Book Review: My Stroke of Insight

Many people are familiar with the TED (Technology Entertainment Design) talk given my Jill Bolte Taylor – a brain scientist who experienced a massive stroke in 1996. What made her experience unique was not only that she was experiencing what she had studied, and later came to be able to describe it from personal experience in a way that no one has done. It was that her findings were completely unexpected. She was a scientist and academic, much of her life located in the left brain of rationality. With damage to her left brain, she suddenly found herself in the peaceful world of her right brain.


If you haven’t checked out the talk, it is amazing. Find it here. It’s an incredible story which she makes entertaining and educational, and parts of it are just so beautiful – when she’s describing her experience of her right brain, I almost felt like I was watching great theatre like “Angels in America.”

If that peaks your interest, the book is a terrific way to go from the bite-size twenty minute talk to a much fuller story. What I’d never seen done before is to combine the worlds of rationality and spirituality so well. We can read anywhere about how we need to live in the present, how we need to consider human kind as one, and as one consciousness. More complex messages are about stopping viewing the world in dualities and about moving beyond the personalities and patterns that we’ve developed.

What Bolte-Taylor offers is a synthesis. The left brain is responsible for rational thought, for setting boundaries, for individuation, for time. It is a marvelous instrument, a miracle. But the right brain, much suppressed, is able to see the world and humanity as one, borders disappear. The sides of the brains are not opposed but are part of a whole. What she encourages is that we step to the right to make a more loving and peaceful world. That sounds trite, written alone there, without the book behind it, “loving and peaceful world” – but when placed in the context of how she describes how the human brain works, it is indeed a stroke of insight.


What also comes clear in her writing is her sense of purpose: before the stroke, to help humanity by understanding the brain better; and after, with the personal experience of a stroke, to provide better care and treatment for those who have had strokes, to better understand mental illness, and to accept the elasticity of the brain. I also found it fascinating to read her account of her recovery from her stroke, and how she found she had the choice about which parts of her personality to recover. She chose not to take back anger and anxiety. She provides a really clear description of the way that our personalities and identities are built, and that it is not necessarily a given. Our brains can be rewired, our identity is fixed as a story through our left brain, but we could choose to be without identity, to be consciousness. How often have you heard someone say, “well, I’m like that. I can’t help it.” Or people who tell so many stories about their stories and histories that they somehow miss participating in the world around them?

It’s one of those books that I wish everyone would read – and I was musing that it would be a useful book for skeptics of spirituality. But reading other book reviews on and the like, I see that some readers are unconvinced by her arguments – they accept her ‘scientific’ descriptions, but travel no further into accepting how the right brain works and what it can offer humankind. Ah well. I suppose I was being too hopeful.

Anyways, my recommendation is that if you find a copy somewhere, grab it! She also has a website.


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