In 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist and National Spokesperson for Mental Illness at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, experienced a stroke that disabled the functionality of her brain’s left hemisphere. In this 2008 TED Talk, Taylor discusses her “Stroke of Insight” as she recounts the effects of her stoke – drifting between the consciousness of the left and right hemisphere of her brain.
While Taylor’s left hemisphere was impaired, the idea that we are separate individuals whose actions are not somehow connected with other beings and objects completely dissolved. Her sense of being an individual—and all the pain and suffering that comes with that—melted away. The feelings of interconnectedness and peacefulness that she experienced—a result of mostly using that right hemisphere of her brain—are something that she believes we should make a conscious effort to acknowledge every day. According to her, we don’t have to wait for a “stroke of insight” to access them.
The Arrogance in Separating Ourselves as Individuals
In the Western world, we often see the world through the lenses of the “Arrogant Eye,” where individuals separate themselves from other beings and objects in an attempt to rank and qualify potential use. This perception of the Arrogant Eye can stunt progress as it creates self-driven motivation that ignores how our actions affect others. It also creates the delusion that the world revolves around us. In her talk, Jill describes this sense of separation that she associates with her left-brain hemisphere:
“And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual, separate from the energy from around me and separate from you. And this was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke.”
Taylor argues that our separateness is merely a perception imposed on us by the way our left hemisphere perceives and processes information; however, we can counteract this by consciously seeking the interconnectedness in every waking moment and tapping into our right hemispheres. Essentially, we can replace this “Arrogant Eye” with the “Loving Eye,” Taylor seems to have lost the sense of separateness associated with the Arrogant Eye and adopted the sense of interconnectedness associated with the Loving Eye as result of using more of her right-brain hemisphere during her stroke as she states that:
“I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere.”
By being mindful of how our left hemispheres cause us to perceive ourselves as individuals rather than interconnected beings, we can consciously make efforts to view the world in respect to interconnectedness, giving more attention to our environment including other beings and objects than ourselves. According to Taylor, we can avoid a self-centered worldview—seeing more clarity in each moment as a result—by “step[ping] to [the] right of [our] left hemispheres,”
When the concept of separate individuals is replaced with the concept of interconnected beings, we begin to enable our senses to more easily appreciate the beauty and peace around us. By learning to pay attention to our interconnectedness, we can tap into our own personal nirvana, much like Taylor did.
“'…I have found Nirvana. And if I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.’ And I pictured a world with compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres—and find this peace” (Jill Taylor).