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Journey to the Center of Our Brains

An earlier blogpost (here) argued for authentically discussing the emotional phenomena of education transformation with emotional language in place of the usual rational code words of educational discourse. That post discussed Brene Brown’s work and offered her TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability. This post continues in the spirit of giving us permission to access the right hemisphere of our brain by considering Jill Bolte Taylor’s fascinating story:

A Stroke of Insight

In this remarkable video, Taylor, a neuroscientist, discusses her experience of a stroke, which shut down her left hemisphere (the sequential, language center), leaving her right hemisphere (parallel, creative, emotional, sensory center) intact. In watching the video again, I was moved by her description, and reminded about its enormous importance for the message of the Big Beacon. Much of the Big Beacon manifesto (here) emphasizes emotional intelligence, embodied intelligence, visual intelligence, and other-than-language and analytical intelligence as areas to emphasize in the education of the whole new engineer. As Taylor discusses the progress of her stroke, she tells a story of those other worlds, of connection, of oneness, of a quiet mind, and of surrender. It’s a beautiful description, and an important one. Here is a person who has devoted her life to studying the brain, being taken on an involuntary tour of her relatively unexplored right brain.

In listening to this description again, I am struck by the similarity with her description of this experience to the descriptions of those who engage in ancient practices of meditation, yoga, Qi Gong, and other disciplines of the mind and body, and to those who seek explicitly to live in the here and now. But the difference between her description and those of these esoteric practitioners couldn’t be, in one sense, more stark.

Astronaut of the Mind

After all, Taylor is a trained scientist. Her observations are those of an astronaut of the mind who was taken on a journey to an experience she didn’t seek, to an experience she merely observed. And in that forced observation of an experience she didn’t induce, she is brought to a description that aligns with those of others who got to this special place through practices that are just now undergoing more scientific scrutiny. Her journey affirms the reality of those other descriptions, and her journey, in some sense, gives those of us who live by science and reason permission to explore such experiences by other means than having a stroke.

Scientific Permission to Explore our Right Brains

And in the video, Taylor recognizes that her first journey to the beautiful place of her left brain was involuntary, but she realizes that she now has a choice to make as to where she chooses to spend her day, and she suggests that we,

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too, have this choice to make. I believe that Taylor’s choice is connected to Brene Brown’s choice. Do we choose to live vulnerably, open to a world of possibility? And for Jill Bolte Taylor, what portion of our lives do we choose to be connected and open to others, and what portion do we choose to be walled off and separate? These are important questions, questions we rarely discuss, questions we need to address if our transformation efforts are to succeed.

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