When neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor experienced a massive left-brain stroke, she was able to observe in amazing detail as her own mind deteriorated to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. In the absence of her left brain's function, Jill's consciousness shifted away from normal reality, into right-brain intuitive present-moment thinking, whereby she experienced a profound sense of deep inner peace, feeling herself 'at one with the universe'. Here she describes the progress of the stroke as it ravaged her mind, and then her recovery process, in the hope that others may also recognize the warning signs, or better provide for those in recovery. However, My Stroke of Insight
is ultimately about the deeply spiritual experience of her brain's journey into right hemisphere consciousness, and the recognition that we can all learn to access that same deep inner peace by balancing out the clamour of our left brain. ?Far from being a mere medical text, this extraordinary book's spiritual message is important, powerful and unique: a message that's deeply relevant to the world around us.?
G Carey, Cygnus Member190pp, 132mm x 204mm, illus. in b&w, Paperback, 2008
For the first time, I felt truly at one with my body as a complex construction of living, thriving organisms. I was proud to see that I was this swarming conglomeration of cellular life that had stemmed from the intelligence of a single molecular genius! I welcomed the opportunity to pass beyond my normal perceptions, away from the persevering pain that relentlessly pulsed in my head. As my consciousness slipped into a state of peaceful grace, I felt ethereal. Although the pulse of pain in my brain was inescapable, it was not debilitating.
Standing there with the water pounding onto my breasts, a tingling sensation surged through my chest and forcefully radiated upward into my throat. Startled, I became instantly aware that I was in grave danger. Shocked back into abnormalities of my physical systems. Determined to understand what was going on, I actively scanned my reservoir of education in demand of a self-diagnosis. What is going on with my body? What is wrong with my brain?
Although the sporadically discontinuous flow of normal recognition was virtually incapacitating, somehow I managed to keep my body on task. Stepping out of the shower, my brain felt inebriated. My body was unsteady, felt heavy, and exerted itself in very slow motion. What is it I'm trying to do? Dress, dress for work. I'm dressing for work
. I labored mechanically to choose my clothes and by 8:15 am, I was ready for my commute. Pacing my apartment, I thought, Okay, I'm going to work. I'm going to work. Do I know how to get to work? Can I drive?
As I visualized the road to McLean Hospital, I was literally thrown off balance when my right arm dropped completely paralyzed against my side. In that moment I knew. Oh my gosh, I'm having a stroke!
And in the next instant, the thought flashed through my mind, Wow, this is so cool!
I felt as though I was suspended in a peculiar euphoric stupor, and I was strangely elated when I understood that this unexpected pilgrimage into the intricate functions of my brain actually had a physiological basis and explanation. I kept thinking, Wow, how many scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain function and mental deterioration from the inside out?
My entire life had been dedicated to my own perception of reality. And now I was experiencing this most remarkable stroke of insight!
When my right arm became paralyzed, I felt the life force inside the limb explode. When it dropped dead against my body, it clubbed my torso. It was the strangest sensation. I felt as if my arm had been guillotined off!
I understand neuroanatomically that my motor cortex had been affected and I was fortunate that within a few minutes, the deadness of my right arm subtly abated. As the limb began to reclaim its life, it throbbed with a formidable tingling pain. I felt weak and wounded. My arm felt completely depleted of its intrinsic strength, yet I could wield it like a stub. I wondered if it would ever be normal again. Catching sight of my warm and cradling waterbed, I seemed to be beckoned by it on this cold winter morning in New England. Oh, I am so tired. I feel so tired. I just want to rest. I just want to lie down and relax for a little while
. But resounding like thunder from deep within my being, a commanding voice spoke clearly to me: If you lie down now you will never get up!
Startled by this ominous illumination, I fathomed the gravity of my immediate situation. Although I was compelled by a sense of urgency to orchestrate my rescue, another part of me delighted in the euphoria of my irrationality. I stepped across the threshold of my bedroom, and as I gazed into the eyes of my reflected image, I paused for a moment, in search of some guidance or profound insight. In the wisdom of my dementia, I understood that my body was, by the magnificence of its biological design, a precious and fragile gift. It was clear to me that this body functioned like a portal through which the energy of who I am can be beamed into a three-dimensional external space.
This cellular mass of my body had provided me with a marvelous temporary home. This amazing brain had been capable of integrating literally billions of trillions of bits of data, in every instant, to create for me a three-dimensional perception of this environment that actually appeared to be not only seamless and real, but also safe. Here in this delusion, I was mesmerized by the efficiency of this biological matrix as it created my form, and I was awed by the simplicity of its design. I saw myself as a complex composite of dynamic systems, a collection of interlacing cells capable of integrating a medley of sensory modalities streaming in from the external world. And when the systems functioned properly, they naturally manifested a consciousness capable of perceiving a normal reality. I wondered how I could have spent so many years in this body, in this form of life, and never really understood that I was just visiting here.
Even in this condition, the egotistical mind of my left hemisphere arrogantly retained the belief that although I was experiencing a dramatic mental incapacity, my life was invincible. Optimistically, I believed that I would recover completely from this morning's events. Feeling a little irritated by this impromptu disruption of my work schedule, I bantered, Okay, well, I'm having a stroke. Yep, I'm having a stroke... but I'm a very busy woman! All right, since I can't stop this stroke from happening, then, okay, I'll do this for a week! I'll learn what I need to know about how my brain creates my perception of reality and then I'll meet my schedule, next week. Now, what am I doing? Getting help. I must stay focused and get help.
To my counterpart in the looking glass I pleaded, Remember, please remember everything you are experiencing! Let this be my stroke of insight into the disintegration of my own cognitive mind
From My Stroke of Insight, ?2009 by Jill Bolte Taylor, published by Hodder & Stoughton.
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