A while ago I wrote about the profoundly inspiring story of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor and her speech at the Ted conference entitled “My Stroke of Insight”. While I have watched and listened to many interviews on Oprah and elsewhere it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually got to sit down and read her book in its entirety. I highly recommend taking the time to read it.
In her book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, Dr. Bolte Taylor shares her personal story of what it was like to experience a massive stroke and live to tell about it. Because she was a brain scientist her perspective is extremely scientific yet immensely personal and human. The book is very accessible and will not only provide you much insight into the workings of the brain but even more importantly into the experience of what it means to be fully human even when faced with the inability to relate to people. What does it mean to be alive and having a human experience when you are unable to relate to the context of the world we live in and the people around you? She shares her amazing experience as she lived the answer to this question.
There are several points made in the book that I think hold a huge amount of relevance to any of us wishing to live our lives fully, experience great joy, and make the most of our moments.
The Importance of Feelings
In the “Simple Science” chapter of her book, Bolte Taylor shares this powerful insight:
Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.
What this means is scientifically our minds interpret sensory information first through our limbic or “feeling” system and then the message passes through our higher thinking center (cerebral cortex). That means feelings come first. All those emotions that we tend to discount because we hold them in lower esteem than our thoughts are not only more primal to our being-ness but also show that a level of higher cognition can be found in the right hemisphere of the brain. If that sounds complicated (like it did to me at first) – the takeaway is that our feelings hold tremendous value, perhaps far more than the output of our thinking. When we discount our feelings and emotions, we are shutting ourselves off to perhaps the most critical information we need to inform our choices and experiences.
Inner Peace and Compassion is Already Within Us
As Dr. Bolte Taylor talks about one part of her process of recovery she shares about her desire to have more say about which character (right or left hemisphere) dominates her perspective at any given time. On page 134 she shares:
…the most fundamental traits of my right hemisphere personality are deep inner peace and loving compassion. I believe the more time we spend running our inner peace/compassion circuitry, then the more peace/compassion we will project into the world and ultimately the more peace/compassion we will have on the planet.
I have personally experienced the power of this shift when I attended the Shadow Process and subsequently when I was being trained as a coach by Debbie Ford. In the course of a weekend I (and most attendees) had a fundamental shift from being weighed down with our judgments, woes, and inner beliefs (left brain) to that of large amounts of joy, being fully present, and feeling great compassion for ourselves and others (right brain). So, what changed? Did the external circumstances of our lives change while we were out of town at the seminar? Not really, what happened was an internal shift with how we perceived ourselves and the world. A shift from a purely ego driven thinking state to a feeling state and one filled with much more inner peace, compassion, and happiness. In Dr. Bolte Taylor’s book she calls this “stepping to the right side of the brain”.
Find the Balance
Finding the balance between noticing our feelings and engaging in them is key to success. While it is important to feel and acknowledge them, it is also important to be able to engage that left hemisphere when we make our choices. For instance, while feeling your rage is important if you are in an inappropriate work situation, freaking out and throwing chairs at a board meeting is frowned upon (LOL). However, you do need to notice what your inner wisdom is telling you or you’ll find yourself rationalizing and staying stuck in situations that don’t serve you.
90 Seconds to Response-Ability
Dr. Bolte Taylor shares that while passionate emotional reactions may be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our bloodstream (page 146). This is good news. For anyone like myself who has gotten a huge surge of emotion and then reacted rather than responded, it means that if you can wait a little longer (that 90 seconds) you have far more power to make a conscious and response-able choice. After that emotional (and physical) surge you get to choose what to hook into – impulse reaction or conscious choice. Imagine the amazing power to shift that is contained in just 90 seconds.