MIND, PSYCHE, SPIRIT
Does our Planet need
a Stroke of Insight?
by Jill Bolte Taylor
Before 2008, everything I did had something to do with mental health. I'm a neuroscientist, and I was all about understanding how we create our perception of reality, and understanding what's going on in the brains of people who experience hallucination and delusion.
But then I gave a TED Talk about my own experience with stroke. Within weeks of delivering that talk in 2008, my life changed and the repercussions still resonate loudly in my world. My book, My Stroke of Insight, has been translated into 30 languages. Time magazine and Oprah's Soul Series came calling. I've travelled to Europe, Asia, South America, Canada; I've criss-crossed the US. In February 2012, I took a trip to Antarctica with Vice President Al Gore, 20 scientists, and 125 global leaders who care deeply about climate (see short video below).
While I was traveling the globe, I still thought my core issue was mental health. But, perhaps spurred by that trip to Antarctica, I've come to understand that the two issues of mental health and global health are closely linked -- if not one and the same. Similar processes we use to improve our mental health can help us make better, more responsible decisions as a society -- by focusing on the compassion and integrity of our right brain, rather than the judgment, punishment and deception of our left brain.
The better we understand the choices we have been making, either consciously or unconsciously, the more say we will have in the world we create. Neurocircuitry may be neurocircuitry, but we don't have to run on automatic.
-- Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
To use a powerful metaphor, we have two magnificent information-processing machines inside our heads. Our right mind focuses on our similarities, the present moment, inflection of voice, and the bigger picture of how we are all connected. Because it focuses on our similarities, in my mind she is compassionate, expansive, open, and supportive of others. Juxtaposed to that, our left brain thinks linearly, creates and understands language, defines the boundaries of where we begin and where we end, judges what is right and wrong and is a master of details, details and more details about those details. Because it focuses on our differences and specializes in critical judgment of those unlike ourselves, our left brain character tends to be our source of bigotry, prejudice, and fear or hate of the unfamiliar.
What this means is that the mean little voice inside my head, the one that is critical of self or others and judges everyone and everything in a negative way, is a part of my neurocircuitry. The question is, what say do I have in who and how I want to be in the world. Do I have the power to choose being kind over being judgmental? Do we have the power to be open rather than based in our fear? Of course we do, and the better we understand the choices we have been making, either consciously or unconsciously, the more say we will have in the world we create. Neurocircuitry may be neurocircuitry, but we don't have to run on automatic.
We are an amazing species living in an amazing time. We know more about the human brain and how it works than we ever have before, and for the first time in the history of mankind, we have the ability to consciously direct our own evolution. We know we have the ability to not only experience our biological circuitry, but to observe it, nurture it, and change it. We have the ability to consciously choose who and how we want to be in the world, and we are teaching our children skills about mindfulness, reflection, the value of introversion, vulnerability, and how to respect the environment. At the same time our world has become extremely polarized, not only in our politics, but hate crimes abound; war is ongoing between those who look different, those who believe differently or even those who are different genders. By better understanding what's going on in our brains, we can better understand all of this behavior and what choices we want to make.
I trust we can create an age where we stop relating to the world skewed through our left-brain values as individuals focused on profit, personal gain, power, prestige, authority, advantage, and the material goods money can buy. Instead, it's time to shift our approach to the planet and our relationship to it, as we explore the most important question of our time: How do we each, as individuals of a collective whole called humanity, bring our gifts to the table to be a part of the solution?
The reality of global warming is no longer an issue for debate. The real conversation now revolves around this question: How are we going to manage the repercussions of our actions , and do it quickly enough to sustain life as we have known it? Needless to say, this is not the way our society works now, and as a result, the health and well-being of our planet has not only been threatened but compromised.
I am a true believer that the next step in our human evolution is upon us, and we are becoming more balanced in not only how we live inside our own heads but in how we treat our planet. When we live our lives through the intention of our right minds, and use the skill sets of both minds to achieve our goals, we become a whole-brained and more balanced society. Change is never easy, and there will always be those who fall behind. But overall, I am encouraged by where we are, and the direction we are heading.
Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, experienced a severe stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996. She could no longer walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. It took 8 years to recover all of her functions and thinking ability. She is the author of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey . Her 2008 presentation at the TED Conference became the second most viewed TED Talk to date. She was chosen as one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2008.