Tag Archives: brain

Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight


I’ve read several interviews with Jill Bolte Taylor over the years but, while all were utterly inspirational, none moved me quite as much as her hour long interview with Oprah for Super Soul Sunday (which I saw yesterday). I now can’t wait to read (she says, ignoring the stack of books towering over saying, ‘Read me first!!!’) her memoir, A Stroke of Insight.

Dr Bolte Taylor was in her late 30s when she observed herself having a stroke. She (a neuroscientist at Harvard) had an unusual reaction in that she thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool! How many brain scientists get to study having a stroke from the inside out?’ before managing to call for help before she died.

Although her brain changed forever (she had to relearn everything as if she was an infant and it took years to recover), Bolte Taylor regards herself as ‘Stroke triumphant’ rather than a stroke survivor.

‘When I look at people who’ve had any kind of trauma, I ask what have they gained,’ she told Oprah. ‘I gained this incredible knowingness of deep inner peace.’

I’d remembered previous interviews in which I’d read how, with the right hemisphere of her brain intact but almost all of the left hemisphere affected, she became extremely sensitive to people’s energy and (somehow) asked medical professionals and other carers to take responsibility for the energy they brought to her hospital bed.

One of the most moving aspects of the interview (for me) was her description of the specialist who, with her student doctors around her, spoke to Bolte Taylor and got her permission (even though Bolte Taylor couldn’t understand or communicate, she felt the respect and care).

While she and her loved ones grieved the loss of the old Jill, she set about recovering and found freedom in recognising that with her slate wiped clean (no memories of suffering, no baggage), she could choose the thoughts she wanted to think (ones that didn’t help created unpleasant sensations) and her message is that we ALL have this capacity to change our physiology by being mindful of our thoughts.

Bolte Taylor used angry thoughts as an example saying if you notice the anger and let it pass, within 90 seconds, it leaves the system. She encouraged people to time it. Of course, what most of us do is to strengthen the vicious cycle by thinking additional angry thoughts so our system gets flooded with stress hormones which then take at least 20 seconds to leave our system.

Just this morning, an ongoing situation triggered some angry thoughts on my part. My mindfulness practice helped me notice that I’d stopped breathing and my heart centre (opened so beautifully in a gorgeous yoga class this morning) felt tight.

I’ve been finding Gabrielle Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles programme really helpful in not just supporting mindfulness of thought but helping to release unhelpful ones by saying affirmations like, ‘I forgive myself for that fearful projection’ or ‘I forgive myself for that attack thought’ (I’m possibly making this sound really complex but it’s a gorgeous, easy to read and implement book and I highly recommend it).

Bolte Taylor hasn’t yet had me dig out a stopwatch but I was conscious this morning of disciplining myself to break that circuit. ‘When you pay attention to what’s going on in your own brain and you take responsibility of the circuits you’re running, you make up the rules to a new game,’ she told Oprah.

‘It’s beautiful. It’s freedom. Pay attention to what you’re thinking. You are not your thoughts. Decide if those are thoughts that create the life you want to be creating and if it’s not, change your thoughts.’

The idea that we are more than our thoughts (and feelings and body) is a key concept in psychosynthesis counselling and yet, hearing a neuroscientist describe the full cycle was just amazing.

Check out Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk here.

Metta xx