My stroke of insight

It’s book review time again! Tonight I want to write about Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. This book has been on my “to be read” list for several years now, but I just got around to reading it a few weeks ago. It’s one of those books that I borrowed from the library but liked it so much that I turned around and bought a copy of my own.

This book is the story of a neuroanatomy researcher who has a stroke at the age of 37. It describes her experience as she was having the stroke, the story of her recovery and the challenges that entailed, and how her life is different now because of all that she learned during this process. I learned so much on so many levels during the reading of this book.

While I already knew some of the basics about how the brain works, I gained more appreciation and more understanding of how powerful our brains are and the amazing way that they function. Although she is a Harvard-trained brain scientist, she manages to relay so much detail about the working of the brain in non-technical and easily accessible language for the rest of us. I am in awe of how much the brain can do and how resilient it is even to damage like what she endured during her stroke.

I also gained a much greater appreciation for the challenges a stroke victim faces and the kinds of things that might be most helpful during their recovery. I suspect that much of this information would be true for people who have suffered other types of brain injuries as well. She does a beautiful job of demystifying the recovery process and even collects a list of all of her tips in an appendix at the back of the book for people who are assisting those who have suffered a stroke. This is a powerful resource in and of itself.

But the most powerful learnings for me came from her descriptions of what she learned about life through the experience of her stroke. The descriptions she gives of how she experienced the world around her powerfully show that our brains dictate our reality in every moment. Everything from our sense of self to our perception of things around us is all created by our brains, so how we use our brains dictates our reality.

For many of us in today’s Western culture, we function primarily from the left sides of our brains. While the left side of the brain provides many valuable and necessary functions, we become out of balance when we over-emphasize this way of thinking to the neglect of the right side functions. Because Dr. Taylor’s stroke affected the left side of her brain, she had the experience for a time of experiencing life almost completely via the right side of her brain. While there were obvious difficulties caused by this lack of left brain function, she also gained a much richer appreciation for how much a cultivation of the right brain can bring to the quality of our lives.

In the aftermath of her stroke, she is much more aware of the contributions of both sides of her brain, and she has the ability to consciously choose to focus on whichever one is most needed in the moment. Reading her descriptions of what it is like to live in this way and the peacefulness that a greater cultivation of the right brain has brought to her life is inspiring. Every one of us has both a right and a left side to our brains, so every one of us has the same ability to learn to bring greater balance to the way that we experience the world.

I am inspired to learn more about how my own brain works and to intentionally cultivate more of my right brain function to increase the amount of inner peace and compassion that I experience on a regular basis. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in changing their life!

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

5 thoughts on “My stroke of insight

  1. Oh I absolutely LOVE her. I haven’t read her book but she gave a TED Talk that was amazing. I could really relate to a lot of what she went through even though I didn’t have the same kind of stroke (I write about mine on my other blog I’m very right brain oriented but use my left brain obviously too. It was after my stroke I started having spiritual insights.

    If you haven’t seen her on TED yet she gives an amazing speech. Just look for Jill Bolte in the TED search function.

    • I actually had the chance to see her in person a couple of weeks ago! It was part of a discussion, so she didn’t get to do her normal presentation, so I will definitely go look for the TED talk, too. I’m sorry to hear that you had a stroke, but I am fascinated by the fact that you also encountered such a change in your experience of life afterwards. I will check out your blog to read more about it. Thanks so much for the comment and the great resources for learning more!

      • Oh that’s lucky! Was it a good presentation?

        My stroke was minor and atypical. You’ll find an explanation of it on my About page. It wasn’t what most people think of when they picture a stroke.

      • Yes, it was really good! It was a conversation about how to nurture healthier political dialogue in this country (based on Parker J. Palmer’s book The Heart of Democracy). The conversation included Jill, a rabbi, and a folk singer – all of whom I really admire.

        I read your about page, and I look forward to reading more. It sounds like you have been on quite the journey, and I hope you are finding that it includes more highs than lows over time.

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