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Jill Bolte Taylor My Stroke of Insight and Whole Brain Living

Coming back from the New Year holiday, on a cold January night, the taxi ride from the airport was more than an hour long. Since I get motion sickness if I read, I decided to listen to podcasts.
I browsed through the different podcasts I follow and saw that Mo Gawdat released a new episode. I pushed play, relaxed in my seat and listened. The episode was what he called a rewind, an old episode republished. Trust me; I am so thankful for that rewind because the moment Jill Bolte Taylor started talking, I was fascinated. I didn’t listen to Mo and posed the podcast to watch the TedTalk; however, I did listen to the podcast the next day for a second time and shared it with my friends and my therapist! Then went on to the TedTalks website and watched the episode.

Who is Jill Bolte Taylor? and why all the fuss about her?

Jill Bolte Taylor is an American neuroscientist. She started her journey in brain studies driven by her brother’s schizophrenia. At Harvard Medical School, she worked on mapping the brain to determine how cells communicate with each other. She tells Mo that our neurons are quite sociable; they like to be stimulated by and stimulate others. It is not true that we only use 10 per cent of our brain. “if it is alive and it is in your head, we are using it.” says Jill.

n 1996, she suffered a stroke; she lost her ability to walk, talk, read and write. She couldn’t recall anything of her life. However, this allowed her to study the human brain thoroughly. She wrote her memoir, ” A Stroke of Insight”, in which she documented her experience with recovering from a stroke. Last year she published another book, ” Whole Brain Living: the Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters that Drive our Life.” I have downloaded both books and plan to read them once I finish the ones I have in my hands.
In this podcast, she talks about her “Whole Brain Living”. She explains how both our sides of the brain have equally divided emotional systems and two thinking modules of cells. It is not as it was commonly known that the right side of the brain controls emotions, and the left controls thinking. Each group of cells in our brain have different functions and develops several different skill sets leading to the creation of four brain characters.
The first character is our rational thinking character, which resides in the left hemisphere of our brain. It defines boundaries with others, develops languages and seeks material gain.
The second character also resides in the left hemisphere; however, this one is the scarred character that sounds the alarm and puts us in flight or fight mode.
We move to the brain’s right hemisphere, where the third and fourth characters reside.
The third character is the one that lives on experience and in the moment. It doesn’t have the concept of time.
The fourth character is the thinking character of the right brain, our thinking consciousness, our extension to the universe; this is the we or us that has no boundaries and “lives on love, gratefulness and the experience of blissful euphoria.”
In conflict and confrontation, the second character creates conflict and addictions. Anger or fear will release adrenaline in our bloodstream, raising blood pressure. The recollection of this situation leads to the repumping of adrenaline in the blood, hence the continuous anger.
Bolte Taylor talks about the 90 seconds rule. One should take oneself out of the situation for twenty minutes and practice the B.R.A.I.N Huddle. B is for breath; bring your left hand to your forehead to bring the mind into the present and access the right side of the brain. R is for recognizing which character called the Huddle. Bolt Taylor believes that we should call the Huddle many times a day even if we don’t need it to make it a habit.
A is for appreciating the fact that there are four of us in the us. Especially if we are being controlled by character two, that is usually a saboteur.
I is for inquire, which of my characters I want to control the moment. Finally, N is for navigating the situation.

A few years back, a friend recommended “Do No Harm”, a book by Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon. Dr Marsh gives an unflinching description of his vocation in its frightening moment that could unsettle any person. However, it was the compassion with which he wrote about his work that gave a sense of serenity. When someone asks me my opinion about the book, my response is always Beautiful. Listening to Jill Bolte Taylor evokes the same feelings: serenity and beauty.

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