My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor

 Stroke of Insight

Summary
  1. Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight discusses the “chronological documentation of the journey I took into the formless abyss of a silent mind, where the essence of my being became enfolded in a deep inner peace.” She suffered a massive hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain and due to her unique position of being a neuroanatomist, had deep insight into her deterioration to the point where she could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any parts of her life. However, this book is not truly about her stroke but more about the beauty and resiliency of the human brain.
Key Takeaways
  1. Warning signs of STROKE – Speech, Tingling, Remember (lack of memory), Off balance, Killer headache, Eyes (problem with vision)
  2. The two hemispheres of our brain work synergistically in order to mesh together two different perceptions of the world. The right side exists only in the present and the border between yourself and the world is “softer” on this side, is more creative and is where joy is experienced, no inhibitions; left side is more organized, linear, detail oriented, divides time, it lives to weave facts and details into a story, is your ego center and is where that “voice in your head” stems from, determines our likes and dislikes, is the judge of everything
  3. She came to understand that her body functioned like a portal through which the energy of who she was was beamed into a 3D external space. “I wondered how I could have spent so many years in this body, in this form of life, and never really understood that I was just visiting here.”
  4. Without the judgmental left hemisphere, she was able to perceive herself as the perfect, whole and beautiful being that she was
  5. I paid very close attention to how energy dynamics affected me. I realized that some people brought me energy while others took it away
  6. “It still blows my mind (so to speak) that I could not see color until I was told that color was a tool I could use…the same thing was true for seeing in three dimensions.”
  7. One of the greatest lessons I learned was how to feel the physical component of emotion. Joy was a feeling in my body. peace was a feeling in my body…and most remarkably, I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me…Paying attention to what emotions feel like in my body has completely shaped my recovery…Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of heart and mind. That was completely up to me. I may not be in total control of what happens to my life, but I certainly am in charge of how I choose to perceive my experience.
  8. “My stroke of insight is that at the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy and compassion in the world”
  9. You have the power to respond or not respond to any situation. Anything can trigger your anger response or whatever but after that it is your decision if you keep “hooking into this neurocircuitry” or not
  10. Take responsibility for what you attract into your life
  11. There has been nothing more powerful than realizing that I don’t have to think thoughts that bring me pain
  12. Seeing this moment, any moment, as a perfect moment is always a choice
  13. When I become conscious of what cognitive loops my brain is running, I then focus on how these loops feel physiologically inside my body. Do I feel alert? Does my chest feel tight? etc.
  14. Paying attention to your own self-talk is vitally important for our mental health
  15. Be harshly honest with yourself – how your mind and body are feeling and do not be ashamed or try to resist it. If you’re tired sleep, if you’re anxious, ask yourself why and address it
  16. Step one to experiencing inner peace is the willingness to be present in the right here, right now
What I got out of it
  1. Dr. Taylor speaks often about shutting down when she felt people were “energy vampires” or were too loud or anxious. I truly believe that everybody subconsciously registers all this and might be why we instinctively like and dislike certain people. Our subconscious tendencies such as facial expressions, body language, nervous ticks or energy, etc. can have a huge effect on how we are perceived and liked by others

Read My Stroke of Insight

  • By the end of that morning [when she had the stroke], my consciousness shifted into a perception that I was at one with the universe. Since that time, I have come to understand how it is that we are capable of having a “mystical” or “metaphysical” experience-relative to our brain anatomy
  • Determined to study the brain after her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and became fascinated how two people can experience the same event but take away completely different things from it
  • The better we understand how our hemispheres work together to create our perception of reality, the more successful we will be in understanding the natural gifts of our own brains
  • Took her 8 years to completely recover all her physical and mental functions
  • The morning of her stroke she felt a dissociation between her mind and body. She witnessed her body as if she was an outside viewer; was able to watch with awe as her nervous system was able to coordinate all of her movements; her auditory sense was compromised too as sounds were erratic – at this point she realized she might have a life threatening injury; “brain chatter” was inconsistent and erratic, concentration was lagging; experienced tranquil euphoria; felt at one with the universe; felt like a fluid rather than a solid as she blended with space and everything around her; was blown away by how beautiful she was, that she was life itself; amid this bliss she soon came back to reality and realized she was in grave danger; when her right arm became paralyzed she figured out she was having a stroke and thought to herself “how cool!”
  • As she continued deteriorating, she started losing focus and her ability to understand numbers and language, and lost connection to her external reality. Every moment seemed to exist in perfect isolation. In her mind, she entered what she would consider Nirvana – no analytical judgment, was tranquil and in the perfect present
  • Time was no longer linear or connected – she moved from isolated moment A to isolated moment B. She was unable to take any action as she could not connect thoughts or even reach her knowledge base
  • She would have “waves of clarity” where she was able to string a couple thoughts together
  • She then lost her ability to understand and form speech and to be able to distinguish borders and read
  • She managed to call her doctor but not really make sounds or understand her doctor. Her friend soon after arrived and took her to the hospital. She survived but still felt at one with the universe, no boundaries and couldn’t really move or talk
  • She felt like she had died since she had no recollection of “Jill Taylor’s” life – she was very sad but at the same time relieved since she was no longer bound to her decisions or limitations. Learned the beauty and meaning of simply “being”
  • Could not experience loss – either physical or emotional – as it was impossible for her to experience separation or individuality
  • “I experienced people as concentrated packets of energy”
  • You lose memory connection to your old emotional self and the richness of this moment captivates your perception. Everything, including the life force you are, radiates with pure energy. With childlike curiosity, your heart soars in peace and your mind explores new ways of swimming in a sea of euphoria. Then ask yourself, how motivated would you be to come back to a highly structured routine?
  • Her mom comes to take care of her and as she walked in she immediately “lifted my sheet and proceeded to crawl into bed with me. She immediately wrapped me up in her arms and I melted into the familiarity of her snuggle. It was an amazing moment in my life. She somehow understood that I was no longer her Harvard doctor daughter, but instead I was now her infant again.
  • I realized that helping to preserve patients’ energy should be a hospital’s main concern
  • I had to completely inhabit the level of ability that I could achieve before it was time to take the next step
  • She was sleeping a ton and this helped per restore her energy and file all the information she was relearning
  • If the boundary between what you can do and what you can’t do is not clearly defined, then you don’t know what to try next. Recovery can be derailed by hopelessness
  • She was extremely sensitive to not only how much she was sleeping but the length of time she was sleeping – I believe we are all this susceptible but are not so in tune with our bodies that we truly notice these minute differences that can make a big difference over time
  • Every moment she was awake she was working her brain and her body – she became a child like sponge for learning
  • She had surgery to get rid of the golf-ball sized blood clot in her head. The surgery went perfectly and she did not lose her speech and again felt “bright” with emotions
  • Recovery was sometimes something she had to convince herself to do since she had such bliss being in the right side of her brain. She told herself many times that she had to recover to share her story and that “peace was only a thought away and all we have to do to access it is silence the voice of our dominating left mind”
  • Because of the trauma, my brain circuitry was different now, and with that came a shifted perception of the world. My interests, likes and dislikes were all different now
  • I really needed people to take responsibility for the kind of energy they brought me. We encouraged everyone to soften their brow. open their heart, and bring me their love. Extremely nervous, anxious or angry people were counter-productive to my healing.
  • Imagery was an effective tool for her to regain physical functions and she believes that focusing on how it feels to perform certain tasks helps to recover them more quickly
  • Sleep was so instrumental in her recovery and by the end of year seven, as she was truly starting to recover all her motor and mental capacities, her brain was so busy during the night that it was refreshing to wake up to give her brain a break!
  • For many of us, once we have made a decision we are attached to that decision forever. The right brain allows us to reevaluate our decisions without feeling attacked or guilty for having done something “wrong”
  • The left side is the storyteller – taking the information it has and doing its best to weave together a coherent and realistic story. Realize that it is only the best your brain can do, a story, and should be taken with a grain of salt
  • I realize that pity is not an appropriate response [to people with brain trauma]. Instead of feeling repelled by someone who is different, I am drawn toward them kindness and curiosity
  • The more aware I am about how I am influencing the energies around me, the more say I have in what comes my way
  • In order to tap back into that right side, remind yourself that you are part of a greater structure – an eternal flow of energy and molecules from which you cannot be separated. Slow down your mind and be aware if any loops keep popping up
  • Whatever you spend time thinking about is what you tell your brain you care about
  • Pay more attention to the way certain places, people, food, etc. make you feel energetically

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