There are many levels to this this revelatory book. As readers, we are given a fascinating insight into what happens to a stroke victim and into the workings of the human brain. However, as the author is a brain scientist, she is able to show us how she tracked the breakdown of her brain as she stroked and was able to identify more clearly the specific functions of each side of the brain. And through this, she is able to give advice on how to access certain parts of our minds.
Jill Bolte Taylor was a neuroanatomist, lecturing medical students at Harvard Medical School on the brain, an expert in her field. One morning, ten years before she wrote the book, a blood clot exploded in the left hemisphere of her brain and she was left curled up in a little ball, thinking she would die.
Luckily, she was able to get hold of one of her colleagues and garble insensibly down the phone to him, enough so he could realise something was seriously wrong with her. With her intimate knowledge of the brain, Jill had the surreal experience of watching her mind completely deteriorate in four hours and this book is her chronological account of the journey she went on into ‘the formless abyss of the silent mind’.
It took her eight years to recover to full functioning, but not once in the story of her recovery is there a hint of self-pity or of the difficult hell she must have gone through to regain her faculties. She remains positive throughout and maintains that she came out of the stroke a more whole person than she was before. With the insight into being a stroke patient, she gives wise, helpful advice for those caring for or interacting with people who have had strokes.
This book is so much more than just an account of her stroke and recovery. Jill tells us of her insight gained from the stroke – how it is possible to achieve a sense of deep peace by accessing the right side of our brains. As the blood flooded the left hemisphere of Jill’s brain during her stroke, she was only able to use the rightside of her brain and she entered a state of nirvana and peace, in which she felt totally calm and at one with the world (and remember this is coming from a scientist).
As she healed, she was faced with the conundrum of regaining all the aspects of her left brain, including personality traits that she no longer liked. Could she heal and still not be argumentative, egoistic, greedy, selfish? Did she want to become ‘normal’ again? Through having a stroke, Jill had discovered that at the core of her right hemisphere consciousness was a ‘character’ that was completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy and compassion in the world. And she didn’t want to lose that again to her previously dominant ‘bully’ left brain.
So she chose not to recover a part of her left brain – that which caused her to be mean, to worry or to be verbally abusive. It sounds miraculous, doesn’t it?
Towards the end of the book, she explains how it is possible for all of us to access the right brain at any time we like. She says, “I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry located in our right brain. This circuitry is constantly running and always available for us to hook into.”
She suggests accessing it through living in the present, breathing deeply, choosing not to listen to the left brain’s incessant chatter and meditating. While giving these explanations, though, she also gives a detailed account of what happens in the brain when we use these methods. I found it riveting because I have read often about how to still the mind, but I have never had it explained to me by a brain doctor.
She writes in an easily accessible manner and I ended up being fascinated by the brain, more than I’ve ever been before. Read the book whether you’re interested in finding out about strokes and how to help a person who has had one; whether you’re interested in a good story; whether you are interested in the anatomical workings of the mind; whether you wish to find out how to live a calmer, happier life like I want to. I would love to silence the monster in the left side of my brain who talks non-stop to me in a rude, judgmental manner, as well as giving a running commentary on things I have done and still have to do. And I can, according to Jill Bolte Taylor.
Now I just have to stop running around so that I can remember to take those deep breaths and tell my chattering mind to be quiet.