Jill Bolte Taylor [ 13 MAY 2008 | Neuroplasticity | 20:11 ] I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder — schizophrenia — and as a sister, and later as a scientist, I wanted to understand why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality and I can make my dreams come true.

My Stroke of InsightWhat is it about my brother’s brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common and shared reality so they instead become delusion so I dedicated my career to research into the severe mental illnesses and I moved from my home state of Indiana to Boston where I was working in the lab of dr. Francine Venice in the Harvard Department of Psychiatry and in the lab we were asking the question what are the biological differences between the brains of individuals who would be diagnosed as normal control as compared with the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia schizoaffective or bipolar disorder so we were essentially mapping the micro circuitry of the brain which cells are communicating with which cells with which chemicals and then in what quantities of those chemicals so there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing this type of research during the day but then in the evenings and and on the weekends I traveled as an advocate for Nami the National Alliance on Mental Illness but on the morning of December 10 1996 I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own a blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain and in the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information on the morning of the hemorrhage I could not walk talk read write or recall any of my life I essentially became an infant in a woman’s body if you’ve ever seen a human brain it’s obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another and I have brought for you a real human brain thank you sir so this is a real human brain this is the front of the brain the back of the brain with a spinal cord hanging down and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head and when you look at the brain it’s obvious that the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another for those of you who understand computers our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor while our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor the two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus callosum which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers but other than that the two hemispheres are completely separate because they process information differently each of our hemisphere think about different things they care about different things and dare I say they have very different personalities excuse me thank you it’s been a joy hour right human hemisphere is all about this present moment it’s all about right here right now our right hemisphere it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like what this present moment smells like and tastes like what it feels like and what it sounds like I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere we are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family and right here right now we are brothers and sisters on this planet here to make the world a better place and in this moment we are perfect we are whole and we are beautiful my left hemisphere our left hemisphere is a very different place our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically our left hemisphere is all about the past and it’s all about the future our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment and start picking out details details and more details about those details it then categorizes and organizes all that information associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities and our left hemisphere thinks in language it’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world it’s that little voice that says to me hey you got to remember to pick up an analyst on your way home I need them in the morning it’s that calculating intelligence that knows that reminds me when I have to do my laundry but perhaps most important it’s that little voice that says to me I am I am and as soon as my left hemisphere says to me I am I become separate I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you and this is the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke on the morning of a stroke I woke up to a pounding pain behind my left eye and it was the kind of pain caustic pain that you get when you bite into ice cream and it just gripped me and then it released me and then it just gripped me and then it released me and it was very unusual for me to ever experience any kind of pain so I thought okay I’ll just start my normal routine so I got up and I jumped onto my cardio glider which is a full body full exercise machine and I’m jamming away on this thing and I’m realizing that my hands look like primitive claws grasping onto the bar and I thought that’s very peculiar and I looked down at my body and I thought whoa I’m a weird-looking thing and it was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality where I’m the person on the machine having the experience to some esoteric space where I’m witnessing myself having this experience there was all very peculiar and my headache was just getting worse so I get off the machine and I’m walking across my living room floor and I realized that everything inside of my body has slowed way down and every step is very rigid and very deliberate there’s no fluidity to my pace and there’s this constriction in my area of perception so I’m just focused on internal systems and I’m standing in my bathroom getting ready to step into the shower and I could actually hear the dialogue inside of my body I heard a little voice saying okay you muscles you got a contract and you muscles you relaxed and now I lost my balance and I’m propped up against the the wall and I looked down at my arm and I realized that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body I can’t define where I begin and where I end because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall and only could detect was this energy energy and I’m asking myself what is wrong with me what is going on and in that moment my brain chatter my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button total silence and at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind but then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me and because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body I felt enormous and expansive I felt at one with all the energy that was and it was beautiful there then all of a sudden my left hemisphere comes back online and it says to me hey we had a problem we got a problem we gotta get some help but I’m going oh I got a problem I got a problem so it’s like okay okay I got a problem but then I immediately drifted right back out into the consciousness and I fictionally refer to this space as lala land but it was beautiful there imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world so here I am in this space and my job and any stress related to mice my job it was gone and I felt lighter in my body and imagine all of the relationships in the external world and any stressors related to any of those they were gone and I felt this sense of peacefulness and imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage oh I felt euphoria euphoria it was beautiful there and then again my left hemisphere comes online and it says hey you’ve got to pay attention we’ve got to get help and I’m thinking I’ve got to get help I got to focus so I get out of the shower and I’m mechanically dressed and I’m walking around my apartment and I’m thinking I got to get to work I got to get to work can I Drive can I Drive and in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side did I realize oh my gosh am I having a stroke I’m having a stroke and then the next thing my brain says to me is wow this is so cool this is so cool how many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out and then it crosses my mind but I’m a very busy woman time for a strong it’s like okay I can’t stop this drunk from happening so I’ll do this for a week or two and then I’ll get back to my routine okay so I got a call help I got a call work I couldn’t remember the number at work so I remembered in my office I had a business card with my number on him so I go into my business room I pull out a three inch stack of business cards and I’m looking at the card on top and even though I could see clearly in my mind’s eye what my business card looked like I couldn’t tell if this was my card or not cuz all I could see were pixels and the pixels of the words blended with the pixels of the background and the pixels of the symbols and I just couldn’t tell and then I would wait for what I call a wave of clarity and in that moment I would be able to reattach to normal reality and I could tell that’s not the card that’s not the card that’s not the card it took me 45 minutes to get one inch down inside of that stack of cards in the mean time for 45 minutes the hemorrhage is getting bigger in my left hemisphere I do not understand numbers I do not understand the telephone but it’s the only plan I have so I take the foam pad and I put it right here I take the business card I put it right here and I’m matching the shape of the squiggles on the card to the shape of the squiggles on the foam pad but then I would drift back out into lala land and not remember if when I come back if I’d already dialed those numbers so I had to wield my paralyzed alarm like a stomp and cover the numbers as I went along and pushed them so that as I would come back to normal reality I’d be able to tell yes I’ve already dialed that number eventually the whole number gets dialed and I’m listening to the phone and my colleague picks up the phone and he says to me whoa and I think that myself oh my gosh he sounds like a golden retriever and so I say to him clear in my mind I say to him this is Jill I need help and what comes out of my voice is whoa I think oh my gosh I sound like a golden retriever so I couldn’t know I didn’t know that I couldn’t speak or understand language until I tried so he recognizes that I need help and he and he gets me help and a little while later I’m I’m riding in an ambulance from one hospital across Boston to Mass General Hospital and I curl up into a little fetal ball and just like a balloon with the last last bit of air of just just right out of the balloon I just felt my energy lift and just I felt my spirit surrender and in that moment I knew that I was no longer the choreographer of my life and either the doctors rescue my body and give me a second chance at life or this was perhaps my moment of transition when I woke later that afternoon I was shocked to discover that I was still alive when I felt my spirit surrender I said goodbye to my life and my mind was now suspended between two very opposite planes of reality stimulation coming in through my sensory systems felt like pure pain light burned my brain like wildfire and sounds were so loud and chaotic that I could not pick a voice out from the background noise and I just wanted to escape because I could not identify the position of my body in space I felt enormous and expansive like a genie just liberated from her bottle and my spirit soared free like a great whale Glide through a sea of silent euphoria nirvana I found nirvana I remember thinking there’s no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny little body but then I realized but I’m still alive I’m still alive and I have found nirvana and and if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive then everyone who is alive can find nirvana and I pictured a world filled with beautiful peaceful compassionate loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time and that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace and then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be what what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives and it motivated me to recover two-and-a-half weeks after the hemorrhage the surgeons went in and they removed the blood clot the size of a golf ball that was pushing on my language centers Here I am with my momma who’s a true angel in my life it took me eight years to completely recover so who are we we are the life force power of the universe with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds and we have the power to choose moment by moment who and how we want to be in the world right here right now I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are I am the life-force power of the universe I am the life-force power the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses the makeup my form at one with all that is or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere where I become a single individual a solid separate from the flow separate from you I am dr. Jill Bolte Taylor intellectual neuroanatomist these are the we inside of me which would you choose which do you choose and win I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be and I thought that was an idea worth spreading

Stroke of Insight
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