The right and left hemispheres of the brain have “different ways of looking at the world,” says Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, author, neuroscientist, and stroke survivor. After a stroke left the left side impaired, Taylor was given a glimpse into just how different the hemispheres operate. Although a scientist, it was through her direct personal experiences that she realized the extraordinary secrets of the brain.
While the left side is conscious of physical, individual identity, the “I am,” and separation from others, the right is connected with everything, the “the we,” and “the life-force power of the universe,” she says after her remarkable, life-changing experience.
Today, what she found could be critical for understanding how to change today’s world as we face an environmental crisis.
Jill Bolte Taylor’s ‘Stroke of Insight’
In 1996, at age 37, a blood vessel exploded in her left hemisphere, causing her to lose all her left-brain skills, like speaking, writing, reading, or remembering her past. As a result, she gained unique insights into the right brain as she recovered over eight years. The stroke instantly changed her perception and surprisingly led to a “remarkable sense of deep inner peace.” (See her amazing 2008 TEDTalk, ‘My stroke of insight’ below).
A shift in Consciousness via the Right Brain Hemisphere
Following the stroke, Taylor experienced a shift in consciousness, boundaries and matter dissolved, all was silent, and she became aware of magnificent flowing energy fields around her. Later, she would describe sensing other peoples’ energy, either being attracted or repulsed.
Despite having a brain hemorrhage, she felt as though all stress was gone and felt “lighter in her body,” as though expanding beyond it.
Meanwhile, she was vaguely aware of needing help, struggling to dial a phone number.
“…It was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality…to some esoteric space where I’m witnessing myself having this experience,” she said.
A Connected Nirvana
Rather than feeling frightened, she “felt at one with all the energy that was,” and it was peaceful and euphoric, a place she affectionately called “La La Land.”
Meanwhile, she was fully conscious and knew her life could be reaching a transition point. After a spiritual surrender, she wondered if the doctors would revive her in the hospital, surprised when she awoke again. Lights, sounds, and sensory stimulation felt like “chaos” and “pure pain.” Even so, she had found peace inside.
“I’m still alive, and I have found Nirvana,” she said of the feeling of euphoria. “If I am still alive and I have found Nirvana, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.”
Afterward, her experience of this state of oneness with a place of loving peace motivated her journey to recovery. One day, she knew sharing her story could help others understand their connection to everyone and everything.
Mental Health – Global Health
In 2012, Taylor gained another unique perspective when she traveled to Antarctica with Vice President Al Gore, 20 scientists, and 125 global leaders to experience the effects of climate change firsthand. Following the experience, she realized something vital, mental health and global health are interconnected. Improving health at either scale requires balance, compassion and focusing on the bigger picture, not getting drowned in negative details.
“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.”
A recent article suggests Taylor’s insights about accessing the right brain could be critical in the world today. According to psychotherapist Linda Buzzell, it’s the right brain where people are more open to “green consciousness,” to oneness with each other and nature.
For too long, our out-of-balance world hasn’t been using the whole brain or honoring the skillsets of both hemispheres. We haven’t fully understood our connectedness and interdependence with the natural world.
“Taylor’s critical insight is that by entering this altered, nonlinear state of consciousness, we may reconnect with an important awareness that, when combined with the more practical, rational left-brain insights of science, might allow us to more effectively address our current environmental situation,” writes Buzzell.
Compassion Versus Judgment
In a previous article titled, “Does Our Planet Need a Stroke of Insight,” Taylor compares the right brain to a female, “in my mind, she is compassionate, expansive, open, and supportive of others.” Conversely, the other half “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.”
Undoubtedly, we see so much of the left character in the news of politics, culture wars, and ongoing gun violence.
“The left hemisphere is focusing on details, and the right hemisphere is looking at the bigger picture and what is similar,” says Taylor. “Whereby the left hemisphere is seeking differences, the right hemisphere is looking at what do we have in common?” Taylor said in her TEDTalk.
What if we collectively sidestepped the narrative the left brain is pushing on the world? According to Taylor, author of “Whole Brain Living,” we can choose which characters to embody.
Female versus Male Brain?
A longstanding myth has been that the right brain is the feminine view, while the left is masculine, dubbed the male-female “Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde” paradigm until the 50s.
In reality, most people’s brains are a “patchwork quilt of masculine and feminine features that [vary] widely from person to person,” states WebMD.
Thus, there are both sides to people, and Taylor’s experience revealed much more we share in common.
Connected Energy-Beings Through the Right Brain
While the left brain hemisphere thinks in language, the past, and the future, the right thinks in pictures and is connected with the present and nonlinear consciousness, a vast field of energy, and we are energy beings, as she describes it.
“I am an energy-being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere,” she said in her TEDTalk. “We are energy-beings connected to each other through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family,” she continued. “And right here, right now, we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place.”
Video of 2008 TEDTalk:
Tuning to the Right Side of the Brain
Today’s out-of-balance world may lean heavily toward “left-brain values,” but we can change that collectively.
“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,” Taylor writes.
So, the question is, how do people reconnect with the right brain? It’s an ancient concept.
For example, there’s evidence that ancient structures had this purpose, to tune in to sound frequencies that turned on the right brain. Now, we have access to vast online collections of sounds designed to help people meditate at similar frequencies.
Re-connecting with Nature
According to Buzzell, reconnecting with nature wherever possible is one of the easiest ways to tune in. By going outdoors, gardening, and “connecting with other animals,” among other peaceful activities, we can begin to develop a green consciousness.
If everyone feels at one with nature and the universe, a skillset of the right brain, then the left brain skillset can help us take necessary steps to protect our shared world. Yes, we can decide to do it, as the world learned over the last few years.
Rapid Shift in Approach to the Planet
Recently, the pandemic led to millions of people spending more time “nurtured by nature.” More people adopted pets, and global air pollution declined. In some places, like Venice, the water cleared and sealife returned. As we near a (hopefully) post-pandemic world, it looks like we are returning to our old ways again. Or, will we have the will to collectively make the changes needed to heal the planet and ourselves long-term?
“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,” Taylor said. “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?”
What if everyone learned to listen to the right hemisphere more?
“We have so much more power over what’s going on inside of our heads than we were ever taught,” she says.
“And we have the choice, moment by moment, do I want to be in my more open, expansive, loving curiosity? Or do I want to be more in my fear-based, constricted, detail-based, potentially hostile prejudice? It’s a choice.”
See the video below by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: