I’ve been reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight”. It’s a true story. Jill was a brain scientist and at the age of 37 she experienced a stroke. She recalls the morning of the stroke and the days in the hospital that followed and the eight years it took for her to fully recover.
In chapters two and three she explains very clearly the role of the two hemispheres in our brains. The left hemisphere deals with language, naming, describing. It also divides our experience into time – past present and future, it is our left hemisphere that knows we need to put our socks on before we put on our shoes. It also effects critical judgement and deduction, always comparing one thing with another. The left mind keeps us informed of who we are and where we are and how we fit in by constant “brain chatter”.
The right hemisphere has no concept of time, with it this moment goes on forever. It thinks in pictures and sees the big picture. It can interpret non-verbal communication and can notice inconsistencies between someone’s words and what their body “says”.
Because the stroke disabled Jill’s left hemisphere she had first hand experience of her right hemisphere working on it’s own. Her story explains why we get so caught up in our thinking and how we can help ourselves to live in peace. As she recovered she experienced the left brain’s growing influence and how to live peacefully with this influence.
The first thing I found amazing was the idea that the job of our left brain is to chatter to us with ideas, comparisons, judgements, fears, etc. I thought this chatter was a bad thing because it is distracting and it seemed, much of the time, to attack the things I did and judge others unkindly. But when this chatter was missing from Jill’s life on the morning of the stroke she kept “forgetting” that she needed to get help. She had to work very hard to remind herself that she was in danger and that there were things she needed to do to survive. Our left brain keeps us in touch with what’s happening around us and allows us to function effectively in the world.
With this new piece of information you can look at the chatter in a different way – as a necessary function of a compulsive, detail and judgement-orientated left brain. It’s intention is not to attack you. Also, the chatter is not you!
I used to think that meditation was impossible, that I was doing it “wrong” because I couldn’t silence the chatter. But the chatter cannot and probably shouldn’t be silenced. Instead maybe it could be ignored, or managed?
I’m only half way through the book so I’ll keep reading and write more when I’ve finished.
“My stroke of insight would be: peace is only a thought away,
and all we have to do to access it is
silence the voice of our dominating left mind.”
Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.