Sunday, October 18, 2009

Right Brain

I just finished reading the book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a neuroanatomist who suffered a severe stroke that took her eight years to fully recover from. This book describes in great detail her experience as a brain scientist studying her own brain's process of trauma and then recovery, which is fascinating. In much of the book she talks about the different functions and personalities of the right and left hemispheres. The left brain thinks sequentially, rationally, is language based and provides all the brain chatter we constantly hear in our head, whereas the right brain has intuitive powers that allows us to experience the present moment without any awareness of time and allows us to feel the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. Interestingly, the left brain's story teller is the keeper of our identity. Consider this:

"One of the jobs of our left hemisphere language centers is to define our self by saying 'I am.' Through the use of the brain chatter, your brain repeats over and over again the details of your life so you can remember them. It is the home of your ego center, which provides you with an internal awareness of what your name is, what your credentials are, and where you live. Without these cells performing their job, you would forget who you are and lose track of your life and your identity."

Because the author experiences a hemorrhage in her left brain, she lost all of her language and her identity as she knew it. This resulted in her right brain gaining undivided attention, through which she experienced the bliss of feeling the interconnectedness first hand. Here's another passage describing how she perceived this:

"When I lost my left hemisphere and its language centers, I also lost the clock that would break my moments into consecutive brief instances. Instead of having my moments prematurely stunted, they became open-ended, and I felt no rush to do anything. Like walking along the beach, or just hanging in the beauty of nature, I shifted from the doing-consciousness of my left brain to the being-consciousness of my right brain. I morphed from feeling small and isolated to feeling enormous and expansive. I stopped thinking in language and shifted to taking new pictures of what was going on in the present moment. I was not capable of deliberating about past or future-related ideas because these cells were incapacitated. All I could perceive was right here, right now, and it was beautiful.

My entire self-concept shifted as I no longer perceived myself as a single, a solid, and entity with boundaries that separated me from the entities around me. I understood that at the most elementary level, I am a fluid. Of course I am a fluid! Everything around us, about us, among us, withing us, and between us is made up of atoms and molecules vibrating in space. Although the ego center of our language center prefers defining our self as individual and solid, most of us are aware that we are made up of trillions of cells, gallons of water, and ultimately everything about us exists in a constant and dynamic state of activity. "

Dr. Taylor's message through out the book is to encourage us to continually "step to the right" and try to nurture and expand our right brain awareness as much as possible. This is such a comforting notion for when we do experience a crisis of identity (and we all do at some point), because as we have to let go of the ego-driven story about ourselves we can have access to this deep wellspring of fluidity, openness, and connectivity to everything else around us. Allowing our identity to encompass the vision of our right brain could bring so many new dimensions to our perception of self.


  1. Indeed fascinating. You are probably aware of this already but just in case .. Dr. Jill Taylor has a video lecture regarding the experience you mention, which can be found on

    Personally, I think (or "feel") that society as a whole is biased towards left brain type thinking. It is interesting to explore the functions of the right hemisphere, which in so many people (including myself) is under-developed.

  2. I agree. I have a lot of work to do to develop my right-brained skills. We all do!