Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist. She studies the brain and the nervous system. At the age of 37, she had a massive stroke. As the left hemisphere of her brain shut down, she experienced a profound sense of peace and beauty. "My spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria!" She knew herself to be one with everyone and everything that is. Her book about her experience is titled, "My Stroke of Insight."
Her description of union and peace with all humanity and with all creation is remarkably consistent with what religious mystics describe from their meditation. It is also an experience described by Christians who practice contemplative prayer. In prayer, I have known the sense of myself to recede and disappear entirely. Time stands still; there is simply the All -- holy, vast, wonderful and indescribable. Coming out of that prayer, I have sensed such profound peace that all worry or separation seems insignificant in its aftermath.
After healing from her stroke, Dr. Taylor described her experience as a kind of liberation from the left hemisphere of the brain in order to experience the wisdom of the right hemisphere. She now speaks of the ability we have to choose intentionally to step to the right of our left hemisphere and to come to this space of peace, beauty, compassion and love -- to move intentionally from the "I" to the "we."
"So who are we? We are the life-force of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here, right now, I can step into this consciousness of my right hemisphere, where we are ... at one with all that is. Or, I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, a solid. Separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: intellectual, neuroanatomist.
These are the 'we' inside of me. Which would you choose? Which do you choose? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be."
Where do you tend to dwell? Mostly in the left hemisphere, or mostly in the right hemisphere?
In the world of our left hemisphere, we demand clarity: an either/or certainty. We focus on what we already know, convinced of our own correctness. If we don't know, the left brain will make something up. We are ever optimistic about our power and knowledge, always a winner and blind to our short-comings. Anger is the primary emotion that dwells in the left side. The left side is the domain of logic, words and numbers, practical strategy, and the precautions of safety.
In our right hemisphere we see the broader connection to the whole and to the other. We are comfortable with uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, willing to explore the whole perspective. We recognize and appreciate the uniqueness and individuality of the other, and we are in touch with a wide range of empathetic emotions. The right hemisphere underwrites our sense of justice. The right side is the domain of feelings, intuition, imagination, symbols and imagery, spatial perception, possibilities and risk taking.
Psychiatrist and author Iain McGilchrist says, "I believe the essential difference between the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere is that the right hemisphere pays attention to the Other, whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, with which it sees itself in profound relation. It is deeply attracted to, and given life by, the relationship, the betweenness, that exists with this Other."
McGilchrist says that at this time in our history, the left brain is becoming increasingly dominant, and that domination is threatening our humanity. He says that the right brain, with its wisdom grounded in peace and relationship, should function as the master, and the left brain as the emissary, giving language, form and detail to the uniting vision of the right.
In an increasingly polarized world, our survival may depend upon people who can step to the right of our left hemispheres and bring us a vision of union, relatedness and peace. "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you," said Jesus. The left-brained world can see that only as blasphemy. Literalists will kill you for blasphemy.
Commentary on 04/11/2017
Print Headline: Turning to the right