Right brain functionality

Several months ago, I was profoundly inspired by Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk and was thrilled to learn that she had also authored a book. Over the weekend, I read My Stroke of Insight. She recreates her experiences of realizing she's having a stroke, getting help, being hospitalized and recovering. This inside look is extremely valuable for anyone caring for stroke victims. It's also a rich resource for any of us concerned with how to better work with our brains when helping others learn. Most of all, it's a map for awakening to our full potential.

While hospitalized, she experienced the presence of people the way I do. She found people to be energizing when they were being attentive, caring and responsive to her. Quite the opposite, people were extremely draining when they were agitated, preoccupied or controlling. She suggests that our right brains experience people's energy like this all the time but we only feel it when our left brain is quiet. When we stop thinking, we can feel like we are in a sea of diverse energies.

She experienced five months of freedom from her inner voice that delivers a continual stream of negative commentary on everything. She compared living without that mental chatter to floating like a big blue whale in an ocean of serene wonders. Without her left brain functionality, she had no identity to maintain, personal history to defend or fears to justify. When the inner critic returned, it took on a life of it's own. She could not stop it's chatter by telling it to cease and desist. She wanted to be selective and not reactivate old programs of anger or envy. However, she found these negative patterns were more robust than her fragile abilities to read, write or perceive 3 dimensional space objectively.

Jill Bolte Taylor gleaned wonderful insights into the differences between left and right neocortex dynamics as her left brain functionality disappeared and then returned slowly. Our right brains have no sense of where our insides end and anything outside of us begins. They cannot perceive edges, objects or separate things. Our right brains have no sense of time, sequencing or duration. Every experience is right now and new. Our right brains experience everything without language, categories or logic. Others' body language is extremely vivid while speech is meaningless. Our right brains are very impressed by visual images, smells, sounds and touch. They recall previous impressions holistically. They cannot criticize or condemn anyone or anything that happens. Right brain functionality blesses and includes all experiences as is.

She became acclimated to a new outlook of expansive peace, connection to us all, compassion for everything and fascination with the wonder of the Now moment. This gave her a new basis to observe the productions of her mind. She no longer identified with everything the left brain came up with. She labeled it a "story teller" once she realized what a B.S. artist it is. Our left brains continually manufacture defensive rationalizations based on apprehensive conjectures and missing information.We continually tell stories to make ourselves right, protect our fragile identities, justify our fears and argue for our limitations. Meanwhile our right brains observe these reductionist hysterics with indifference, serenity and love.

Jill Bolte Taylor had a hemorrhage and blood clot in her left brain. Her experience makes it seem like our business enterprises, governments, and institutions suffer from right brain strokes. With this new map, perhaps there can be a widespread awakening to our full potential without much more fuss.


  1. I watched the video some time ago and thought it was great.

    What Jill Bolte Taylor discovered experientially is what Buddhists have been talking about for millenia. She got the temporary fasttrack of an experience that usually takes years of meditation to achieve (a bit like LSD in the Sixties).

    You are both right - our culture has become way too left-brained and we need to work out ways to return to holistic, right-brained thinking free of ego before our left-brains and egos destroy us all!

  2. I love the picture of our business enterprises, governments and institutions suffering from a right-brain stroke. It communicates so well the idea that these organizations are dysfunctional and in need of healing and a return to wholeness. Sadly, I worry that unlike Jill Bolte Taylor's experience, most don't recognize that they're in need of healing and so do not seek out treatment. Or when they do, they seek more left-brain solutions.

    Great post, Tom--thanks for sharing.

  3. Sean: Thanks for amplifying something I also felt. When I watched the TED talk, I was thrilled their was a physiological component that naturally offered experiences of enlightenment, compassion, presence and all those other "left brain words" for what seekers have realized throughout recorded history.

    Michele: What a great insight! So many do seek left brain solutions when the answer lies within the other half of the neo cortex. Thanks for the comment.