“Every brain has a story and this is mine:” So starts the remarkable story of Jill Bolte Taylor.
10 years previously she had been at Harvard Medical School performing research and teaching young professionals about the human brain. On December 10 1996, blood vessels in her left hemisphere erupted unexpectedly. Within four brief hours, she was watching her own mind collapse. Out of that experience came her book “My Stroke of Insight.” In it she gives us a remarkable and detailed report from within the experience of the collapse of the whole left hemisphere of the brain.
She reports it as a spiritual phenomenon, resulting from the collapse of her ego which usually takes shape and operates from the (now demobilised) left hemisphere. She said, “Moment by moment my right brain created a rich and wonderful master collage of what this moment in time looked like, sounded like, tasted like, smelt like, and felt like.
Even though to those observing she would have looked like a vegetable, she had a peaceful and natural inner prayer dialogue, ”Please don’t shut down my life!” The response from somewhere deep inside was, ’Hold on!’ ‘Be still!’ ‘Be quiet!’ She reported “Moment’s felt eternal; everything seemed connected, almost organic!”
She wrote later, “By its very design our right mind is spontaneous, carefree and imaginative; it allows creative juices to flow freely without the inhibition or judgement of the left hemisphere.” This is where we get our ability to be empathic from. It is a direct product of the right frontal cortex. She also wrote about the Corpus Callosum, that part of the brain on which both hemispheres are built, and is so much a part of the operation of the brain, that the brain is now being seen as a triune structure. Neurology now combines with the experience of patients who’ve received a heart transplant to show that the heart almost has a mind of its own. It has recently been discovered that the heart has the very same neuronal structure as the brain, being connected through the neuronal super highway, the Corpus Collosum.
What does all this say about the emphasis in our educational system and the process of spiritual formation, which tend to focus almost entirely on the left hemisphere – where we analyse, reason and make apparently rational deductions. Is it any wonder that a recent study has shown small children have an innate sense of God, until we attempt to give them a concept of God, at which point they cease to believe. In fact intelligent human beings who come from a right brain approach – the creative, intuitive, spontaneous side, often have a great deal of trouble fitting into our educational systems.
In theological education, is it possible we have unwittingly removed the wonder and awe of an experience with God, as we have reduced our theology to a heroic struggle with our left hemisphere. Albert Einstein said “There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.”
About our culture that demands intellectual proof Gore Vidal said, “It is the spirit of the age to believe that any fact, no matter how suspect, is superior to any imaginative exercise, no matter how true.”
I find it useful to remind myself it is the left hemisphere that shapes and protects my ego.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein…..
It makes you think.