On the morning of Dec 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke. A blood vessel burst in the left half of her brain, and over the course of the next four hours, she witnessed her brain systematically deteriorate.
Most of us are not so well-equipped to rationally observe the nature of our own stroke, but as a neuroanatomist, Dr. Bolte Tayler methodically captured her extraordinary experience in what would become one of the most captivating and astonishing talks ever given.
Her stroke of insight not only vividly details the inner-workings of the brain, but describes the pathway to peace and the liberation from all pain.
The left-hemisphere of the brain is responsible for logic, rational thought, and language. All the information that comes in from our senses is picked apart, categorized, and detailed by this part of the brain. The details are then associated with what we’ve learned in the past and considered for potential applicability to the future. Not only is the left hemisphere the seat of intelligence, but it is also responsible for giving us a sense of identity. I am.
The right-hemisphere of the brain is very, very different. It creates an expansive collage of abstract images, coalescing into a sense of unity among everything. It sees no differentiation – just a blending of oneness. There is no past or future, just a state of blissful presence.
When Dr. Bolte Taylor’s left hemisphere shut down, she experienced a state of ecstasy she could only describe as nirvana. In that state, her sense of personal identity melted away, replaced by a oneness joined with the sweeping breadth of the infinite. “My spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria.”
But then her left hemisphere came back and shouted, “We’ve got a problem! We need to do something!” To which her sense of identity rushed back in with the thought, “I’ve got a problem. I need to get help.”
She was eventually taken to a hospital where surgeons removed a large blood clot. After eight years she fully recovered and has since been teaching the world that happiness is a choice.
So, if we can alter the brain, then we can experience peace, right?
As tempting as it may be to assign causality to the brain, simply rewiring the brain will not lead to joy. For that, we must look to the mind.
Everything that occurs within the brain is the result of a choice in the mind. When we choose the mind of spirit or love, then our brains will serve the purpose of providing an experience of peace. The tranquil euphoria that Dr. Bolte Taylor so lovingly writes and speaks about.
On the other hand, when we choose the ego mind, we are fully immersed in an experience of separation, individuality, lack, and the strong belief that happiness and sadness are functions of what is going on in the world, our body, and the bodies of those we care about.
In every moment, the choice is ours to make. “The ego is the choice for [pain]; the Holy Spirit the choice for [peace].” (T-14.III.4) We can either choose the mind that leads to an experience of heavenly joy, or the one that leads to a perception of lack, fear, and guilt. Our brains will comply accordingly.
Join me in Thursday’s Zoom discussion where we’ll dive deeper into the mind, discuss the distinction between brain and mind, and understand the real alternatives we choose between. I look forward to seeing you then.