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book review

My Stroke of Insight Jun 5, 2010

My Stroke of Insight

A brain scientist's personal journey
by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

Rating: star star star star star (5 out of 5 stars)
ISBN: 978-0-452-29554-4
Published by: Plume, a member of the Penguin Group
Copyright: Jill Bolte Taylor, 2006
Genre: Autobiographical, Science
Awards: New York Times Bestseller
Pages: 206 pages

This is a fascinating account of a brain scientist's personal journey when she suffered a stroke causing the left hemisphere of her brain to shut down. The most bizarre and marvelous turn of events happened when the right hemisphere of her brain took over.

Brain Background
Our brain is physically divided into 2 seemingly identical halves - the left and the right hemispheres. They are not completely separated as they are joined together by the Corpus Callosum. While they may look like a mirror image of the other, they function and process information differently. The left brain is grounded - the structured organizer, linear (putting socks first before the shoes!), objective driven; think, drill sergeant. The right brain on the other hand is spacey - always present, fluid and ethereal; think, a mystic.

Left Brain Upbringing
Given the convention and demands of a fast-paced society, we are taught early on to be work be put order in our lives. While it's sound and familiar, it tasks the left brain to do nearly all the work. The left brain consequently becomes dominant and takes over most functions, including the duties of the right brain (which it's inept at doing - eg drawing). The right brain becomes a minor participant instead of an equal partner.

The Morning of the Stroke
As a brain scientist (neuroanatomist), Jill (the author) is a foremost expert in brain anatomy. She knows which part of the brain does what function. She thinks of the brain along the lines of neurons, cells and connectivity. When she was hit by a hemorrhagic stroke on her left brain, she was cognizant the entire time of what biological processes were taking place as her left brain was shutting down. Owing to the nature of brain cells, when a section shuts down, healthy cells try to take over to normalize the body function in the best way it can. Consequently, that's when the right brain took over...and things got really spacey.

Right Brain Reality
Jill could not think of time beyond the here-and-now. With the right brain, the past and future do not exist (she lost her past memories and lost perception of what future means). She also felt fluid, losing the boundaries where her body ends and where the rest of the universe begins...she was fusing as one with the universe! She could not see distinct features of people, but she developed a keen sensitivity to people's energies. How she related to people was energetic - bad energy (care givers who were performing their jobs but with no compassion) and good energy (warm people who genuinely cared for her well-being). More importantly, she was enveloped by a feeling of inner peace and omniscience. The normal brain chatter was gone. The frenzied rush to meet the challenge of the coming day was likewise gone. The concept of self or ego also disappeared. She felt physiologically bonded with the collective whole. The overall feeling was alluring, she was torn if she wanted to get back to her previous world.

Rehabilitation and Recovery
It took 8 long and challenging years for Jill to fully recover from her debilitating stroke. She labored hard and intensely, training and pushing herself to get normal again. With recovery of the left brain came the pangs of the old bad habits - the negative self talk, ego, etc.

Having existed in a world of bliss and tranquility, Jill became aware that she had to be vigilant in keeping a balance between the left and right brain. She is now empowered to make a choice - and not just react on autopilot-mode from past behavior. If someone does something that normally upsets her, she catches herself before reacting automatically - would she be angry (left hemisphere) or should she be compassionate (right hemisphere)? If she decides to be angry, at least she's aware that it's a choice she made with full awareness - likewise if she decided to be compassionate. She developed routine exercises to strengthen the participation of her right brain in her day-to-day affairs.

Ending Thoughts
Jill's experience is a validation of what the mystics have been claiming through the ages - that there is an existence of bliss, oneness and omniscience beyond the day-to-day travails of life. Through meditation, awareness of the present moment, generating compassion, quieting the mind, etc., that reality becomes accessible - we don't need to suffer a stroke. Quantum physicists, mystics, and now, a brain scientist are saying the same thing.

The one twist she introduced through her experience is that this altered state is a function of left-right brain hemispheres. That's new to me. I find this a crucial piece of information as a blueprint to attain this level of heightened existence. This priceless piece of information just got me closer.

Several meditation techniques are proprietary and specific in its methodology. Some techniques even warn against modification from its original form - I respect that too. Knowing now that an altered state is achieved by keeping the left brain hemishpere dormant to let loose the right hemishpere, it no longer matters too much what specific meditation ritual is adhered to provided it still conforms to the big picture. By quieting down the mind and body, remaining present, observing sensations in the body and deliberately making conscious recircuiting of the brain neurons (fancy line for internalizing and visualizing the desired end), even silently talking to the left brain to let go....all these create a fertile ground for the right hemisphere to awaken from its slumber.

One of these days....

--- TheLoneRider

ps - Many thanks to Rene and Nadia for lending me this wonderful book.

Jun 5, 2010

Reader Comments:

BernzBernz Varona
(Jun 8, 2010) I want to read this, will look for it :) Thanks for the heads up!

Ina FloresIna Flores
(Jun 8, 2010) We have this book at home! The brain is so poweful, beautiful.

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