Jill traveled the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank, encouraging others through enthusiastic speeches and catchy jingles to donate their brains to science (once deceased of course, not as some sort of sacrifice, just to be clear). There were very few as educated or as passionate as Dr. Taylor was about the human brain and it’s functioning. Her story took an astonishing turn when she suffered from a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain on December 10th, 1996. My Stroke of Insight follows her experience from the morning of the stroke, her post-stroke experience in and out of the hospital, and her arduous, 8 year recovery back to a fully functioning and even better human being.
As many of you may know, we have two hemispheres in our very complicated brains. Each side is responsible for various functions and both work together to create a singular reality rather than a confusing duality. I, personally, have always been envious of left-handed people. Sounds ridiculous I’m sure, but I learned at a young age that left-handedness often leads to some gnarly artistic expression, a unique experience in day-to-day life and all around more balanced human beings. There is scientific research to support that left-handed people tend to have strengths on both sides of the brain and tend to grasp bigger picture lessons even easier than most. There are exceptions to every rule and we certainly should factor in one’s environment but if you just take a poll of famous artists, a strong number of them are left-handed and I don’t believe that’s an accident. I think their dominant right brain had something to do with it. The lesson this book taught me is I have every capacity to tap into my right brain regardless of my left brain’s desire to dominate. I can certainly carve out the details of my life to support a more balanced functioning, a life where I take advantage of the positives provided by each hemisphere. It helped me to stop assuming I wasn’t an artist because I’m so clearly linguistic, mathematic, sporty and analytical. I can choose to pursue the other side and level myself out to live a full life.
Jill hemorrhaged into her left hemisphere, specifically the areas processing language, that includes both the spoken and written word. She heard people speaking and her brain processed it as if a dog was barking. The left side is also where we carry our mathematic understanding (those of you who struggle with math can feel proud that you are probably more right-brained, you are not lesser than in any way, despite what traditional public schools lead some to believe, it’s simply a matter of brain chemistry and how your unique brain processes information. fascinating!), spacial concepts, athletic tendencies and a sense of time, linear sequences allow you to make sense out of what happened before and therefore what may happen next. Something as simple as knowing to put your socks on before your shoes is lost when your left hemisphere is impaired. Incredible. Your left brain also houses your inner (sometimes outer) monologue, your incessant stream of thoughts, judgments and analysis. This voice can either help or hinder you. I feel often it simply takes over and rather than us voluntarily thinking, thinking just happens to us, similar to our hearts pumping and our lungs drawing in and releasing air. One of the life-changing lessons I’ve learned from this book and from another favorite, Eckhart Tolle, is we are in charge. I can positively affect the rate of my heart beat, the quality of my breath and content circulating in my mind. And they’re all connected.
Now, as painful and difficult as it was for Jill to essentially lose who she was, the knowledge and memories she’d gained, and to be tasked with re-learning basic human functions, motor skills, language, math, time; it was equally if not beyond cathartic for her to experience life all right, entirely out of the right hemisphere that is. Our right brains don’t see ourselves as solid, independent beings separate from the rest of life. Instead, the right hemisphere recognizes the universal truth, we are all One, alive in the only “time” there ever is, Now. While Jill laid relatively motionless in her hospital bed, confused and in pain, she also felt a supreme light within her, she felt as if her body and mind was fluid, no beginning or end, at One with everything around her. Instead of processing the words people were speaking to her, she could only perceive their attitudes, their energy, their sense of presence in her company. That’s why during her recovery, she responded best to those who treated her like a fellow sentient being, not someone who was broken with irreparable damage, but someone who was new and perfectly capable of making a full recovery. She needed patience, kindness and belief.
We learn in school that 93% of communication is non-verbal (that was the figure when I was in school, it may vary a percentage point or two now). That’s why many of us are sensitive to tone, facial expression and body language over simple words. I’m fairly sensitive to those who come across disingenuous. I’d almost rather you be slightly negative in my presence than fake, because insincerity and role-playing have become a normal way to function in our society and although respect and manners are important, honest and authentic exchanges foster more positivity and growth than acting our way through life. The reason I’ve developed more and more happiness and substantive relationships is partially due to luck and partially because I became fed up with my left brain, the judgmental mind chatter and the pursuit of society and what I felt were other’s definitions of a full life. It is no surprise to me that the majority of people I choose to surround myself with these days operate out of a very right-brained mentality. They’re compassionate, understanding, funny and loving people. Left brainers have that potential too. I’m a left brainer and I’m striving for balance.
I learned in My Stroke of Insight the value of each hemisphere. My left brain dominance has allowed me to rarely be late, to remember every single important date imaginable and to pick up languages fairly easily. I have a decent memory and keen hand-eye coordination. I also have atrocious hand-writing, cannot draw or paint to save my life and I can be pretty stubborn about certain beliefs. I’ve found it valuable through reading and learning to pinpoint my strengths and also my weaknesses. I love being surprised by someone who initially rubbed me the wrong way. I care much less about the outcome of sports games than I used to, focusing now on the enjoyment of watching or playing, or simply choosing other hobbies instead. My mind is much more open and pliable now. My religion is Love, my political beliefs are a hodge podge of values stemming from key issues and align with no particular party or person (It is my goal to feel less and less discouraged by the insincerity and greed in our government, it’s a work in progress), and I’ve been fortunate enough to use my athletic sensibilities with creativity and philosophy as I teach yoga. And I’ve discovered to be and feel artistic, you just have to open your heart and find your own expression. It’s in there, go find it.
This book gave me such rich information not only on the details of our brains, but my brain in particular. It’s another window into understanding humanity and feeling more connected and empathic, rather than more separate. It also provides such a slew of wisdom on recovery, both as a the sufferer and the caretaker. Regardless if you or someone you love has suffered from a stroke or some other physical/mental setback, this book provides a myriad of coping mechanisms and methods for success in dynamic ways. It’s beautiful to see that even within the black and white, the specific functions of each hemisphere, there’s still potential for a world of interpretation, a kaleidoscope of conjecture, a sea of gray . While we are one in the same with our fellow man and this planet in general, we can still hone our distinctive characteristics and views as an individual, adding something special to the whole. I feel grateful to have a fully functioning brain and body and completely empowered by the knowledge and truth that I am in charge of cultivating my mind, body and life to keep improving, keep working toward balance and peace.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles (and I thank you if you have), then you’ve most likely surmised that my aim is not to simply review a piece of art and dissect it for its validity or awfulness, but more to share the process and effect something had on my head and heart, how it may have improved me as a human being and how it may support you through whatever circumstances make up your days. I digress, run off on tangents, interrupt myself consistently and find new lessons even as I write, just as I’m doing right now, but know that in these 63 articles, my goal is to spread something beneficial and positive, to share a bit of myself and hope that it resonates with you, therefore connecting us all even more. Whether through a delicious meal, a spell-binding film, gut-busting piece of comedy, beautiful music, a page-turning book, or some random life-lesson I’ve acquired through my own mistakes or been shown by other’s wisdom, my method of scratching an itch is to process and analyze my mental and physical response and hopefully express it in a unique, creative and ultimately helpful way. So if you’ve read many of my pieces and thought, wow, she’s all over the place, what’s her objective? Her plan? Her purpose? It’s simply to pass on what is working for me, let go of what isn’t and encourage everyone to find their own version of the same. I certainly hope that’s coming across. Thank you for the platform and the feedback. I hope we all continue to connect and get better together.
Explore the dynamics of your individual brain, the duality of life and everything in between. Be open. Absorb. Evolve. Learn from the past and then let it go. Look forward to the future but don’t look forward for contentment. Euphoria and satisfaction are within you and can only truly be experienced through the right brain’s truth, Here and Now.