Back in March I wrote about Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the Harvard Professor who suffered a massive stroke and lived to tell her tale to the world.
Today’s New York Times has a terrific piece about Dr. Taylor and some of her accomplishments to date which include being chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2008.
In short, On Dec. 10, 1996, Dr. Taylor, then 37, woke up in her apartment near Boston with a piercing pain behind her eye. A blood vessel in her brain had popped. Within minutes, her left lobe — the source of ego, analysis, judgment and context — began to fail her. Oddly she recalls, it felt great.
The incessant chatter that normally filled her mind disappeared. Her everyday worries — about a brother with schizophrenia and her high-powered job — untethered themselves from her and slid away.
Her perceptions changed, too. She could see that the atoms and molecules making up her body blended with the space around her; the whole world and the creatures in it were all part of the same magnificent field of shimmering energy.
After experiencing intense pain, she said, her body disconnected from her mind. “I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle,” she wrote in her book. “The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria.”
While her spirit soared, her body struggled to live. She had a clot the size of a golf ball in her head, and without the use of her left hemisphere she lost basic analytical functions like her ability to speak, to understand numbers or letters, and even, at first, to recognize her mother. A friend took her to the hospital. Surgery and eight years of recovery followed.
Her desire to teach others about nirvana, Dr. Taylor said, strongly motivated her to squeeze her spirit back into her body and to get well.
This story is not typical of stroke victims. Left-brain injuries don’t necessarily lead to blissful enlightenment; people sometimes sink into a helplessly moody state: their emotions run riot. Dr. Taylor was also helped because her left hemisphere was not destroyed, and that probably explains how she was able to recover fully.
Today, she says, she is a new person, one who “can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere” on command and be “one with all that is.”
To her it is not faith, but science. She brings a deep personal understanding to something she long studied: that the two lobes of the brain have very different personalities. Generally, the left brain gives us context, ego, time, logic. The right brain gives us creativity and empathy. For most English-speakers, the left brain, which processes language, is dominant. Dr. Taylor’s insight is that it doesn’t have to be so.
I encourage you to watch this Ted.com video and listen to her words carefully. It’s a beautiful story and her message has a higher purpose.