Leaving the Left Brain

Last night Backtire & I sat and watched Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk. Wow. If you don't know about the TED conference, check it out. All of the talks I've ever watched were fascinating and thought provoking, sustaining me for days or weeks. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who spent her life researching the brain and then experienced a brain hemorrhage that shut down her left brain. She had the unique opportunity to observe her own brain losing function and altering her perceptions and recover from this experience to share it with us. Watch her talk first. My reaction is below.  

It seems clear to me that this woman has something in common with people who have experienced near death experiences, out of body experiences, voodoo rituals, meditative trances, and ceremonial and recreational drugs. All of these things organically alter brain functioning, changing activity patterns in various parts of the brain, and therefore altering the person's sense of "normal" consciousness. It makes sense that people who have had the opportunity to see the world and themselves through a different consciousness would consider it a life changing experience and want to spread the word to others. And isn't that what both seeking enlightenment and taking ritual drugs are all about?

I find it fascinating to think that all of the visions, hallucinations, indescribable feelings, and awarenesses that people attribute to peyote or deep meditation or almost losing your life are really just things that are being unlocked from within your own brain chemistry. All humans must universally have the capacity to feel as if they are floating above their own body or see colors in the air that aren't there if only the right parts of our brains are stimulated or shut down. In fact there is much evidence of this, which I don't have time to find and cite right now, but I've read it here and there over the years.

I'm particularly fascinated by all of this, both as a scientific person who has devoted time to studying the brain and as a person who has never been lucky enough to experience any of it. It remains unreachable to me from my left-brain imprisonment. I haven't taken the drugs and I haven't had the head injuries. I haven't had the patience for meditation, as it just feels like sitting still and doing nothing to me, or worse, listening to the endless chatter of my left brain making lists and reminding me of things, which stresses me out instead of relaxing me.

The closest I ever get to altered consciousness is in the shower, while driving sometimes, or in the
hypnogogic/hypnopompic state each morning and night. I feel kind of zone-y and stream of consciousness at those times. Random thoughts occur to me and I automatically synthesize bits and pieces of my experience and memories together and often come up with interesting ideas. It's a nice break from the chatter and it leads me to the creative spark and the satisfaction of self-reflection, but it's still pretty left-brained, I think. I cannot even imagine floating above my body or feeling enormous and expansive and one small part of the energy of the universe. I can intellectualize that concept, but I don't truly "get it".

Think about this- each person on the planet due to their individual make-up and various groups, due to their cultural influences, and in fact each brain possessing animal may indeed be experiencing the world and themselves in slightly or entirely different ways. If I live mostly in my left brain and you live mostly in your right, do we see eye to eye? Can we understand each other? Does a gorilla or squirrel experience the world in more of a right brain enormous and expansive way than I do? When I try to see things from others' point of view, is it an exercise in futility because I am making a gigantic and flawed assumption each time, which is that the other being essentially views themselves and the world and the relationship between them the same way that I do, when in reality I cannot even fathom what their personal universe is like?

I agree with Jill Bolte Taylor's essential message- that we would all benefit if we could all tap into our right brain more and understand our interconnectedness and be at peace with ourselves and each other. We don't want to induce brain injury in everyone. I'm not sure how I feel about passing out the drugs to all. So, how do we get there?

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