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TED | Talks | Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight (video)

June 3rd, 2008

A fascinating 18 min talk by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor who tells the story of her experience of Nirvana as the result of a stroke. If the movie doesn’t play here, see it at which has lots of interesting material.

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14 Responses to “TED | Talks | Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight (video)”

  1. How strange. It’s been a couple of days of coincidences. I was sent a transcript of Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk a few weeks ago by a friend who had heard her speak on the radio and then coincidently had the written copy sent to her by someone else. I was very inspired by it.
    Yesterday I was reading about the neurologist Oliver Sacks in Deborah Lipp’s book ‘The Study of Witchcraft’. In it, she states her belief that a study of both psychology and the physiology of the brain help to deepen Wiccan practice, our minds being such important spiritual tools. She includes a good bibliography of books that deal with the fascinating relationship between the left and right hemisphere of the brain, and the amazing ‘corpus callosum’ that connects them both. After reading this I had included on my ‘list of things to look into’ a book by Judith Hooper, ‘The Three Pound Universe’ and the work of Oliver Sacks.

    Strangely (or not), yesterday evening I settled down to watch ‘Imagine’ (BBC TV programme) only to find it was about Oliver Sack’s new book ‘Musicophilia’: the study of music upon the brain, particularly on the brains of people with neurological problems. I found it such a moving programme; it has inspired me to investigate further. I can take the synchronous hint!

    How odd (or not) to find your Jill Bolte Taylor post this morning. Even more so because a close friend of ours had a brain hemorrhage only a month ago; it has been a subject that has been talked about a great deal here of late.

    What I love about Jill Bolte Taylor is that she communicates so vividly the impact of having touched that place inside her. It inspires me to reach for that place inside me too. And I think she is right in her conclusion. I can imagine that to have such an intense experience would change you forever. When we meditate, it’s what we hope to engage with ourselves.

    Thanks for the post. I am going to send the transcript over to my friend (thankfully she is on her way to recovery). I am sure it wil be a help to her at the moment.

  2. There is an inspiring DVD of Ram Dass called ‘Fierce Grace’ about how he coped with his stroke in 1997 which is well worth watching. Googling it will bring it up!

  3. What a passionate, moving talk! I was moved to tears with her – what a demonstration of hallowing diminishment – there is real strength in it! To find such a wealth of knowledge and insight in something so alarming!… You can feel her inner strength and determination and desire for life! No wonder she made such an amazing recovery with that mindset!

    I wonder if in meditation, we actually unknowingly shut down a large part of our left brain…. That talk really shows how balance is so important – and that we all have a choice – it is about being tuned in acutely enough to continually make it.

  4. Ah, I don’t know. Some people have small strokes with severe disablement as a result; some have (very) large strokes that haven’t much impact on their behaviour or physical means.
    I have had some (at least two) small strokes in my left brain and I have some very nasty things to live with as a result of that.
    All to often these days people who have had “luck” with a potential disaster claim that somehow this was their own free will at work.
    (Thus implicitly saying that people who become crippled after stroke, or an accident or whatever, in the end only got what the wanted. I don’t know…

  5. Many thanks Philip for the info on the Ram Dass DVD. My friend thankfully doesn’t seem to have suffered any paralysis but she has had major brain surgery to clamp the bleed. It’s a frightening thing to go through and the psychological impact of what has happened is quite tough to deal with (she’s only 47) – you can loose confidence and your sense of feeling safe in the world. It’s helpful to be able to see how others have coped with this challenge. So thanks for that.

    Some years ago my much loved friend Jillie was diagnosed with several malignant brain tumours and given four weeks to live. Amazingly she lived another six months. As the tumours spread, many of her faculties were affected but these symptoms would change: for a few days she would have visual disturbances and then these would disappear – it was almost as if her brain was re-routing itself; by-passing the damage with new neurological pathways, trying its best to function against the odds.

    Before Jillie lost the ability to communicate, she began to talk about life in a way that she never had before. She was a very pragmatic, tough, no nonsense character, but in those last months started to talk in a mystical way about her life and about how her illness had opened something inside her. Partly, I think this happened because she was an extraordinary person who was reaching for meaning in those last days of her life – her coming death adding an intensity and focus to that search. However, I have often wondered if the tumours inadvertantly meant that some of that re-wiring opened access to certain areas of the brain, enabling a greater engagement with that mystical sense of wholeness that Jill Bolte Taylor describes.
    As Jillie’s ability to communicate deteriorated (an incredibly painful thing to witness in someone so bright with language), she would have occasional lucid moments. During one of these, she told us not to worry because ‘I understand now’. I don’t really know what she meant by that, it felt deeply meaningful, as if she really had touched something profound inside herself that went beyond language. To hear this from someone who was so emaciated and riddled with painful and debilitating cancer humbled me completely – her eyes were very bright when she said those words – the last few months of her living and dying had a profound impact on all of her friends.

    In response to Hennie’s point, I think that there is a New Age notion that implies that illness is a result of incorrect thinking; I’m not keen on this idea either, it assumes that illness is a punishment for not getting life ‘right’. Life, to me, seems far more complex than this. What I would say though is that these most challenging of life situations can lead us to places of wisdom and insight – whether we recover/survive or not. I don’t think an act of will is necessarily going to bring the result we might want – Jillie certainly did all she could to conquer her cancer – but what ended up being far more important was her response and engagement with those life events, which I think Jane has already mentioned with regard to Jill Bolte Taylor. I certainly think that Jillie felt this even more keenly because she was dying. I would rather have her still with us, but I remain awed and inspired by her example. The experiences of others can help us all to further our understanding of living and dying – equally our experiences will impact on those around us too.

  6. This really is fascinating viewing and has got us into the very interesting TED lectures after Eight posted it a while back on the camp line. La La Land is somewhere we should all perhaps spend more time, thought we may not welcome Jill’s experience to get there! See you next weekend I hope, Nat /|

  7. Wonderful video! I’m interested for two reasons. My partner had a major stroke last year, and although his recovery has been amazing, he is different now. I can’t say that he’s had any experience like Jill Taylor, but all this has me thinking. Secondly, I can identify with Jill’s experiences myself. I haven’t had a stroke, but I’ve been trying to exercise my more creative and intuitive side, and what she describes sounds exactly like the euphoria I’ve felt. And I’d like to think it’s making me a more compassionate person.

  8. I saw this film a couple of months ago – a link to it was posted on a Tarot/Psychology Yahoo group that I’m a member of.

    It *is* incredibly moving and she is extremely eloquent in communicating the ‘oneness’ that she experienced. It’s wonderful to watch and to listen to her, isn’t it.

    However, it’s a testament to the great after-stroke care that she received that she CAN communicate with us. In the UK, I think that access to such good quality after-stroke care is limited.

    She’s a very lucky woman that she didn’t have her stroke where I live 😉


  9. I loved this talk when I first saw it a few months back, since then I have listened to her on Oprah’s spirit channel – you can download it as a podcast on itunes – and I was given her book to read by a friend. I think it is definitely worth exploring Jill further, she has a lot to say about the nature of reality, she is so inspiring.

    I have been very interested in comparing her own recovery to that of a child’s development as the milestones she reaches as she gets better mirror that of a new born child. I don’t think it is any coincidence that her brain was only up to ‘speed’ again after 8 years. I believe that children’s brains develop in the the same time frame and they therefore should not be expected to do anything like read or write before then – imho 😉

    I think we can learn huge lessons about how to treat children (and pets) from the way she suggests stroke victims should be cared for in her book. i.e. coming to them with the intention of giving them positive energy instead of draining it from them – something Jill found crucial to her recovery when she was so sensitive to other people’s energy levels and intentions, helpless in hospital. Also coming to them with the knowledge that they are ‘all there’; have wants and desires like normal adults, but cannot express themselves adequately.

    I have tried both these approaches with my children and the respect, gratitude and positive energy I receive back from them is astounding.

    Absolutely fascinating.

    Lune x

  10. Thank you Maria, for your comment above, you were very blessed to know someone like Jillie, what inspiration she has given me and I hope others.

    My brother also was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was 30 – he had to learn everything from scratch just like Jill BT, I remember sitting in the canteen at the hospital with him as he tried to ‘eat ‘ his coca cola with a knife and fork.

    He is still alive, and just turned 48, although at the time the doctors gave him three years to live.

    I am sure that he experienced moments of lucidity too, he was incredibly childlike for about 5 years after the initial operation (his tumour was never removed, it is right behind his eye). But as he learnt his way in the world again he lost the sweet innocence that Jill BT has managed to hold onto.

    He went back to work – a cut throat job in finance, and although he never was the same as before the tumour, he just wanted to return to normal as much as possible. Now my mother looks after him full time.

  11. Thank you Lune. It must have been so difficult and worrying for you all. It’s a strange thing when the lines of communication, that we have been used to with someone, change. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to want to express oneself but not be able, and it can be so confusing for those around a person to know what to do or say. It must have been so hard for your brother to readjust whilst also having to deal with the doctor’s prognosis too. I can understand him just wanting to get back to a place that feels normal. It must also have been so upsetting for all of you. It’s so hard to watch someone you love struggle so. How wonderful that he defied the Doctor’s predictions.

    I found what you wrote about children’s development very interesting. I think your kids are blessed to have such a wonderful Mum.

  12. thanks for sharing! I’m a hemorrhagic stroke victim given-up for dead,who decided to live!
    in coma for 14 days!
    Alone and no family who cared for me in the hospital!
    since I was in a foreign country!
    For sure my instinct for survival, decisive character helped in my recovery!

  13. Since a physical impaired caused the psychological reaction, where is the connection to the meta-physical? isn’t that completely speculative? After all, Dr. Bolte Taylor readily observed that her brother suffered delusions defined as thoughts disconnected to reality. Why can’t her experience be a delusion as well–especially when there is an obvious explanation in this case?

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