Navigating GriefBook review Stroke of Insight

Book Review: My Stroke of Insight

My Stroke of Insight
Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, Viking, 2008

How well are you tending the “garden of your mind?”

My Stroke of Insight, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, written by Jill Bolton Taylor, provides a literal inside look at the human brain – hers – after a sudden life-changing left hemisphere stroke at the age of 37. Ironically, or perhaps even thankfully, her work as a neuroanatomist at Harvard Medical School as a researcher and teacher ten years ago allowed her a unique front row seat as scientist and human being when this initial four hour event unfolded.  Now, after eight years of painstaking recovery she provides us “a chronological documentation of the journey I took into the formless abyss of a silent mind, where the essence of my being became enfolded in a deep inner peace.”

Readers are given the tour of both of the left / linear / language / analytical and right / present / grateful / emotive hemispheres. With easy to understand details into brain anatomy, Taylor’s story is really about the resiliency of the human brain, and how we can learn to tap into our lesser accessed peace of the right hemisphere. “By recognizing who is who inside our cranium,” she says, “we can take a more balanced-brain approach to how we lead our lives.”

It is nothing short of amazing that Taylor was able to piece together this story. From a brain silenced immediately following the stroke, she was able to catch snippets of clarity and fight her way to seek help. She gives us a gift in recounting her initial days in the hospital and reaction to the outer world of doctors and her internal grasp for making sense of her surroundings. (see Appendix B: Forty Things I Needed Most) She touches our humanity with feeling as she describes the warmth of her mother’s intuitive cuddle when words were not coming forth.

Taylor’s insight is now our insight. As a hospice volunteer, I have a new empathy for patients who are in the midst of a changing brain function. By considering the incredible cellular genius of our brains, the capacity for rerouting connections, interplay between the hemispheres, the neurological and ethereal, I can also feel for the deeper struggle of a person with Alzheimer’s, or post-stroke, or cancers, or the person seeking that word that isn’t coming out clearly. For me, taking on the choice, or as Taylor describes the “response-ability,” to tend the garden of both of my brain hemispheres is plausible and noble.

My Stroke of Insight is a perspective changing read.

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