A stroke of insight – the space within

Some of your comments on Special Places were about home being your special place, and Madhu posed an intriguing question: ‘The space within, is comfortable and serene…..but I do wonder what this really means?’  

This question lingered and reverberated in my thoughts.
Around the same time, Dianne sent me an amazing video clip called ‘My stroke of insight’.  (It’s in English with French subtitles, reference below.)  I don’t usually spend time watching video clips, however I strongly recommend you watch this one.  It’s about the stroke that a neuro-anatomist had, and her descriptions of her experience of living in the right and left hemispheres of the brain, each dissociated and dissociating from each other throughout the stroke, in a disturbing, complex, unsettling, terrifying and ultimately transformative dialogue.  This experience offered her an opportunity to access a different way of being in the world.  It was her ‘shaft of light’ moment.

It’s about the choice we have to live in our right hemispheres and the power this may have not just to affect our personal experience of the world, but also to affect the world itself.  Listening to this story gave a deeper meaning to experiences I have had when practising yoga where I have felt an energy in me connecting with the world outside which feels like the boundaries of a discrete ‘me’ disappearing and the inside linking with the outside.
Our lives are dominated by the left hemisphere – if we let them be; and yet I have found I have a need, a craving, to step into the right hemisphere, and this is the space within that is comfortable and serene…the space within that we connect to when we are in one of our special places such as the garden at Ickwell Bury, experiencing the elements in the Australian outback, or possibly when experiencing ‘the Wales feeling’ … This is home. 

See what you think, all views welcome:

Jill Bolte Taylor, sous-titre français – on Dailymotion


La conférence de la neuro-anatomiste Jill Bolte Taylor traduite en français. La vidéo a fait le tour du monde tandis que son livre du même titre My Stroke of Insight (Voyage au-delà de mon c

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23 Responses to A stroke of insight – the space within

  1. Chris says:

    I’ve read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book about her stroke. The video was sent to me by Hilda, whom Karin will remember, but I couldn’t for some forgotten technological reason get the thing to play so got the book instead. For ages after reading it I could think about little else. I found it in equal parts fascinating and disturbing – the disturbing factor being the reaction that won out eventually and even now, many months later, writing about it is creating a feeling of nervousness in me. I shall be interested to see what others make of it.

    Being a fairly easy going person who can nevertheless be sparked into hot anger by small matters I was really taken by one tiny detail – that there is a measurable chemical reaction which happens when one suddenly becomes angry but that the chemical trace cannot be detected after a very short time. Memory says it was less than a minute but that may be wrong. The theory put forward was that if your anger lasts longer than that it is because you want to go on experiencing the anger high and are deliberately fuelling it to keep yourself in that state. I don’t know if it’s right but it has helped calm me down on occasions.

    • Karin says:

      Hi Chris, I haven’t read the book but am curious about what was disturbing (other than the idea of having a stroke at all of course) and whether it is/was anything to do with accessing a ‘right’ way-of-being which challenges the Western ‘left’ logical hierarchy of being/thinking? or something else?

      I agree with the point that a conscious or unconscious fuelling of the anger is what prolongs it. Does she say anything about what enables a prolonged sense of happiness or joy?

      • Chris says:

        Hi Karin,

        In answer to your question about why the Jill Bolte Taylor book disturbed me so much I can only say that I felt threatened by it. Maybe it made me think about how vulnerable we all are – how easily some small malfunction can wipe us out, how chancy it is as to whether the right person will be there with the right knowledge at the right time to put things right. A hint of my own mortality.

        And maybe, as you suggest, discomfort with the right brain concept. When I look at myself I see the left side of my brain as very controlling and possibly getting more dominant as I get older. Perhaps a ghost of a regret for not encouraging the right side of my brain to fight for equality. Maybe the thought that I would have been less stressed over many things and many years had I tried to make that happen.

        I can’t remember what was said about prolonging happiness and joy and I feel a great reluctance to re-read the book. When I come across it (probably pushed well to the back of a shelf somewhere!) maybe I’ll send it to you

      • Karin says:

        I can well understand the intimations of one’s own mortality point.

        I think the point about being threatened in a wider sense is very interesting. So many people are threatened by the right brain (or whatever you choose to call it) experience and want to dismiss it as wacky, weird, imaginary, whatever. Why is that? (I don’t expect you to answer necessarily.) It goes against all our conditioning, our whole lives, what we are rewarded for, how our external world is defined. But it just stays there at some deeper level, keeping quiet and waiting for its moments to surface. I don’t think it needs to be a fight for equality, just a letting go of the effort the left brain relentlessly requires – but that can feel very threatening. And also there is something about losing hard-won identity in all of that.

        Yes, please do send the book to me if you find it. Not sure if I’d like the writing style but would be interested in more content!

  2. Chris says:

    p.s. And I am now amused to realise that soon after my responding to Madhu Sameer that if her home is comfortable and serene then she was doing something RIGHT along comes the next post suggesting that serenity etc is linked to the RIGHT halves of our brains. Is this a co-incidence or a synchronicity? (I ask mischievously).

  3. Karin says:

    I’m tempted to say ‘right on, Chris’ but I’ll stick with ‘write on’!

    • Karin says:

      Thanks Madhu, I thought it might be. Hope your writing is going well,

      • Madhu Sameer says:


        Going well. I thought about it some more, and I realised this is what is meant by Krishnamurti when he says there is no difference between observer and the observed. My own meditative experiences of a week ago dovetailed into that. The left brain was no more…and so the I – the observed – became the thou – the observed. The the objective and the subjective intermixed, overlapped.

        In fact this seems to be the essence of the mahavakyas TutTwamAsi (Thou Art That) and AhamBrahmaAsti (I am the Brahman).

        It was emotional for me as well. Thanx for the video. Very reaffirming and validating for me.


      • Madhu Sameer says:

        Sorry for the typo, I meant to say I the observer, became Thou the observed.

    • Karin says:

      Hi again, I wrote my previous comment without following your link because I thought it was to your recent post which I’d read. I was therefore surprised but not surprised (if you see what I mean) to follow the link to your July post on left and right brain experiences and so much else – the links between inner and outer needs, the need for ego (but on a leash). Parallel channels and I’m glad this interfaced unexpectedly. What you say about your meditation experience of a week ago connects for me with some yoga practice, I am going to write more about this. I see all the links in your comment above too, thanks.

  4. Viv says:

    This is going to take some digesting and thinking about. In 1995, I had a weird cerebral event that was initially diagnosed as a brain haemorrhage and was rushed to hospital for tests and treatment. I don’t recall experiencing anything Dr Taylor did, but then I was morphined up to the eyeballs.
    One thing that strikes me is that the experience of oneness with source that she seems to describe, of being united with the flow and with all people, seems also to be that which is experienced by both raves(with or without drugs etc) and worshippers of all faiths and something which I have forever felt both excluded from and deeply repulsed by emotionally. I know that I have experienced this sense of oneness and been horrified by my imminent loss of self within it; subsequently such brushes with this feeling(and it may be no more than a feeling and have no external reality) make me deeply afraid that my self, my soul is in danger of being stolen.
    I frequently have the feeling of being alone in a great ocean of nothingness, and that I am no more than a pair of eyes floating in that sea, an observer and not a participant at all.

  5. Karin says:

    Hi Viv,

    your comment is so interesting. You talk about raves and also worshippers. Taking the first group, if drugs are involved then the feeling is chemically or should I say artificially or externally induced. For me that isn’t the same thing as being right here right now with/in the right brain. It is a forced entry. If drugs aren’t involved, then (never having been to a rave), my assumption is that there is something about the fever pitch of the crowd which brings this on.

    But what you are writing about brings me close to a topic I have been thinking about a lot, and that is how audiences of musicians can sometimes get carried away to a different state/place or energised by the experience of listening to the performer; and so can the musicians themselves be energised and see themselves as a conduit of an energy greater than themselves. Maybe this is a collective right-brain experience. Any views out there?

    I am curious about your fear that your self ‘may be stolen’ – by who or what, I am left wondering? Is it in the Western 20th/21st century character to hang on to a sense of self, and fear the nothingness that may be associated without it?

    I am also struck by the symmetry of your opening comment describing a time when you were morphined up to the eyeballs (eyes in a sea of morphine?) and your closing comment describing yourself as no more than a pair of eyeballs floating in a sea.


    • Viv says:

      Ok, to answer in order. Raves etc, drugs and so on: I’ve studied to some degree the uses of psychotropic drugs within shamanic cultures. Peyote, ayahayusca and others all act to create a very specific shortcut within a ritual context, and within the culture it is seriously frowned upon to use them lightly or recreationally: they are serious stuff and not made for messing with. I have a packet of Salvia Divinorum in my herb drawer waiting for me to have the courage and the right intention to use at some stage. The music of a rave(I’ve never been either, but I once spent a year as a roadie) mimics the beat entrainment of a shamanic dance/drumming ritual and triggers certain brain changes. Atmosphere too and crowd dynamics are also a factor and the collective consciousness of a large group can also be involved(this too is what makes a Quaker meeting powerful as well)
      As for who is doing the stealing, I guess I would feel it is the way that immense things like stars steal the energy and mass of lesser things and draw them inexorably to them. The greater the mass, the greater the gravity. I guess I also fear the ‘event horizon’ where try as I might, my distinctiveness is doomed to become absorbed in the mass of the crowd. If you have ever watched any of the later Star Trek series or films, the Borg are a race that conquers galaxies in this way and it is something I find deeply abhorent to me.
      Eyes, yes. I often have the sensation that I am indeed no more than eyes on an empty being, or one that is without weight or standing, the voice of someone in the wilderness, shouting about what I see even when no one is either listening or able to understand what I say.
      Sorry, late night musings. Pity my poor student tomorrow if we start on astrophysics as an antidote to the usual physics!

  6. Karin says:

    Hi, too late to comment on all this, but your comment about ‘stars’ ‘stealing’ the energy of us mere mortals is fascinating. I had been wondering about this transfer of energy and have a post in process about this. What makes a star, and why do we need to make stars of mere mortals? (This is meant as a rhetorical question.) A friend of mine has a theory that human ‘stars’ are themselves lacking in self-esteem and so need the energy of others to feel good about themselves. Maybe this is true in some cases but I think not all. In any case, I feel I can be generous and give a little of my energy (which is of course limitless as it’s right brain) if that feels genuine. Also I see it more as an energy exchange with the end result being greater than each single entity’s contribution, and everyone feeling better, greater, more… as a result. So the buzz or high you might get from a concert (or a Quaker meeting) is greater than the sum of the parts. My only concern is the potential unequalness of contribution an active performer, and a passive audience. And now, goodnight!

    • Viv says:

      I was quite literally alluding to real stars, and the way their gravity draws matter to them. I was also thinking of BlackHoles.
      I’ve never really experienced a buzz like that properly and am deeply suspicious of the whole thing. There’s something going on that works without either consent or understanding and it bothers me; it’s too easy for people to get railroaded and caught up.

  7. Karin says:

    I wasn’t sure if you were referring to both and since it linked with one of my own current preoccupations, I decided to pursue the less obvious meaning. An unconscious connection possibly? My view/experience is that not everything does work with consent or understanding, a lot that happens is unconscious. (For instance, we are often not conscious of our ever-present right-brain dimension/experience etc.) Awareness is a key ingredient. Without awareness such a phenomenon can become very dangerous or destructive as you say. I completely agree.

    • Karin says:

      PS I ordered your book last night!

    • Viv says:

      Aha, that’s ok. I spent a lot of time last year covering astrophysics with a Chinese student and there was a massive amount of food for thought concerning the way the laws of physics seem to correlate with the way so many other things work(Blogs are affected by the whole gravity well thing; the big long established blogs seem to attract millions of readers, whether what they say is worth reading or not and smaller ones fizzle out and become lost)
      I agree about the unconscious having a lot to answer for; it’s the maniupulation of this lack of awareness in others that I take issue with, for churches, music and many other things, where the participants are swept along with the experience and are never given a set of tools to try and understand why.
      Why is as big a word in my life as it is in the average 3 year olds, and I do my best to understand the mysteries of the world and people. Goethe said, “That which we understand, we do not blame” and I guess my way of trying not to hate the world around me is to try and gain some comprehension of its workings.

  8. Viv says:

    Perhaps what we really seek, what we really need is a middle ground. Why do we always seek to polarise experience so radically?
    Perhaps the place we seek is somewhere between there and here….an answer that is somewhere between no and yes.

  9. Ollin says:

    that’s an amazing video clip. And all that stuff she talks about is awesome. The great thing is writers live in the right side of the brain, so I guess I’m doing pretty good for myself right? It was nice stopping by and reading your blog! 🙂

  10. Karin says:

    Thanks for your comment Ollin, and for stopping by. I’m not sure if all writers necessarily live in the right side of their brains though hopefully they spend a fair amount of time there, like it sounds you do. There’s a lot of left side in the world of writing, eg instructions/beliefs like ‘you should write every day’, ‘you should write x hundred words a day’ etc. Glad you enjoyed the video clip.

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