With a clot the size of a golf ball in her head, Jill Bolte Taylor’s work at Harvard’s brain research center got personal. Her stroke left her without the use of her left hemisphere. She lost the basic analytical functions like her ability to speak, understand numbers or letters. Surgery and eight years of recovery has lead to enlightenment and contentment.
She brings a deep understanding to something she long studied: that the two lobes of the brain have very different personalities. The left brain gives us context, ego, time, logic. The right brain gives us creativity and empathy.
Her message, that people can choose to live a more peaceful, spiritual life by sidestepping their left brain, has resonated widely.
When thinking what they might do with an extended time away from work, many people fire up that left brain. They might be better off to grab some crayons first. Then a sabbatical might offer not only rejuvenation but also put them on the superhighway to bliss.
In February, Dr. Taylor spoke at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference, the annual forum for present, innovative scientific ideas. The result …phenomenal. Her 18-minute video was posted on TED’s website (play it here) and more than two million viewers have watched her talk. Oprah has interviewed her and she was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2008.
To some she is truly enlightened; to others just physically damaged and confused. But she makes no apologies or excuses. She gently offers up that if we’d dismiss a lot of the chatter in our left brain (or turn it off completely sometimes), we’d be a lot happier. And we’d do things we are passionate about much more often. (The complete story is in her book.)
Left brainer that she was, those experiments dissecting live rat brains she once did no longer interest her. Now she exercises her right brain – in physical and visual ways – waterskiing, guitar playing and stained-glass making.
She still likes her left brain, but feels she has the capacity now to recognize when it starts to take over. When that happens, she just turns it off. Chatter, worries, logic – gone. Ego – nary a sight of it.
Often when a large expanse of time looms ahead – like a sabbatical opportunity- people start filling it up with time schedules, goals and a logical plan. Something sensible and realistic….with d-i-r-e-c-t benefits.
Our work is to challenge – a least for a while- what a sabbatical might look like if only the right side of the brain planned it.
Dialing back from a left brain when planning your time away from work is worth a try even if you end up taking a statistics course in a foreign language. It’s a little like unearthing an old, youthful (and playful) part of your self.
While your left brain might lobby for an executive leadership retreat, a coveted technical certification or an Iron Man competition, what might your right brain like to do? Get naked and swim in a mountain lake? Go to Trinidad and hang? Fingerpaint your garage?
Dr. Taylor told the TED conference that we’ll have more contentment and peace with ourselves if we choose to run the deep circuitry of our right hemispheres.
So succumb to pleasure – engage your right brain- give it some time to do its thing, suck on a pickle and pass me one of those new Crayola colors that I didn’t have when I was ten – jazzberry jam or inch worm.
Now, let’s run riot over that left lobe.