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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Incredible Story of Jill Bolte Taylor

I want to share with you now one of my favorite videos I have in my program that I share with my clients.  I am going to share with you the story of Jill Bolte Taylor in her own words.  A neuroanatomist by profession, she had a rare opportunity few brain scientists ever could have.  One morning she realized she was having a stroke.  And as it happened, she felt her brain functions slip away one by one –her speech, her movement, her understanding – and while this was happening, she studied and remembered every moment.  This video is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

Jill grew up studying the brain because she had a brother with a brain disorder, schizophrenia.  As a sister and as a scientist she wanted to understand why she could connect her dreams to her reality and make them come true.  At the same time, she wanted to know what it was about her brother’s brain and his schizophrenia that he could not connect his dreams with a common and shared reality so they instead became a delusion. 

She dedicated her life’s work to research and study severe mental illnesses.  She worked at the Harvard Department of Psychiatry, and her function there was to look at the biological differences between someone who has what we would consider “normal” control as compared to the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizo-affective, or bipolar disorder.  Essentially, they were mapping the micro-circuitry of the brain. 

Jill had a very full life.  She was working on something she was passionate about, she was spending her weekends supporting a non-profit organization she was deeply committed to, and so her life was fulfilled.  Yet, on the morning of December 10, 1996, she woke up to discover she had a brain disorder of her own. 

A blood vessel exploded on the left side of her brain.  She had a major hemorrhage.  In the course of 4 hours, she watched her brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information.  She could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life.  Essentially she became an infant in a woman’s body. 

If you have ever looked at a human brain, most of us have, (you can find on the internet pictures of what the human brain looks like), you will notice that there are two cerebral cortices that are actually completely separate from one another.  For those of you who understand computers, the right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor while our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor.  The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus callosum.  Other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate. 

Our hemispheres process information differently.  They each think about different things and care about different things.  Our right hemisphere is all about the present moment, this present moment.  Right here.  Right now.  It thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies.  Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like, tastes like, what it feels like, and what it sounds like.  We are all energy beings connected to the energy all around us through the consciousness of our right hemispheres.  We are connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family, right here, right now.  Those of you who are reading this blog, we are brothers and sisters on this planet here to make this world a better place.  In this moment, we are perfect, we are whole, we are beautiful, and we are magnificent. 

Our left hemisphere is very different.  It thinks linearly and methodically.  Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and all about the future.  It’s designed to take this enormous collage called the present moment, and it starts to pick out details, lots of details, it then categorizes and organizes all that information, and then associates it with everything in the past we've ever learned, and projects into the future all of our possibilities.  Our left hemisphere thinks in language.  It’s our on-going brain chatter that connects our internal world with our external world.  It’s that little voice that reminds you of things to do, but more importantly, it tells you who you are.  It tells me, ‘I am’.  As soon as my left hemisphere says ‘I am’, it separates me, you, us, from the energy flow around us and keeps me separate from you; and you from me.  This is the portion of the brain Jill lost on the morning of her stroke.

She woke up to a pounding pain over her left eye.  It was this caustic pain, like when you eat too much ice cream, and it would grip her then release her, and then it would grip her again, and release her.  She noticed it, but she didn't think too much of it at the time.  She ended up jumping on to her cardio-glider; it’s this full body exercise machine.  As Jill was working out on this, she noticed that her hands looked like primitive claws grasping onto the bar.  It was as though her consciousness had shifted away from her normal perception of reality where she was a person on the machine having this experience, to some esoteric space where she was witnessing herself having this experience.  Jill walked across the living room floor and she noticed everything in her body had slowed way down.  Every step was rigid and very deliberate; there was no fluidity to her movement.  There was a constriction in her area of perception so she was only focused on her internal systems.

Jill attempted to get into the shower and she ended up losing her balance and was propped up against the wall.  As she looked down at her arm, she realized she could no longer define the boundaries of her body, where she began and where she ended, because the molecules and atoms in her arms blended with the molecules and atoms of the wall.  All Jill could detect was this energy.  Energy was all around her.  She tried to figure out what was going on.  The chatter in her left hemisphere suddenly went silent.  She was captivated by the energy around her, and because she could no longer identify with the boundaries of her body, she felt this enormous and expansive feeling.  She felt at one with all the energy around her, and she felt it was beautiful.

Jill’s left brain comes back on and tells her she’s got a problem.  But then she drifted back into this beautiful energy and expansive consciousness.  It was just too beautiful there.  Now, imagine if you can what it would be like to be totally disconnected to the brain chatter that connects you to the external world.  This is what it felt like: all stress and concerns, traumas, relationships, problems, issues connected to the external world were gone.  This is the freedom she felt.  She felt lighter in her body and felt this incredible sense of peace.  Just imagine what it would be like to let go of a lifetime of emotional baggage!  This is what Jill felt like – it was euphoria!

Her left brain comes back on and says she needs to get help.  Jill starts walking around the apartment attempting to get ready for work.  And she keeps asking herself, ‘Can I drive? Can I drive? Can I drive?’, and just then, her right arm went totally paralyzed by her side.  Suddenly she realized she was having a stroke.  So the next thing her brain says to do is ‘This is so cool!  How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brains from the inside out?!’

Jill then tries to call work to get some help.  She remembers she has a business card in her office with her numbers on it.  She goes into her office and pulls out a stack of business cards, and even though she knows she could see clearly in her mind’s eye what her business card looked like, she couldn't tell if what she was looking at was her card or not because all she could see were pixels.  All the pixels of the pictures, words, background and numbers were blended together.  Then Jill would wait for what she described as a wave of clarity, and in that moment she could reattach to her normal reality and then she could tell which card was hers or not.  It took Jill 45 minutes to get down one inch inside the stack of cards to find hers. 

In the meantime, her hemorrhage is getting bigger.  Jill didn't understand numbers, or the telephone, but that was the only plan she had.  She put the phone pad and her card next to each other and she starts matching the shapes of the squiggles of the phone card to the squiggles on the phone pad.  However, she would drift back out into la-la land, and then she would come back and not remember which numbers she had dialed.  This went on for a while.  Eventually the whole number gets dialed, and her colleague gets on the phone and all she hears is this ‘woof woof woof’ on the other end, similar to the sound the teacher would make in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  And she thought to herself, ‘he sounds like a golden retriever.’  What Jill didn't know was that she couldn't speak or understand language until she tried.  Her colleague fortunately figured out she needed help and called the paramedics. 

On her way to the hospital in the ambulance, Jill curled up into a little fetal ball – like a balloon that had just a little bit of air – and she felt her energy lift and felt her spirit surrender.  In that moment, Jill knew she was no longer the choreographer of her life, and either the doctors would rescue her body and give her a second chance at life, or this was her moment of transition.

When she woke up later that afternoon, Jill was shocked to discover she was still alive.  When she felt her spirit surrender, Jill had said goodbye to her life.  Her mind was suspended between two very opposite planes of reality.  With stimulation coming in through her sensory systems, it felt like pure pain, light burned her brain, and sounds were so loud and chaotic she couldn't pick out a voice from the background noise.  Jill wanted to escape.  At the same time, because she couldn't identify her body in space, she felt enormous, expansive.  Her spirit soared free in a silent euphoria.  She found nirvana. 

Jill remembered thinking there was no way she could squeeze this enormousness of herself back into her tiny little body.  But then she realized, ‘I’m still alive, I’m still alive!  And I have found nirvana!  And if I am still alive then everyone who is alive can find nirvana.’  She pictured a world of beautiful, loving, peaceful, compassionate people who knew they could come to this plane at any time.  They could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace.  Then she thought to herself, ‘what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives.’  And it was this insight that motivated Jill to recover.

2 ½ weeks later, the surgeons removed a blood clot the size of a golf ball pushing up against her language centers.  It took Jill over 8 years to completely recover.

What were Jill’s insights from her experience?  Jill discovered as a consequence of her stroke that we are the life force power of the universe with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds.  And we get to choose moment by moment who and how we want to be in this world.  We can step into the consciousness of the right hemisphere where we are, you are, I am, the life force power of the universe.  The life force power of 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up our form, at one with all that is.  Or, we can choose to step into the consciousness of our left hemisphere – a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, I separate from you, and you separate from me.  These are the worlds inside of us.   Now which would you choose?  Which do you choose? And when?

Jill Bolte Taylor says at the very end she believes the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be. 

This, I believe, is definitely an idea worth spreading.

Charlie Pacello is a PTSD, Depression, and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.'  He can be reached by visiting his website at