My Stroke of Insight – Part 1

(This post was written on Thursday, March 26th, but I’m just now able to publish it)

I’m sitting at the lobby of the Parkway Hotel in St. Louis, drinking decaffeinated tea and eating dry special K out of a little plastic cup. I arrived in St. Louis about 30 minutes ago, after an effortless journey. How different it is to travel alone! How simple things are! Tammy, my roommate, is asleep in the room but it is too early for me to go to sleep. Even if I wanted to sleep, I don’t think I can. My brain is buzzing with information from the book I’ve been reading on the plane – My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor.

She is a neuroscientist who experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. I am only about 1/3 of the way through the book, and it has literally already turned my world upside down.

She starts the book by talking about her pre-stroke life – she was a smart, successful, compassionate person. Then she spends 2 chapters talking about HOW the brain functions – in lay man’s terms. I’m going to try to explain a couple of the basic points as I understood them. The brain has 2 hemispheres, connected by the corpus callosum, which is the information highway between the 2 hemispheres. It can also be subdivided into 4 lobes – frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. Each of these lobes is divided into specifc areas, and each area is in charge of certain tasks. These tasks are carried out by literally trillions of neurons, or nerve cells, which work by translating chemical and electrical signals into information that we can relate to and understand. If our brain is not able to function properly, we cannot “decode” the information in our environment and arrange it into intelligible bits of information.

She spends several pages talking about the difference between the left and right hemispheres. The left hemisphere is the “practical” brain – in charge of language, numbers, spatial and bodily awareness, specific memories, and much more. The right brain is the “spiritual” brain – it only understands creation, the present, is very ethereal and boundless. It is in our right brain that we experience peace, abide in the moment, lose our inhibitions.

In the next couple of chapters, she describes what it actually felt like as the blood encompassed more and more areas of her left hemisphere – she describes her gradual inability to speak or understand language, her loss of perception of bodily awareness, her inability to access stored information, her loss of energy and “groundedness” to this planet. She describes a powerful, overwhelming feeling of peace, of boundlessness – she uses the word Nirvana.

As the hemorrhaging blood interrupted the normal functioning of my left mind, my perception was released from its attachment to categorization and detail. As the dominating fibers of my left hemisphere shut down, they no longer inhibited my right hemisphere, and my perception was free to shift such that my consciousness could embody the tranquility of my right mind. Swathed in an enfolding sense of liberation and transformation, the essence of my consciousness shifted into a state that felt amazingly similar to my experience in Thetaville (those dreamlike moments when we first awake and transition from sleep into wakefulness). I’m no authority, but I think the Buddhists would say I entered the mode of existence they call Nirvana. In the absence of my left hemisphere’s analytical judgement, I was completely entranced by the feelings of tranquility, safety, blessedness, euphoria, and omniscience.”

I’ve always wondered how Nathan’s brain functions, when the very very very essence of how our brain works is based on communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Well, what about a child like Nathan, who does NOT have clear differentiation between the two hemispheres of his brain?

The very definition of Nathan’s brain malformation is lack of separation between the left and right hemispheres. Nathan’s brain has only a very minimal separation in the front and in the back – but most of the middle and inner areas of the brain are fused together. So he literally just has one hemisphere. He does not have a corpus callosum – his “information super highway” is missing completely.

At this point in the book I had to stop and think. It felt like 4th of July in my brain, with the left side working overtime – I could literally feel the neurons firing as the questions buzzed around my head. How can Nathan function at all? How can he see, feel, hear, taste? How can he tell his hand to reach out and grab mommy’s face when he wants to?

I could see the miracle of Nathan’s existence unfolding before me. I’ve always known Nathan is a miracle – but today I am beginning to understand the sublime depths of his miraculous existence.

And then I wondered – could it be that Nathan’s “functional” single hemisphere is the right? In her book, Taylor describes the sublime sensations of abiding in her right hemisphere – she describes how disconnected she felt from her body, how unified she felt with the world. What if this is the state in which Nathan abides? What if Nathan, and other kids like Nathan, whose brains are wired differently, experience the world through a completely different lens? What if their brains process the information completely differently than our brains?

I have always used my own “viewfinder” to try and perceive Nathan’s views and relationship to the world. What if I’ve been trying to use a microscope to quantify the expansiveness of the universe?

I’ve always seen Nathan’s disability as a hindrance to his happiness – but what if that is all he has? What if his disability is his happiness, what keeps him away from the ego, what prevents him from being “bound” by the analytical, egotistical mind?

My Stroke of Insight has also been mine. I feel as if, finally, I understand how Nathan experiences reality. It has given me the ability to see the world from his Right Brained point of view. And oh, how this changes things!

Sorry I know I have been writing voluminous posts lately – but my heart has been so open, I am just eager to grow and evolve, to understand Nathan’s gift, his role in the world and in my life. And this blog is how and where I process the lessons.

There were will be a part 2 to this post, as I continue reading the book and continue understanding Jill Bolte Taylor’s message. This book has already changed my perception completely. I will explain more later.

Comments

  1. http://amber says

    I saw that on opera. I loved the story she told. It was great if you remember a few months back I wrote a post on it. I listed the stuff she said you should do for brain damaged people. I loved it.

  2. http://Veronica%20-%20Lorenzo's%20Nana says

    Wow Marcela! This is so insightful. I too have often wondered how it is that Lorenzo functions because of his ACC. It’s interesting to be reading this today, as tomorrow we have a pre screening appointment for his MRI that will be done at the end of the month, and then we see another neurologist! But this presents new questions for me to ask regarding what parts of his brain are functioning in which way, and how does his ACC affect his functional levels? And because Lorenzo has all this stuff going on with his brain, does this mean he has cerebral palsy? Your posts are always so insightful! BTW … did you ever make Nathan’s cards? I still would love to have one!

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