Have you heard of Jill Bolte Taylor and her “truth is stranger than fiction” story? She is the neuro-anatomist who had a stroke and was able to describe exactly what was happening to her during and after the stroke, from a neurological perspective. She also recovered “fully” (more on that in a moment). I read her book My Stroke of Insight back in 2010, and one main takeaway has stayed with me since. It’s wisdom I regularly take on my morning walks with my dog Raska, and that’s what I want to share with you here.
Jill Bolte Taylor explains so effectively that it is our left side of our brain which contains the brain chatter – the continuous voice that talks to us, the inner critic, gremlin or obnoxious roommate and naysayer. This is the side that can keep us spinning in rumination, or worse take us down into a spiral of depression. But it doesn’t have to be this way, as she discovered.
When Jill Bolte Taylor had her stroke about 15 years ago, the left side of her brain was debilitated, leaving her right side to dominate. She felt peace, euphoria, and an inter-connectedness with the world she had never ever felt before. She was living only in the present moment. She could not understand language and was like an infant in an adult’s body in many ways. Lying in her hospital bed, she could not understand what anyone was saying but she could sense the kind of energy each person was offering her, for example, warmth and compassion and love. Bolte Taylor has since fully recovered but, because of her stroke of insight, she has chosen to be a little different from how she was before her stroke.
Her stroke of insight was this: we all have this peace, euphoria and interconnectedness with the world, inside us right now. We all have this ability to live in the present moment right now. We just have to access it more effectively and more often. We do this by quieting that voice in our left brain. She makes suggestions as to how to do this quieting. Her suggestions are essentially mindfulness practices though they are not named as such in the book, that I can recall. Her story is so powerful that I found myself very motivated to try what she was suggesting, at a time when meditation itself felt somewhat intimidating to me.
Some suggestions that have stayed with me are so simple, like being able to notice what our senses are taking in at any given moment. Noticing what we are seeing, what we are hearing, what we are tasting, what we are smelling, what we are feeling inside our bodies. When we are doing this noticing, we cannot also be producing and listening to brain chatter. We feel more centred, grounded and peaceful. We may also hear that quieter voice of wisdom that is inside of us that is often crowded out, drowned out by the brain chatter. This is the voice that says “everything is good”, “everything is going to be all right.” When we try this, our breath slows. We feel more energetic. We get a much-needed break from ourselves. This is the wisdom I have been taking on my walks with Raska in the Nordheimer Ravine most mornings.
Here’s an example of how the wisdom can help. Some time ago, I had a nasty headache. I had a sense that much of my pain was the result of the chattering and nattering in my head. On my usual morning walk in the ravine, I consciously brought Bolte Taylor’s wisdom along with me and put it into practice. I was rewarded with a sense of peace and calm. As I walked and sensed into my senses, I noticed that I felt like there were nasty strong weed-like vines growing up through my neck and holding onto my head in an ever tightening vice-like grip. Even just a couple of minutes of this practice helped me to begin to imagine the vine shrinking back away from my head. I felt less tension there. It was the beginning of relief from the pain.
Another lovely side benefit of practicing Jill Bolte Taylor’s wisdom has been that I have developed my character strength of appreciation of beauty, as I consciously focus on what I am seeing and hearing on my walks. Activating this character strength is another way of becoming more energized and grounded.
Spring is a particularly wonderful time to practice tapping into Jill Bolte Taylor’s wisdom. Why not take a walk and give these suggestions a try?