jill bolte taylor - a good talk


I'm a TED Talk junkie. It's a self-proclaimed weakness, and I declare no embarrassment about it. With each talk my thoughts give way to something new. Not only while I'm sitting down to watch the talk, but also in the evening, weeks, and months to follow. TED Talks plant seeds in my brain that flourish into flowers of intellect and enlightened points of view.

Brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, recently planted a couple of those seeds when I sat down to watch her 2008 talk, "My Stroke of Insight". In the talk, Jill delivers an animated recount of a stroke she experienced in 1996. She went through a hemorrhage in her left brain that caused the hemisphere to shut off. She became a human being operating solely on right brain capacity.

Both sides of our brain have very different functions. They process information in different ways, think and care about different things, and have their own view of the world. Our right brain focuses on the present moment. It thinks in pictures, learns kinesthetically, and experiences the world through an influx of sensory information, or what Jill calls, energy. The left brain lives in the past and the future. It takes the collage of energy brought in through our right brain, picks out the details, associates them with what we’ve learned in the past, and projects into the future all of our possibilities. The left brain also thinks in words, where the right brain does not.  

The experience opened Dr. Taylor up to something new. As a right brain human, she lived entirely in the moment. Anxiety, what I consider to be, “fear of what could happen,” is an illness of the future. It was gone. Living in the moment, she could feel her brain talking to the rest of her body, telling her muscles, “contract, relax.” She looked down at her arm, and could no longer define the boundaries. The atoms and molecules of her being blended in with the atoms and molecules of the wall. Because she could no longer tell where she ended and where the outside world began, she felt enormous and expansive. She was at one with all the energy that was. She felt, euphoria.

One can’t help but think of meditation and yoga when listening to Jill’s account. I realized, all who are enveloped in the world of yogic spirituality are shooting for one thing: to quiet their left brain hemispheres. The goal is to turn off the chatter, the words, and just be. We leave the left hemisphere to sooth anxieties of the future and calm remembrances of the past. So often you hear in yoga class to, “notice how your body feels.” You pay attention to the breath and how it moves through your entire body. By focusing deeply on physical sensations we are able to live in the present moment. The rest of the world is left behind, and it is just us on the yoga mat, at one with the music, the classroom, and those in it. The yogic philosophies teach that we are all connected – to each other and to the world around us. All of the mental abilities that we are striving for in yoga and meditation are what Jill experienced during her stroke. It takes mental exercise to learn how to get ourselves there, and that is what meditation is.

But then Jill went on to plant another seed in my brain. She ended her talk with a declaration that we have the power to choose. Right here, right now, you can step into the consciousness of your right brain or left. Perhaps, if more people spent more time choosing the right (myself included), we could have a more peaceful world. So spread it to all that you can. Take a deep breath, feel your body – the space around you – and look at the world as a web of interconnections. It is the path to inner, outer, and global peace.

Go give Jill's TED Talk a listen. 

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