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Harvard-trained neuroscientist stroke of insight

The ups and downs of life take up a great deal of our time and focus.

We worry about paying the mortgage and getting the kids to school on time. We worry about showing up late to a party or whether or not that cute girl or guy across the bar thinks we are cute.

But these worries can come to a halt pretty quickly when something goes wrong with your health.

And as Harvard-trained brain researcher, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor found out, a lot of things change when you lose the ability to access half of your brain.

She was no longer worried about trivial day-to-day things; she was worried about surviving.

Watch her inspiring TED talk to find out more:

The Right Brain vs. The Left Brain

Many people identify themselves as either being a “right-brained” person or a “left-brained” person, but the truth is that we all use both sides of our brain.

According to Brain HQ, this myth took root in the 1800s, when scientists discovered that an injury to one side of the brain caused a loss of specific abilities.

However, recent research has revealed that the hemispheres’ are not so cut-and-dried as once thought:

“The two hemispheres are in fact highly complementary. For example, language processing, once believed to be left- hemisphere-only, is now understood to take place in both hemispheres: the left side processes grammar and pronunciation while the right processes intonation. Similarly, experiments have shown that the right hemisphere does not work in isolation with regard to spatial ability: the right hemisphere seems to deal with a general sense of space, while the left hemisphere deals with objects in specific locations.”

We tend to associate right-brained people with creativity and the arts, and left-brained people with logic and problem-solving.

However, we rarely stop to think about how we use both sides of our brain. Dr. Taylor found out, first hand, what happens when we pay attention to the other side of our brains.

When the Brain Turns Off

Dr. Taylor suffered a stroke and was amazed to discover that her brain was fighting with itself about how to handle the situation.

Her left brain was telling her to get help, and by all accounts, that is what most of us would be doing.

But her right brain jumped in as well with messages of peace and comfort. She was both petrified and calm.

What happened to her was something that few people experience, or live to tell about.

She experienced switching off the brain power. Parts of her brain turned off and then turned on, with each side of the brain taking its turn to be in control.

“And in that moment, 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.”

In fact, Dr. Taylor found that during this state she almost felt a kind of peacefulness where the weight of emotional baggage had disappeared:

“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 any stress related to my, to my job, it was gone. And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine all of the relationships in the external world and the many stressors related to any of those, they were gone. I felt a sense of peacefulness.”

However, it wasn’t long before Dr. Taylor realized that she needed to seek help despite how peaceful her state was:

“And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, “Oh my gosh! I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!” And 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. I don’t have time for a stroke!” So I’m like, “OK, I can’t stop the stroke from happening so I’ll do this for a week or two, and then I’ll get back to my routine, OK.”

So I got to call help, I got to 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 it. So I go in my business room, I pull out a 3-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, because 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 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.”

Going Beyond Ourselves

Dr. Taylor recounts how at one point, she felt the total silence in her mind. Imagine what that must have been like?

Most of us can’t go one minute sitting in silence, and she experienced it without fear.

She recounts that the silence was comforting and she felt that she was outside of herself.

When she was no longer limited by what her brain could imagine or react to, she had a worldly experience.

“Two and a half weeks after the hemorrhage, the surgeons went in and they removed a blood clot the size of a golf ball that was pushing on my language centers. Here I am with my mama, who’s a true angel in my life. It took me eight years to completely recover.”

If it weren’t for her stroke, Dr. Taylor would not have had the opportunity to consider her own body and presence outside of herself.

She wouldn’t have gone on to ask important questions about who we are and what our purpose is on this planet. And we wouldn’t get to learn from her insight.

“But then I realized, “But I’m still alive! I’m still alive, and I have found Nirvana. 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 a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives.”

What is our Purpose?

So the big question that everyone wants to be answered is this: what is our purpose? Why are we here?

Many self-improvement experts say it’s about the here and now and being the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

Dr. Taylor has a different idea of what life is all about.

She believes that we are the purpose, that we don’t just have individual purposes in life, but that we contribute to a greater purpose in the universe.

She was able to see that high-level perspective when she found herself with combating minds.

She says we all have two minds and if we can harness the power of them, then we will know what life is all about and how we can contribute to the greater purpose of humanity.

It’s hard to imagine what having a stroke is like, unless you’ve experienced one.

Dr. Taylor has been fortunate enough to have a full recovery from her stroke that found her questioning the way the brain works.

She is lucky in one sense that she had an opportunity to step outside of herself and focus in on how her brain works.

We spend so much time rushing through life that we rarely spend time thinking about how we are showing up in our lives. And she got to do just that.

She got to see how her brain wrestled for power, and that made her think that there is more to this life than just routines, and bills, and cute girls and boys in bars.

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, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up 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 when? 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.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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