My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
A brain scientist’s journey from a debilitating stroke to full recovery becomes an inspiring exploration of human consciousness and its possibilities
On the morning of December 10, 1996 Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain. A neuroanatomist by profession, she observed her own mind completely deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life, all within the space of four brief hours. As the damaged left side of her brain – the rational, grounded, detail and time-oriented side – swung in and out of function, Taylor alternated between two distinct and opposite realties: the euphoric nirvana of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace; and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized Jill was having a stroke, and enabled her to seek help before she was lost completely.
In My Stroke of Insight, Taylor shares her unique perspective on the brain and its capacity for recovery, and the sense of omniscient understanding she gained from this unusual and inspiring voyage out of the abyss of a wounded brain. It would take eight years for Taylor to heal completely. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and most of all an amazing mother, Taylor completely repaired her mind and recalibrated her understanding of the world according to the insights gained from her right brain that morning of December 10th.
Today Taylor is convinced that the stroke was the best thing that could have happened to her. It has taught her that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away. By stepping to the right of our left brains, we can all uncover the feelings of well-being and peace that are so often sidelined by our own brain chatter. A fascinating journey into the mechanics of the human mind, My Stroke of Insight is both a valuable recovery guide for anyone touched by a brain injury, and an emotionally stirring testimony that deep internal peace truly is accessible to anyone, at any time.
Based upon her academic training and personal experience, Jill helps others not only rebuild their brains from trauma, but helps those of us with normal brains better understand how we can ‘tend the garden of our minds’ to maximize our quality of life. Jill pushes the envelope in our understanding about how we can consciously influence the neural circuitry underlying what we think, how we feel, and how we react to life’s circumstances. Jill teaches us through her own example how we might more readily exercise our own right hemispheric circuitry with the intention of helping all human beings become more humane. “I believe the more time we spend running our deep inner peace circuitry, then the more peace we will project into the world, and ultimately the more peace we will have on the planet.”
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996. On the afternoon of this rare form of stroke (AVM), she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. It took eight years for Dr. Jill to completely recover all of her functions and thinking ability. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey (published in 2008 by Viking Penguin). In 2008, Dr. Jill gave a presentation at the TED Conference in Monterey, CA, which has become the second most viewed TED Talk of all time. This now famous 18-minute presentation catapulted her story into the public eye. As a result, she was chosen as one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2008. In addition, Dr. Jill was the premiere guest on Oprah's Soul Series web-cast and was interviewed by Oprah and Dr. Oz on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October, 2008. Dr. Jill is working on the creation of a serious game for health for neurological recovery. She feels passionate about helping others find their way back from neurological trauma. In addition, she is working on her next book and is excited about the upcoming feature film of her life. She has just created Jill Bolte Taylor BRAINS, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing educational services and promoting programs related to the advancement of brain awareness, appreciation, exploration, education, injury prevention, neurological recovery, and the value of movement on mental and physical health, as well as other activities that support this purpose. The Brain Extravaganza! is the not-for-profits first educational awareness program she is bringing to the the community of Bloomington, Indiana, and then the world. Dr. Jill is the National Spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (Harvard Brain Bank) and educates the public about the shortage of brain tissue donated for research into the severe mental illnessess. Since 1993, she has been an active member of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and is currently the president of the NAMI Greater Bloomington Area affiliate in Bloomington, Indiana.
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I first came across Jill Bolte Taylor, Phd when her speech at TED (an annual conference devoted to Technology, Entertainment, Design) went viral. In it, she describes how she witnessed herself having a stroke and the subsequent feeling of peace that enveloped her when her logical left brain shut down and her right brain became dominant. I became intrigued after watching the video and then read the book. The book expounds on her experience while having the stroke and her subsequent recovery. It was amazing on many levels: (1) She gives a 1st person narrative of her experience of the stroke and recovery but she doesn't portray it as something we should all pity and feel sorry for. Instead, she lays it out not unlike an explorer discovering new territory, full of suspense and wonder. (2) She gives incredible tips on how to communicate with and care for stroke victims. For e.g., some people would yell at her after they saw she didn't understand what they were saying. However, she wasn't deaf. She could only process one word at a time. If those people would have spoken more slowly rather than loudly, she would have been able to understand them. This is something that would never have occurred to me if I hadn't read this book. (3) She takes us on a tour of the 'mystical' right side of her brain which little is known about and whose capabilities in today's world seem to be dismissed. She says the right side of the brain is the gateway to enlightenment and nirvana. She shares tips on how to 'tend the garden of your mind' and to interrupt or stop those stories we all tell ourselves over and over again (usually about how we are deficient, not good enough, etc.). She calls them loops. Dr. Taylor's tips about how we can all achieve nirvana by accessing the right side of the brain as a conscious process is worth the price of the book many times over. We all have a "loop of deep inner peace" wired into our neurological circuitry in our right brain and we can consciously choose to run this loop whenever we wish. Closely related to this topic are books by Ariel & Shya Kane. They've written three outstanding books: Working on Yourself Doesn't Work: The 3 Simple Ideas That Will Instantaneously Transform Your Life, How to Create a Magical Relationship: The 3 Simple Ideas that Will Instantaneously Transform Your Love Life & Being Here: Modern Day Tales of Enlightenment. The Kanes have been teaching about accessing the magic of the right-side of the brain for over 20 years and their book is chock full of tips, and stories on how to recognize those loops Dr. Taylor talks about and how to bypass them. If you're serious about getting enlightened, get Dr. Taylor's and the Kanes' books NOW!
My wife is a "massive" stroke victim. Her survival and recovery themselves were miracles. We are very fortunate. But one of the god-given gifts that has not returned is her speech. And while as a husband of 45 years when asked how she is doing often facetiously say that her loss of speech "is not all bad", I feel for her occasional frustration as she stumbles in her attempt to convey her feelings - fortunately, it is only occasional. We were warned it would be much, much worse. But the bottom line, this book has restored her faith in the possibilities of even further recovery. It should be required reading for all stoke victims whose speech was affected. Likewise, for all caretakers of those victims. For just to see the light shine in her eye as she showed me many passages in the book that still gave her hope was well worth the price and time involved.
This is, indeed, a first-person description of stroke by a scientifically and dare I say it -- spiritually -- sophisticated person. The author describes a range of experiences that make sense given our knowledge of localization of function. I'm not sure that such a detailed and consistent report by a scientist is available anywhere else. As such, this story is unusual and important. Moreover the author reports how she turned her stroke into an opportunity for profound wisdom and insight. Amazing stuff! And this may save lives. Personally, I don't share all the author's ideas about strict functional localization in the brain... but that is secondary and doesn't detract from my admiration of her remarkable contribution. My enjoyment of this book was enhanced considerably by the material and links at the author's website. She has posted a number of video and audio presentations, radio shows, etc.