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A Stroke of Insight September 15, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Happiness, Humor, Mindfulness.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, had a stroke.  What she learned is mind blowing.

A Stroke of Insight


Thanks to Julie at Write Up My Life for telling me about Jill’s book . . . My Stroke of Insight.

Synopsis of the book from Amazon:

On the morning of December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist, experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain.

A neuroanatomist by profession, she observed her own mind completely deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life, all within the space of four brief hours. As the damaged left side of her brain ~ the rational, grounded, detail- and time-oriented side ~ swung in and out of function, Taylor alternated between two distinct and opposite realties: the euphoric nirvana of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace; and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized Jill was having a stroke, and enabled her to seek help before she was lost completely.

In My Stroke of Insight, Taylor shares her unique perspective on the brain and its capacity for recovery, and the sense of omniscient understanding she gained from this unusual and inspiring voyage out of the abyss of a wounded brain.

It would take eight years for Taylor to heal completely. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and most of all an amazing mother, Taylor completely repaired her mind and recalibrated her understanding of the world according to the insights gained from her right brain that morning of December 10th.

Today Taylor is convinced that the stroke was the best thing that could have happened to her.

It has taught her that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away. By stepping to the right of our left brains, we can all uncover the feelings of well-being and peace that are so often sidelined by our own brain chatter.

A fascinating journey into the mechanics of the human mind, My Stroke of Insight is both a valuable recovery guide for anyone touched by a brain injury, and an emotionally stirring testimony that deep internal peace truly is accessible to anyone, at any time.

Amazon also did a Q & A session with Jill.  My favorite Q & A:

Amazon.com:Your stroke affected functions in your left brain, leaving you to what you call the “la-la land” of your right hemisphere. What was it like to live in your right brain, and then to rebuild your left?

Taylor: When the cells in my left brain became nonfunctional because they were swimming in a pool of blood, they lost their ability to inhibit the cells in my right hemisphere.

In my right brain, I shifted into the consciousness of the present moment. I was in the right here, right now awareness, with no memories of my past and no perception of the future. The beauty of La-la land (my right hemisphere experience of the present moment) was that everything was an explosion of magnificent stimulation and I dwelled in a space of euphoria. This is great way to exist if you don’t have to communicate with the external world or care whether or not you have the capacity to learn. I found that in order for me to be able to learn anything, however, I had to take information from the last moment and apply it to the present moment. When my left hemisphere was completely nonfunctional early on, it was impossible for me to learn, which was okay with me, but I am sure it was frustrating for those around me.

A simple example of this was trying to put on my shoes and socks. I eventually became physically capable of putting my shoes and socks on, but I had no ability to understand why I would have to put my socks on before my shoes. To me they were simply independent actions that were not related and I did not have the cognitive ability to figure out the appropriate sequencing of the events. Over time, I regained the ability to weave moments back together to create an expanse of time, and with this ability came the ability to learn methodically again.

Life in La-la land will always be just a thought away, but I am truly grateful for the ability to think with linearity once again.

Aah . . . that’s better!

For a fascinating look at the powerful effect of music on the brain, especially in patients with Parkinson’s Disease:  Interesting Discoveries About The Brain


1. spilledinkguy - September 15, 2011

So far I’ve only had a chance to watch a few minutes of this video, but I’m definitely going to have to go back and check out the whole thing… it seems fascinating!

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

I planned to write more about the TED talk before posting, but it’s hard to encapsulate Jill’s experience in few words.

She tells the story of her stroke in a compelling fashion.

2. andalibmarks - September 15, 2011

Wow!! Have to go and watch it again!! It truly is fascinating!!
Thanks Nancy!!


nrhatch - September 15, 2011

I expect that meditation puts us firmly in right brain mode . . . hence the feelings of Nirvana.

3. Cindy - September 15, 2011

What a remarkable woman, thanks Nancy!

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

This is a video well worth watching. I love how she sums up the experience at the end:

Inner peace is waiting for us all . . . once we all start accessing it, the world would know peace.

4. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide - September 15, 2011

Wow, she’s so matter of fact about it. What an interesting story and inspiring woman.

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

The “nirvana” she describes is very much the way I feel during meditation . . . when the monkey chatter (of the left brain) shuts up long enough for me to tune into “the source of all.”

Fascinating and inspiring work. So glad she shared her experiences with us.

5. Maggie - September 15, 2011

That’s amazing. The way the brain is wired is so intricate…

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

I love the gasp from the audience when she starts handling an actual human brain and spinal cord. Very cool!

6. misswhiplash - September 15, 2011

Wow what a story!
As you know I cannot watch videos but having read everything, what a brave , fantastic woman

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

I had you in mind when I added information about the book to the post. I wish you could see her video. Her delivery is stellar . . . nothing like the victim of a stroke.

7. Julie - September 15, 2011


So glad you enjoyed the recommendation. The book is beyond fascinating, and in it there are lessons for us all. Luckily, we don’t need to have a stroke to find inner peace! What I find most inspiring is that she was motivated to recover because she knew she had an important story to share with the world.

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

Thanks so much for mentioning it last night. I love that a brain scientist enjoyed being in “la la land” as much as she did.

And that she views the stroke as one of the best things that ever happened to her. I feel the same about many of the challenges that I’ve faced in life . . . what I learned from them is priceless.

8. Carl D'Agostino - September 15, 2011

Great story of hope and determination. The Nirvana of that part of the brain. I suppose it is living. But is it life?

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

It’s not life as we know it, for sure.

From her talk and what I’ve read about her experiences on line, it’s clear that she feels we should all spend more time telling the Left Brain to “shut it” so that we can truly embrace the present moment through the Right Brain.

But, when we need to learn something new, or interact with others, we must leave La La Land to do so.

I’m sure she goes into far more detail in her book.

9. souldipper - September 15, 2011

When I first watched JB Taylor on TED, I was delighted to finally have some clues as to what my mom likely experienced in her 6 years of post stroke before she died at 96. Since she could hardly move, I hope she never left Nirvana.

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

It may depend which side of the brain is impacted by the stroke. In Jill’s case, only her linear Left Brain was impacted. Once it shut up, she was able to experience life through the present moment orientation of the Right Brain.

Other stroke victims may have impairment in the Right Brain, causing them to “live in the past.”

10. Nancy Curteman - September 15, 2011

It was fascinating to read about this side of a stroke. It sounds like the book would be an important read for everyone because each of us will probably encounter someone who has suffered from a stroke. This positive perspective diminishes some of the hopelessness associated stroke.

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

The reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive ~ with hundreds giving the book a “5” . . . those who rated the book a “1” tended to be those who bought it because they knew a stroke survivor and wanted to apply it to a specific individual.

I haven’t read the book ~ it may give a general overview of the brain and its functioning, but may not apply to every “tree” in the forest due to differences in where strokes may occur.

11. kateshrewsday - September 15, 2011

This is an amazing post and I simply must read this book. The mind is fathomless. Thanks so much for this post, Nancy.

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

I expect that this book will fascinate you from page one to the end. I’m planning to get a copy myself. So glad that Julie mentioned it to me last night.

12. clarbojahn - September 15, 2011

Wow! What an amazing woman. I tweeted the talk to spread the news. As a neurosurgery nurse for a large part of my career I found this fascinating and will pass it on to my nurse friends from that time in my life. I am so moved I may blog about this like you did. I definitely want to get her book. I hadn’t seen Julie’s post on the subject and I am greatly indebted to you in sharing it. ( I am indebted to you in other ways, too,) You have taught me so much.
Thank you for this post.

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

Glad you found it worth sharing ~ definitely blog about it whenever it suits your schedule.

Julie didn’t do a blog post, she just mentioned it to me in a comment last night on Time IS Relative. I googled Jill’s story, watched her TED talk, and couldn’t wait to share it this morning.

After I read the book, I may do a follow up post . . . but I didn’t want to wait that long before sharing ~ it’s just so cool.

Some of what I’ve learned in life, I’ve learned solely through my own efforts and experiences . . . but much of the “wisdom” I’ve acquired over the years is from writers who take the time to share what they’ve experienced with readers, like me.

We are, all of us, both student and teacher ~ the circle of life.

13. Mary Royers - September 15, 2011

This is by far the best TED talk in my opinion. I first heard of it in a college course, then in an NPR story on This American Life, and finally I saw the story with my own eyes on TED. Thanks for sharing ^^

nrhatch - September 15, 2011

It’s such an eye-opener . . . especially for those of us who have experienced that bottomless well of inner peace and joy through the daily practice of meditation.

Her experience answers many questions . . . while raising many more.

14. the island traveler - September 15, 2011

I have to read this again and again. MS. Taylor is a product of a miracle brought about by the amazing capacity of the brain to heal. She would serve as an inspiration for those who are stricken by CVD or stroke. There is hope then the ones inflicted by the disease. Great post!

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

Her “out of body” experience is intriguing too . . . her right brain merged with “all that is” and she stopped identifying with the ego oriented left brain.

Sounds similar to meditative experiences when “I am” becomes “We are.”

15. adeeyoyo - September 16, 2011

I found this post SO interesting, Nancy. I had an odd experience once with my brain and it took me years to get back to ‘normal’ again.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

An experience like this? A mini stroke? Or something else?

The “la la land” of her Right Brain sounds so much like the pure awareness I feel when meditating ~ I hear, I see, I smell, I touch, I taste . . . in a state of pure awareness, no longer filtering those experiences through the Left Brain with all it’s linear ego judgments. I am less concerned with the person having the experience than with the experience itself.

16. SidevieW - September 16, 2011

how to step out of one side and enjoy the other. that would take a lot of training and bio-feedback

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

I don’t think so, Sidey. Meditation turns off the monkey chatter and ego orientation of the Left Brain . . . allowing the Right Brain to experience this moment and all it offers.

The way teaches us the way. All we need do is Be Here Now.

17. Tammy - September 16, 2011

This is the first Ted talk that I ever saw and I was completely fascinated.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

I ordered the book from the Island Library last night. Can’t wait to read it.

18. Tilly Bud - September 16, 2011

It must have been a gift to her research. So glad she recovered from it.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

It sounds like it was one of the best things that ever happened to her . . . now she has the best of both worlds.

The ability to exist in the present moment awareness of the Right Brain . . . soaking up experiences without all the constant monkey chatter of the Left Brain . . . and the ability to shift back to the Left Brain for linear, logic, and learning.

19. flyinggma - September 16, 2011

Very interesting read Nancy. I will have to find the book for the complete story. I’m always amazed at the brain’s capacity for healing and functioning after trauma.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

I just ordered it from the Island Library.

20. granny1947 - September 16, 2011

The more I read your posts the more I realise I MUST learn to meditate.
Can you recommend any books for beginners?

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

Meditation is a way of learning to understand your own mind. It’s about learning to see how your thought arise.

Start here:

http://whatmeditationreallyis.com/index.php/lang-en/sound-and-vision.html ~ video

More beginner posts:



nrhatch - September 16, 2011

This post might also help you get started . . . other posts are linked to it at the bottom:


21. viviankirkfield - September 16, 2011

Thanks, Nancy…I can always count on you to open my eyes to something I haven’t encountered before. 🙂
I guess it comes down to how one looks at life…and how one reacts to what happens. Amazing story…I’ll watch the video when I get home from work and check out the book also.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

And, also, how we process the thoughts streaming through our brains at the speed of light.

Hope you enjoy her talk. I found it fascinating. 😀

22. sonsothunder - September 16, 2011

Yes, I am very happy for her recovery and cognizant understanding of what took place.
Not to make light of her traumatic experience, as thank God I have not suffered anything like that, But…
I still wonder if I will ever gain resolve of the constant ping><pong game taking place between my own right and left sides.
God Bless

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

Try meditation . . . it’s a great way to quiet the monkey mind.

23. Debra - September 16, 2011

what a lovely book. and a wonderful insight. thank you Nancy. one usually only hears the sad things.

she is an incredible person

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

The perfect person to have had the type of stroke she did . . . putting the experience to good use for the rest of us.

24. nuvofelt - September 16, 2011

Wow. What an insight. I’ve forwarded the link to the manager of my mother’s care home. Thanks so much for sharing.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

Awesome! Hope that the care home can gather information to help the residents maximize their quality of life.

25. 2e0mca - September 16, 2011

A fascinating choice of subject. I thoroughly enjoyed the video but wondered if I can truly choose which side of my brain I use at any specific time.

As an aside, my wife suffered a small stroke after heart surgery I can remember one of the doctors a few days later advising me that her personality might have changed and asking if I had noticed anything? I was pleased to report ‘No, she’s just as cantakerous as ever’ 🙂

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

I often choose which side of the brain to use ~ I step back into the role of detached observer, watching my Ego fuss and fret about “nothing.” My calm peaceful center surfaces and I go with the flow. After a much needed break, I return to the “real world.”

Glad that your wife fully “recovered” her pre-operative personality. 😆

26. Sana Johnson-Quijada MD - September 16, 2011

i luv that this survivor of stroke is using her calamity in such a creative productive way. awesome idea and body of work. thank u so much for sharing.

nrhatch - September 16, 2011

I just ordered her book from the library. Can’t wait to read it.

27. ElizOF - September 17, 2011

Brilliant and this ties in nicely with the post I just wrote. Jill’s story is powerful and affirming. TY 🙂

nrhatch - September 17, 2011

Makes me want to live in La~La~Land a bit more often. Reality bites. 😆

28. Pocket Perspectives - September 17, 2011

Nancy, I just watched this TED talk…a stroke of insight…what she expresses, and the way she expresses it, literally takes my breathe away…I am amazed by her insight and her ability to express that insight! I am truly astounded and inspired by her descriptions of that expansive potential available “in” each one of us.

nrhatch - September 17, 2011

I agree. Jill’s a wonderful speaker . . . not at all the “dry scientist” or the tentative stroke victim. She’s a terrific storyteller who engages our attention from first sentence to last.

29. literary lew - September 18, 2011

Jill Bolt Taylor is wonderful. What a story. I’ve seen her speak on You tube and it is worth checking out.

I’m “signing up” with you today.

nrhatch - September 18, 2011

I’ve got her book on request from the library . . . her story is inspiring. Welcome aboard!

30. Team Oyeniyi - September 21, 2011

This certainly sounds like a book well worth reading. I am intrigued by the brain repairing.

nrhatch - September 21, 2011

I just got it from the library yesterday. I’m looking forward to reading it. If she’s as good a writer as she is a speaker, it should be enthralling.

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