Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two Sides of the Same Brain: Insights from Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke Experience


Irony: A Neuro-Anatomist’s Stroke

One morning, a Harvard neuroscience researcher named Jill Bolte Taylor had a profoundly ironic personal experience: She had a left brain cerebral hemorrhage stroke. On TED Talks, an on-line community offering high quality talks and performances on technology, education, and design, Jill recounts her fascinating experience. When the hemorrhaging in her left brain began, Jill watched as her language and sequential logic capacity (where she had mainly abided as a scientist), as well as her sense of time and space, all stopped functioning. As the massive hemorrhage progressed, Jill suddenly found herself feeling profoundly peaceful, curious, and blissful. For a moment, she even accepted the possibility of losing her life. Although Jill logically understood that her cerebral hemorrhage was life-threatening, she explained that her right brain orientation was allowing her to drop into a seemingly illogical state of being for what was occurring. She felt peace, interconnectedness, divine acceptance and child-like curiosity as she attempted to communicate with the outside world with none of her left brain function. Re-telling the story of her physical descent and spiritual ascent, Jill’s final message was that if we want create a peaceful world, we have to understand how to access the right hemisphere of our brain.

In my own words, her basic insight seemed to be that so long as we function from our whole brain, peace is innate and lives within each of us as a potential actualization. With her profound experience, it seemed to me that Jill had been to the mountain. She had also found her way back. Her full recovery was apparent through her transformed role as an eloquent and animated speaker. Though returning from the mountain to deliver her message, however, this Harvard-trained neuron-anatomist did not seem to have a technology to guide people there. Hearing Jill’s scientific explanation of the right brain orientation, the obvious question becomes “How do we get there and how do we choose to stay?”

The Key: Understanding the Right Brain as the Seat of Peace

Upon hearing Jill’s talk, I was very excited because I could see how her insights perfectly dovetailed with the functional spirituality emerging out of my own mind-body work of nearly three decades. Jill’s explanation of the right brain as the Seat of Peace helped me to further clarify what is occurring during what I have experienced as a spiritual embodiment process. Before hearing her explanation, I had understood that enlightenment was available and immediately accessible to everyone, if only we fully returned our mind back to the natural physical universe of our body. I believed that though enlightenment is innate and part of the nature of existence, humans have a special challenge because of the individuated nature of our mind.

In my own personal story, I needed to heal deep emotional wounds that plagued me most of my life. I sought many therapies and spiritual paths to help me find my way back to self-knowledge. My unresolved emotional anguish brought me to my knees, forcing me to enter my own body in a desperate attempt to understand and clear the pain I felt. I explored my body through dance movement and vocal sound meditation. As I learned to directly enter my body, I found my body accessed a great cosmic intelligence.

I began to teach about consciousness through movement. I developed a mind-body integration technology which had its own precise physical language. My spiritual exploration of my body had accessed an innate state of enlightenment. To move into states of ecstatic reverie and joy, all I needed to do was to completely inhabit my body. At first, it was tricky for me travel beyond “thinking about my body” to actually “feeling my body.” The more I was able to drop into these states, however, the more I understood that enlightenment is right here and indigenous to life itself. I began to know that Enlightenment is accessible because Life Itself is already enlightened.

I was able to test my immersion into this ocean of creative intelligence through my own healing practice. Over and over, I discovered that full entrance into my body also brings precise guidance which in turn, assists my client. This technology is also what guides my clients to reside in their body. Inspired by Jill’s “peaceful” stroke experience, I now understand the logical progression that inadvertently opened to me in my own awakening. It goes like this: The more I trust, the quieter I become. The quieter I become, the stronger my connection to the knowledge moving through me. The stronger the signal, the easier it is to put the noise of fear and mistrust aside. Eventually, I stop giving fear my attention. This, in turn, allows me to experience an even stronger connection to the guidance of the message. I then find myself receiving directly from life. From this place, I am able to direct my intention to heal myself and others without the distortion of hesitation and doubt.

The journey of the human is to find the way back to the innate enlightenment of life itself through the body. My conclusion goes against many traditional spiritual practices, which often teach that we must struggle to transcend our ‘low, unworthy’ body to reach the height of our spirituality, or we are told to study with a priest or guru and that it is a great struggle to attain enlightenment. Entering my body with my own attention showed me something very different. I was in awe of the deep intelligence I encountered from within my being. My body showed me I already am enlightened—if only I overcome my fear of the unknown parts of myself. The more I directed my attention to the flow of energy within my body, the more I learned to trust the unfolding intelligence to inform and grow me. Simply, I stopped being afraid of the unknowable mystery of my body.

Embodiment as “Back Door” Access

Through Jill Bolte Taylor’s neuro-anatomical explanation of her stroke, I now understand that the embodiment guidance processes I have developed actually provide a “back door access” to the powers of the right brain. I did not realize it at the time, but my embodiment experiences had enabled my right brain to actively participate in the creative process of my life. When Jill explained how the activation of her right brain brought her to a state of peace and joyful interconnection, I realized that it is my right brain I contact when I enter my body. As the natural seat of enlightenment, entering my body became a technique to gain access there. Anchoring my attention to my body actually quiets the noise that normally activates my left brain. Released from the ‘static’ my entrenched fear loops allows the present moment consciousness of my right brain to activate. A vast creative potential then becomes available to my being. Residing in this awareness, I then know exactly how I must adapt to meet the challenge of the present moment—just as Jill was able to communicate her needs despite her loss of speech and articulation during her stroke.

Two Sides of the Same Brain: Insights from Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke Experience


The Choice We have to Make

The first step is to let go of the belief that you must do something to prove yourself worthy. This thought immediately misaligns and separates you from experiencing your Oneness and equality with all. We do not have to attain anything to be enlightened, but we must understand how to move past our fear. To do this, we must solve a paradoxical riddle to find our way back to the Garden of Eden. I now understand that my right brain orientation is not activated if I have even one fear thought.

The cause of our most primary fear is experiencing the finite life of our body.

When we feel separate from Life, we observe our body from our left brain. Our left brain discrimination can cause us to feel frightened of the vastness of Life. By itself, the left brain perceives an essential threat to the integrity of our being and will and attempts to assert control over our life. Since it is impossible to control life, fear of life becomes a primary experience. When we cede control to the left-brain orientation of our mind, it asserts a dominator relationship with our body. If our most primary fear is of the physical limitation of our own body, then the most basic healing can occur by directing our attention to have an unmediated experience with the life of our body. The moment we do this, we cease abandoning or judging our body. We quiet our most primary fear, and our right brain becomes immediately available to our consciousness. This shift is very fragile and sensitive.

Sometimes we hear things we know are important, but we cannot apply the knowledge because we do not yet have the right context to apply what we have heard. Before hearing Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk, I could only intuitively explain the right-brain/left-brain relationship to my own work. Now, Jill’s sharing has provided a scientist’s explanation of what happens when I align my breathing process with my body. Precisely tracking my breath as it moves along my central channel takes me on an extraordinary journey of recapitulation of the complete cycle of my birth and death. As described in the pulse of my breath, I discover the basic format for everything in life: My inhalation creates my exhalation, and my exhalation in turn generates my inhalation; an endless never-ending synergy in which each thing magically arises out of its opposite.

On the other hand, the domain of my left brain describes everything as alien. If I forget that I am one with the infinite creativity of the universe, there is everything for me to fear. Thus, access to the innate enlightenment is determined by my basic orientation to Life: Am I one with All, or am I separate? If I believe I am separate, then all I can do is attempt to manipulate and control my world from all the things that are separate from me and can do me harm. I live in the over-controlling disempowerment of my futile attempts to manipulate the past and future.

Our access to our right or left brain orientations is thus actually determined by the identity that we choose. Again, are we one with everything and equal to everything, as is everything is one with us and equal to us? Or do we live in unstable world of separation and hierarchy, where our position is under constant threat and we must be continually vigilant towards everything we perceive as alien? If we define ourselves as separate from the power of everything else, how could we NOT justify our need to react violently and destructively??

Remember—the primary cause of our fear is our own abandonment of our physical body. This primary separation sets up the prototype of our dislocation from everything. If this is so, then there is a simple path to heal the disconnection of our dysfunctional beliefs that keep us from our enlightened birthright. The moment we quiet our fear, the innate enlightenment that lives in our right brain becomes available to us.