Evangelist for a Balanced Brain: An Interview with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor


 

Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor has an exuberant, glowing, almost
childlike zest for life. She is a marvel to spend time with, as she celebrates
life in the moment and gets excited by the commonplace. As a consequence
of a debilitating stroke, she was given a chance to
come back from the edge of death and learn a new way of thinking. 

Fifteen years ago, at 37, Taylor,
a Harvard trained neuroanatomist and spokeswoman for the Harvard Brain
Tissue Resource
Center, had a stroke that
traumatized her left hemisphere and eliminated her math and language skills. She felt her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write,
or recall any of her life. Taylor
was experiencing an arterial-venous malformation, a rare form of stroke.
Several weeks later, she underwent surgery to remove a golf-ball-sized blood
clot that was pressuring the language center in her brain's left hemisphere.

In her recovery process, her mother became her chief
caregiver. Taylor says she was fortunate that
her mother was willing to forgo traditional rehabilitation techniques. At the time, Taylor
did not know who she was, and had no recollection of her family. As she slowly got better, she was
able to apply her neuroanatomical knowledge toward her recovery.

When Taylor
lost the left hemisphere functioning of her brain, she lost all of the normal abilities to define, organize and categorize information, but she gained the ability to be
intuitive and creative. In the absence of the left mind's describing,
judging, organizing, and critically analyzing skills, and its
dominating ego and inhibition, she gained a uninhibited right
mind, which processes information in a completely unique way as
compared to the left mind. Now, her right hemisphere, which typically
houses nonverbal and artistic tasks, has taken up the bulk of her
cognition. Taylor
achieved her present serenity in a unique way, and urges people not to wait for a stroke to cultivate right-brain functions.

In her bestselling book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain
Scientist's Personal Journey
, Taylor
details the process for recovery and the insight she's gained about the different functions of the
left and right halves of her brain. Based upon her personal
experience and scientific training, Taylor
is now helping others rebuild their brains from trauma, and advancing
an understanding of how we can consciously influence the
neural circuitry underlying what we think, how we feel, and how we
react to life's circumstances.

Taylor
is now on a singular mission teaching people to more readily exercise the circuitry of their own right hemispheric power
with the intention of helping all human beings become more humane. It
is quite ironic that Taylor, a quintessential left brain individual,
should be the one to have a stroke that transformed her into a
powerful voice for brain recovery, and finding
inner peace. "I believe the more time we spend running our deep
inner peace circuitry, then the more peace we will project into the
world, and ultimately the more peace we will have on the planet," she
says.

Her book quickly became a New York Times Bestseller, and
editions have already been published in the UK,
Germany, Brazil, Holland,
and France,
with 24 different language versions in the works. Her recent exposure to the world through conference presentations,
television, and web casting of her talks has made her a celebrity, and
in 2008, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential
people in the world.  A Hollywood film is in development on her life, and she
spends much of her time traveling to conferences and lecture halls,
telling her compelling story, spreading the gospel of brain
consciousness, and being the National Spokesperson for the Mentally Ill for the
Harvard Brain
Tissue Resource
Center.

Before her stroke, Taylor
was known as the Singing Scientist due to her touring lecture on "How To Get Your Brain To Do
What You Want It To Do," that featured her impassioned singing out for
brain donations for research. Her interest in the postmortem investigation
of the human brain is rooted in her brother's schizophrenia. True to her right brain tendencies, Taylor is an accomplished stained glass, oil based clay, and sand artist,
and has recently been making a series of multi-colored stained glass
brain replicas. 

Dr. Taylor is now working with Sony Pictures and Imagine
Entertainment on the creation of a feature film adaptation of her bestseller
"My Stroke of Insight." Screenwriter Semi Chellas is busy working on the
screenplay and Ron Howard will be the director. Jodie Foster is entertaining
the idea of portraying Dr. Taylor.

We met up in San
Francisco during the annual Green Festival last November
just after she has spoken to a large and enthusiastic crowd.

 

David Kupfer: How did
your stroke help you reconceptualize your mission related to brain
consciousness?

Jill Bolte Taylor:
I don't think I had one before. Before the stroke, I was more about my personal
ambitions of climbing the Harvard ladder, about doing what I needed to do to
help people who had severe mental illness, but I certainly didn't understand
what that really meant, what that felt like to them. The stroke gave me an
opportunity to have an altered perception of reality, so I knew what it felt like
to be mentally ill, I knew what it felt like to be treated by a society of people
who are fearful of people whose brains don't function normally because they
don't know how to communicate with us. That shifted me more into the perspective of how I can help us more
collectively, instead of how can I help me. The basic shift was one from an ambitious
career-oriented individual to more of a humanitarian and compassionate way of
being in the world and promoting that, celebrating that, and trying to increase
that in others.

 

What are some of the
lessons that you've learned about best treatment for stroke victims?

There are two pieces of language I am trying to help people change.
One is instead of using "stroke victim," use "stroke survivor." If I had a
stroke and I survived it than I am a stroke survivor. If I died, I was a stroke
victim. I can't help those people. I might be able to help their loved ones
come to more peace about what the experience might have been like for them, but
if you survived, you're a survivor. 

I also don't say people suffered
a stroke, people had a stroke. If we
use negative language, then you're project onto me "oh I suffered a stroke. I am suffering, oh I ought to be suffering, I am the victim
and I am suffering, oh I'm pathetic!" Well that's very different than if I walk in and say "hey, you
are stroke survivor and these are the tools that we are going to use in order
to help you get back and get better and find your way." It is like, "oh man, I'm
a survivor, I'm a survivor, and I'm so fortunate I am a survivor! Give me a
team, let's do it!"  Completely
different.

I think sleep is critically important for the brain. If the
brain is wounded, and it is begging to go to sleep, then it's begging to shut down
external stimulation because it can't process it, and it is traumatized. It's
just like us, if I am a person and I've had trauma in my life, then I need to
go inside and I need to do what I need to do to be with me in order to help
heal me, and I can go back into people and interact with people again. The
cells are just like that; if they have been traumatized, they need to huddle in
and heal themselves and get what they need, and protect themselves, and then
they reach back out into the circuitry again. So I think sleep is enormous.

 

So of special
importance is the way that people relate to individuals who have experienced a
stroke.

Yes, how other people treat me has a profound impact on me. If the doctors are saying, "if she doesn't get it back in six months she'll
never get it back," and my family — my caregiver team — is believing that,
then they are going to push me real hard for six months and then give up; and
once they give up, well I'm probably going to give up too, because I just lost
my cheering squad. So I think we need to recognize that because of the
neural plasticity, because of the regeneration of neurons, don't put a limit on
me, let me grow. It might take 10 years, it might take 12 years, let me grow,
it might take 20 years!

 

You said it was a
consequence of you being at home rather than in an institution that made such a
big difference in your full recovery.

I don't think I would've recovered half so well if I had
been; I can guarantee you that if I were in an institution where I was placed on
amphetamines in the morning, set up in a wheelchair, and taken out into a
social environment with TVs blaring on me, I'd have chosen to zone out. It
would have been pure pain. I would have disconnected. I wouldn't be here today.
I would be there, in that same condition. Compassion in medicine is something
that we really need to focus on.

 

How can the lessons
of your experience translate into the human development field?

I think of human development from a biological standpoint:
you have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you run. I
think there might be a reverse of that: from trauma you do have to go back to
those stages. So I had to crawl before I could walk, before I could run. I had
to go through normal development. As far as recovery is concerned, I think it will make a significant
impact, because people are no longer saying the negative. There has just been
this really negative attitude towards brain trauma.  Yeah it's a tragedy, it's not a good thing,
you wouldn't wish it on anybody. But that doesn't mean that it's the end of the
world, and that this person has to be at this level forever. You can always increase
someone's quality of life if they're willing to work at it, and if there is a
team of people who are willing to work with them on it.  I firmly believe that, because it is cells,
cells responding to stimulation.

 

In your professional
career have you seen a transformation in how health professionals are looking
at this issue?

Some. You know the book has only been out since May, six
months, and I get still a least 100 emails a day from people, many of them are
professionals, nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists,
speech therapists, saying "Thank you, what insight you've given me into working
with my patients." Those are the doctors I would want to go to now, but that's
still a tiny number in comparison to the big field in the states.  So in the states it's making these individual
impacts.

 

And in other nations?

Some have an advantage in that they are smaller, so for
example, the book is coming out in France this month. And I was
interviewed by this guy who was a general practitioner and he's retired and now
is a writer for the magazine that goes out to all the general practitioners in France. He and
I had a lengthy interview so that every practitioner gets this book free of
charge, so they all get it, they all read through, it is one of the books
specifically for that population, and I was interviewed by one of their own, he
knew what questions they would want to ask. So to be able to
infiltrate a country like France,
which is so much physically smaller than this country, to be able to get
everybody thinking differently, it's like okay now they can establish a system
that can incorporate more of these ideas more quickly. And that's beautiful to me.

 

That's exciting.

It is very exciting, and the same thing happened in Holland. They took me to
the major rehabilitation organization in Amsterdam
and I got tour of the facility, and met the fellow who runs the group and he had
read the book. And for someone like him to be on board — he infiltrates into all
the other villages, if you will, into how they do rehab and it works out
brilliantly because that way I can have a real impact.

 

Is it rare for stroke
survivors to fully recover as you have?

It depends on where the hemorrhage is. If you have a problem
at the brainstem which is not what I had, it is very life threatening. If you
survive, then you can recover very well, because you haven't lost your
cognitive mind, you didn't lose higher thinking. For me, because I had a
cortical problem, I lost my cognitive thinking, but it was not life-threatening,
it was life-threatening but not as if I'd have that hemorrhage at that
brainstem, I would have been dead if that hemorrhage had happened at my
brainstem, it was that big. Lots of people do recover; lots of people do not
recover. I think that's based on the fact that every stroke is different, every trauma is
different, and the people around us are different in the way that they treat
us.

I was treated as though I would recover. I was given all the
tools that I needed in order to recover. I was given enough sleep so that I was
not exhausted and over stimulated all the time so that I could actually try to
think again and regain ability. So I think it's totally dependent on the
environment.

I have received lots of e-mails from lots of people who've
said I've had this traumatic experience, and I too have recovered, and
everybody calls me a miracle. And I write them back and say beautiful. Thanks for
sharing. I have a lot of people who write me and say I had the same thing you
did and I have not recovered remotely close to that. I say read the book, don't
give up, and give yourself a new perspective about what you need to do in order
to set yourself up for success.

A lot of people do recover amazingly well over long periods
of time. I had someone who recently said, " I am in my 15th year of recovery, post trauma, and I'm still getting better."  So if the doctors have said to you, six
months forget it, or two years, forget it, and two years goes by and I forget
trying and I stop because I believe my doctor, I think that's bad. I think it's
one of the great myths of the nervous system is that it is finished in its
process of rehabilitation after a limited amount of time.

 

You've said you're
grateful you've had a stroke.

Absolutely. It's given me a whole new perspective of life.
It's made me an evangelist for a balanced brain. I want people to use both of
their hemispheres. And I want them to recognize that they have more power over
what's going on between their ears than they ever had any idea. I think that's important. I think the more
responsibility we take for what's going on inside of our brains, then the
happier we are going to be. I am an advocate for joy.

 

Why do you suppose so
many people don't choose happiness?

I think a lot of them don't know that they can. I think that
they experience their emotions and experience their grief and sadness; they don't
know that they can have a relationship with it. I just don't think they know
the simplicity that we are circuitry. We have a choice in what circuits we run. Does that mean avoid heavy
emotions? Absolutely not. It means allow yourself to experience the emotion. The
more you keep it at bay, the more it's going to beckon on your mind. Allow yourself to welcome it, savor it, celebrate it, and let it go in 90 seconds.

 

How do you find a
balance between observing your circuitry and engaging your circuitry?

I think that's also a choice. It's thrilling to engage your circuitry
because then it becomes me. I am my anger, I am my sadness, I am my fear, I am,
it is me. It consumes me. I know who I am, I feel those things. Well, that's one
attitude. The other attitude is, I am in this moment running my circuitry, is that circuitry that
I really want to run? And how long am I going to run it? And I do have a choice
on that. So, I think it's the same circuitry, it's a different perspective of
whether I am it, or it is circuitry, and I have some say.

 

How then does one
take full responsibility for one's circuitry?

At first it's recognizing that everything is circuitry. And
then I have to be willing to say oooh I feel myself getting angry, oooh, it feels
so good, oooh, I'm going to be angry for a while, oooh, I'm going to rant and
rave, oooh, I'm going to rant and rave to these people, and oooh, I'm going to
spread it over here. Or, I'm running my anger circuitry.  I don't like the way it feels in my body,
because it's destructive to my health and my stress level. So I'm going to pass
it away. I'm going to let it do its thing for 90 seconds and then move on. And
take responsibility for them. Owning my power, taking my triggers away from
you.

 

Does the plasticity of
our brains' cellular neurons guarantee that few brain injuries are absolute?

It opens up new possibilities. Neural plasticity those are
two different things.  I am a believer in
the ability of the body to recover, it's not going to happen immediately, but
over time. I look at people who had a miraculous recovery, there's nothing
miraculous about it. The cells figured out what they needed to do in
order to create recovery. To me, is that miraculous? No, I think it's science that
doesn't have an understanding or language so we call it a miracle, but
biologically, it's the ability of the cells to recover themselves.

Neural plasticity is the ability of the brain, for those
beautiful neurons to rewire who they're communicating with moment by moment so that
they're constantly changing their conversation and different cells who are
involved with that conversation. And as soon as you say that the brain is going
to change in order to adapt to its new situation, that's neural plasticity in
action. So neural plasticity is this incredible tool that the brain uses in
order to adapt to its current situation. Can you constantly choose to get
different neural plasticity to happen? Absolutely, and we can manipulate that
into all kinds of different ways from the outside in.

Cover an eye with a patch, and those cells that respond to
vision, they get bored to death, they want something to do because now they're not
getting their own stimulation, so they are going to go to the auditory system
and say "hey what are you doing? Can we help you?" And then you have this
heightened sense of audition. And then vision comes back on and they come back
to their normal function of vision. Because that's what they were designed to
do.

The ability of the brain to adapt to its situation is
phenomenal. And then you throw in on top of that the ability of the brain to
create some new neurons. Not very many, but some very strategically placed neurons. This is recently discovered with alcoholism, you can be a lifelong
alcoholic and then stop drinking, and after three months of sobriety your
hypoxanthic for learning and memory will grow new neurons, so that you can actually
learn and memorize again in a new way that you couldn't three months before
when you were drinking.

It's phenomenal what we're learning about the brain and its
ability to adapt to its new situation and its own ability to innately define
what it needs and to perform that action. Now does that mean that if I have a
paralyzed arm where the nerve is cut that I'm going to be able to regenerate
that ability? That is a bigger problem, because it's beyond the brain, it is
the relationship between the brain, and the body, and the circuitry.  And that's a big distinction.

 

What is the value
that you see in imaging and visualization in healing?

I think that when you visualize something, you experience
it. And when you allow yourself to re-experience it, that's still communication
between the cells, whether there is a motor output or not. There are lots of
studies showing individuals who have visualized certain things and maintained their tone in their muscles or
the abilities inside their bodies.

I use visualization for what does it feel like to run up
steps two at a time. I remember, I remember regularly and I felt that and that
was a desire and I think it was a driving force for those cells to figure out
what is important, what do I want be able to do again.  So I think it's incredibly important.

 

What sort of
techniques would you recommend for turning off the endless loops sometimes
found in the left cognitive mind?

I think the most important thing is to consciously choose to
bring your mind to the present moment.
How you do that? You decide that you're going to see what your eyes are looking
at; you bring your consciousness to the present moment. When you are going up
the stairs, you look at the steps, you look at the handrail. Most of us unconsciously
climb the steps, never thought about the steps, couldn't even tell you what the
color of the carpet was, if there was a carpet, because were somewhere else.

Pay attention to the present moment. Bring your mind, bring
your ears to the present moment, start savoring the awareness of the
information you perceive in the present moment and allow that to grow. And it's
like with any circuitry, the more you concentrate on it and experience it, the
more it will then develop itself.

 

It does seem that
much of your work is taking a neuroscientist's perspective and a rationale of
Buddhist philosophy.

That's exactly essentially what happened. You took a
hard-core western medicine neuroscientist at Harvard who specialized in the neurotransmitters
and the cells of the brain and gave her an experience that was essentially a
complete shift from western thinking to eastern experience. It's certainly not
how I defined it at the time. I defined it as a shutdown of circuitry, and the
ability to experience anything is the product of our selves. So a Buddhist experience,
ability to experience Nirvana or wherever meditation might take them, is
circuitry. What cells are shut down and which ones are then activated, and I
think I shut down the brain chatter which Andy Newberg has shown in spec machines — put monks in there, have them pray or meditate and the left hemisphere of the
brain becomes quiet and the right side opens up, which is exactly what happened
with what I experienced, but through trauma.

 

Through that process
you say you lost your identity, but you gained a fresh sense of innocence. Have
you been able to retain that?

Yes, but it's hard, it's very hard in our society,
especially now that I've become so popular, the whole celebrity thing is this adoration
from the outside that is very ego building. And on top of that, the schedule,
to do all the details of my touring is very left hemisphere, detailed work. I'm practicing what I'm
preaching. The left hemisphere has got to be engaged, its got to be
functional, but it has its role and my right hemisphere has its role and its
functions. So for me, I do a presentation but I'm really in my right brain, I
am in both brains, but I come from my heart, I come from the experience of my
right hemisphere. The biggest difference for me has been how to find that
balance and to be a totally productive, efficient human being on the planet and
practice what I preach.

 

How did your recovery affect your creativity?

When I lost the left hemisphere, I lost judgment. And when I
lost judgment I lost boundaries.  And
when I lost boundaries, that meant my art had no guidelines and I could just
see whatever I wanted to see, and so what was beauty? So my brain no longer
defined for me that experience of beauty, and I just got to be in the present
moment to create beauty, and it was beautiful it was a completely
different way of doing art and I really liked it, and it was much better than
the art that I was doing before because there was no judgment and no limitation
to it. And then as I recovered my left hemisphere, I regained those skills. I still drive; I consciously choose
to drive my life as a right hemisphere, heart space, intimate space as opposed
to a left hemisphere, judgmental place. I can use that side, but I don't like
the way it feels in my body.

 

It can be wicked what
our society does to celebrities, but I've seen you've been able to overcome this and stay in the
moment with people.

I am just so grateful for my life. For me to be with people,
the beauty of giving a presentation is not the presentation, it's the people.  Because these are real people, with real
hearts and real minds and real souls and real hunger to be connected. I am
connected and to meet people who are that open, it's beautiful. And
the people who come up to me with tears in their eyes, they are just wide open.

I'm just so grateful to be alive and to have been able to
touch this person so deeply with this book and this information for whatever their
personal reason. There are lots of different reasons that people find the book
and my story attractive. But whatever that reason is, here's a human being
who's coming up to me open and I'm meeting that person open, and to me there's nothing more beautiful then
that, and that is what feeds me, that connection, the human connection of it all.

 

The United States
is said to be the most overly self-medicated society in the world.  What does that say about our collective brain
health, and how you think your work can help remedy that?

I think we have a long way to go when it comes to figuring
out how to help heal people, and our western culture is really all about treating
the symptoms, not solving the real problem. You have western
medicine and you have alternative medicine, and
alternative medicine is $1 billion industry, and people are craving an alternative
way of doing and I think that as long as these spheres are not communicating
with one another, which is essentially right hemisphere medicine and left
hemisphere medicine, then we are going to have a problem, and some people will
find wellness and some people will not.

 

How have you been
able to retain your sense of connection with the universe with your
left-brain's influence on individuality?

Oh, I laugh a lot. When my brain starts taking off on these really
serious paths, I laugh a lot. I pay very close attention to how feelings and
thoughts feel inside of my body. So that if I don't like the way that they
feel, I recognize it as one of those things that I need to just shift back to the present moment. I
spend time walking, I do my art, I do my music, I play with my dog, I do things
that engage me in the present moment and I value that. I meet and spend time
with people, because that's a nice way to be in the present moment. I work very
hard at it. I wake up in that place, I stay there for a while, and I celebrate
that. And before I go to bed at night, I take myself there, I go there, and I
celebrate that. If I have something bothering me, I do a lot of laughing. I
laugh at that side a lot, because it wants to be so serious. And I let other
people take care of a lot of my details. 
I've had to. My life has been skyrocketed so much that now I have to
have other people take care of certain kinds of details. So I let them, and I
trust them implicitly.

 

Your old ego never
actually returned after the stroke, did it?

I kind of got a new one. I started a new one, a new little
girl. I developed a new individuality. 
Eventually. At about the year eight mark was when I became solid again. I am
an individual again, what am I going to do with that, and how do I feel about
that and that's good and that is cool. But she knows her place, if you will.
When you've essentially died and fallen off the ladder, you notice the void
just fills in around you, and the world goes on just fine without you, it really
shows you how not important you are in the big picture, as far as your ego is
concerned. Once I did that, it was like I didn't need to go back to that,
because there wasn't any point, and so if I'm not going to do that, my other
option is to do this, and this is so much more expansive and fun than doing
that.  But I do, of course I have an ego,
I have an identity but she is about eight years old, and I like her like that.
Because that way, I do maintain my innocence and my joy.

 

How do you deal with
that portion of your inner storyteller that does not seem to be unconditionally
attached to your joy?

I laugh at her. I seriously just laugh and laugh and laugh
and laugh and then it's gone. It's just like a little child who comes up and
says something to you and you either encourage conversation, or you don't. I
just don't encourage the conversation. And specifically, I laugh. It works for me.

 

You spoke earlier
about the conscious relationship with your cells.

Oh yeah, I love my girls. I love 'em, every single one of
them. I love them, I love my girls and they know it.

 

All 50 trillion?

I would not be able to be here without them, I would be able
to do this. How many cells does it take to do this? Moving your leg, being able
to talk to all of them, so it's a big love fest in here. Lots of joy, celebration,
and gratitude.

 

That seems to be one
of your basic tenets.

Basic gratitude. It's because of them that I have this
ability again. I go from really infantile looking out in the world seeing no division,
no boundary, making no sense in the world whatsoever, no sensory orientation
organization, to be a normal functioning human being again. And it's because these beautiful cells created
for me these abilities again and I'm very grateful. A million times a day, I'm
grateful.

 

You quote Jerry
Joseph about how peace should be the place we begin rather than the place we
try to achieve. This seems like an important philosophical plank for you.

Yes, I don't know who said it, but somebody famous: There is
always blue sky, the sky is always blue. Peace is always there. And then the
clouds and the thoughts come in, and now you have cloudy sky covering up the
blue, but the blue if you blow away the clouds, is still there. So to me peace
is always there. The thoughts will come into your mind and take you away and
distract you away from the fact that you're experiencing peace, but you can
blow those away and go back to right here, right now is a perfect moment.
Perfect, whole, and beautiful just where we are.

What a gift that in this moment, I can sit here in this form
and you can sit there in that form, the miracle of life, 50 trillion beautiful molecular
geniuses, and we can communicate with one another. How cool is that? That's
like the bottom line of it all. And all the other stuff is just stuff. The blue
sky is always there.

 

So it's only bad
weather if you call it that?

Exactly! Its just weather. There's nothing more beautiful
then walking in the rain. There's nothing more beautiful than walking in a fresh
snow. There's nothing more beautiful than slipping on the ice and falling on
your butt.  It's like whoa and you are
laying there with the air is knocked out of you, and you think that is so cool,
if I were dead I wouldn't have been able to have the experience!  It's all good! And then the clouds come in
and say oh, I wish it had been different. 
And as soon as the left hemisphere says I wish it had been different
from the way it really was then I missed out on something and I'm not happy. Is
that a choice? Yes it is a choice.

 

The endless fear of missing out.

The fear of missing out and the lack of willingness to
recognize that what is, is perfect just the way it is.

 

Always being in the
right place at the right time.

Having the right experience. 
Things are going to happen. People we love are going to die. We can say
damn, I'm so mad, or we can say, I'm so grateful, I'm so grateful for the time
we had.  I'm going to celebrate those
memories, I'm going to celebrate that connection, it is mine forever.  Or I can be angry, or I can be hurt, or I can
be whatever. But I have a choice in how I look at it. And if I come from gratitude,
and if I allow myself to feel it, and I'm not afraid of my emotions, I'm not
afraid of the stigma essentially that we get by society saying oh, she's over
emotional, he's over emotional, it's like no, don't worry about it, feel it,
celebrate what you are as a living being. Celebrate that you're capable of
having those emotional circuits run. Because that's the power of what you are,
it's the difference between you being alive, and you not being alive in order to
have it. It's a blessing to your life.

 

It is the nature of
the human experience.

It's totally the nature of the human experience, and the
beauty of that. How lucky are we? It's a total miracle, it's beautiful, it's just
absolutely beautiful.

 

You've written about
special brain training tools now benefiting everyone over 40, this is a
relatively new activity for middle-aged people isn't it?

Yes, you know why though? It's because the Japanese who are
huge with toy companies, many of the young women are deciding that they're not
going to marry and be reproductive. And so there's a shortage of children in Japan, and the
Japanese toy companies are saying where is our audience? We have no audience!
And so they're looking at who is the audience going to be? And they decided,
well we'll look at the elderly population and give them toys to help their minds.
That's what's happening.  It's new market
development. So now we have baby boomers, there's a market for you. These
people are not stupid. So they are going to make toys and toys and more toys for our
brains. And we are terrified of Alzheimer's, the baby boomers. They watch their
parents go through it, and they don't want to do it themselves.

 

Could these toys be a
panacea to the brain dementia trend?

Right now research is coming out that shows the
possibilities of dementia and scientists are showing that the more you exercise
your brain and your body, then the less you are at risk for developing dementia.

 

You've said you are
not your thoughts. Does this contradict the notion that you are not what you
think you are, what you think is what you are?

I don't even think what you think is what you are. I am not
my thoughts. There's no question about that. They are circuitry, and they can
run or not run, but that's not me that is a tiny part of me. I'm really just a
witness. I am the bigger; I am the all of it, but none of it. That's kind of profound, I wonder if it's true.

 

Change your thoughts
change your life, that's essentially the message.

Absolutely, absolutely. Circuitry, run it or don't run it.
It's your choice. Lots of people are choosing to run hostility, run small mindedness,
run just this. And if all you run is that little grinding negative voice, well
there are people like that.

 

You think there are
influences in our culture that feed that tendency?

Absolutely. We reward children for left-brain thinking, for
left-brain acceleration. In business, we reward people for left-brain activity.
But I do think it's changing, I do think there is an enormous wave of people
recognizing that it is creativity that is going to have a profound influence
and a necessity in order for our thriving. Because frankly, all the left
hemisphere nitty-gritty details, we are outsourcing those to other parts of the
planet. If you want to be in the US and you want to thrive, you
better have a good healthy right hemisphere to go with that left hemisphere of
your brain.  There is a great book by
Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind, all about
that.

 

So since thoughts
control our emotions, taming our thoughts can impact our emotional health?

Oh absolutely. I think a thought that makes me angry. It stimulates
my emotional circuit for anger. I have a physiological response as a result of
that emotional circuitry.  If I keep
thinking those angry thoughts, I keep stimulating that circuitry. I mean you can
practice this. Next time you get mad ask yourself what am I mad about, and you
will remind yourself of what thought you had, and you get mad! Well, stop
thinking the thought! Unless you want to feel that. If you don't want to get
madder and madder, quit thinking the thought. You have a choice.

 

How did you become a
singing scientist?

There was a shortage of brains being donated for research.
So I started going out and talking to people and audiences, and they'd realize
oh my gosh she wants my brain, and they'd start freaking out, and they'd all
look down, like the first-grade don't-call-on-me syndrome.  I am a
Hoosier Indiana girl, which means I'm very friendly, and I was thinking I'm
traumatizing my audiences, but it's so important, I had to do it, so I decided
well I am going to make this fun. So I wrote the brain bank jingle, started
traveling with a guitar, and when I started talking about brain donations and I
felt the tension, I pull out the guitar, start singing and they laugh, and that
makes everything okay and I can communicate my message, so it was out of
necessity.

 

What kinds of brains
for research?

There's a shortage of brain tissue of the mentally ill and anyone's
psychiatrically diagnosed or their families, as well as normal control people.
So we need that tissue and I say don't worry, we are in no hurry.

 

And you did this work
prior to your stroke?

I did.

 

And did you find
after the stroke that your voice changed?

I got better. Or I became more secure.

 

How can human beings
strengthen and rejuvenate their neural circuits to improve their sense of inner
joy and innocence without having to experience a brain hemorrhage?

Bring your mind to the present moment. Be willing to really commit
yourself to the present moment and the beauty of being in the present moment.
Celebrate your life, celebrate and find gratitude. What are you grateful for in your
life?  Tell yourself repeatedly what you are
grateful for; allow that to really penetrate your consciousness. To me that's the biggest.

At the root, at the heart, to me, of the right hemisphere
experience of Nirvana is celebration and gratitude. What is Nirvana? What would
anyone expect to feel if they were in Nirvana? They would experience bliss.
What is bliss? Bliss to me is a celebration of me and all that is.  And to think that I have a consciousness that
is capable of having that experience to me is wow! I'm not beyond this; I am
here having that circuitry run. So I think it's a choice.

 

How much of your time
now is spent educating people about this?

I am one hundred percent committed to helping humanity find
its way back to its joy and gratitude. It is one hundred percent of who I am,
it is what I am. I came so close to death and this is what I call gravy time.
You can have a great turkey dinner and it's great, but you throw gravy on it
and it's like the ultimate experience. This is gravy time for me. I didn't die
that morning, I survived and I have had 12 years that I almost didn't have, so
I might be gone in 30 seconds. That might be the end of the time that I do have
here. I'm so grateful for the time I do have here. I am totally committed to
using the time that I have to celebrate the gift of life, the gift of what
we all have. At the essence of what we are. I see myself as an advocate for humanity.
I even wrote a song, "Advocate for Humanity."

I've been a little busy since that TED talk in Monterey. It was perfect
timing, it was the perfect time, the book was written, the book was ready, I
was ready, I was a seasoned presenter, I was back to teaching neuroscience, I
was doing everything, I was at the top of my game again when that TED talk hit
the internet, it exploded me into the public eye and it's just been a
phenomenal ride. To think that I can go from that level of illness,
disconnection, and being just so far detached from any perception of reality
that could be shared to this level of celebrity and popularity. Never give up,
people should never give up, you never know what your life is going to hold for
you.

 

Were you challenged
in avoiding giving renewed life to your old circuits and negative personality
traits in the process of recovering your left mind's ego and if so how did you
overcome that?

I did, I was very challenged because it all wanted to come back
online, the person who I had been before, her attributes cognitively in the
left hemisphere wanted to come back online and part of that was part of her
personality and I'm nicer than she was (laughs). I didn't want that. I had to do therapy essentially with her. Why are
you so angry?  What is that about?  That's when I realized it's about circuitry,
everything that I've learned about my brain and how to get my brain to do what
it wants to do or what I want it to do is based on my personal experience with
that circuitry, so certain circuits wanted to come back online and I really was
invested in not giving them voice again, because I didn't want that mean little
voice to dominate, I didn't want my anger circuit to dominate, I didn't want
those characteristics that were represented by that circuitry to dominate who I
am again. I had to do therapy and figure out that it really was just circuitry
and that things in the external world might trigger circuitry but I didn't
have to run that. It was through that process of reinventing who I am going to be during the
course of years as the circuits came back online.

 

What projects do you
have in the works to further your mission?

I'm working on another project that I think is going to
have a phenomenal impact on helping people neurologically rehabilitate themselves
more quickly and it will involve virtual reality and biofeedback and gaming;
it's a neurological device. I think it will take all the pieces of rehabilitation and help people to
rehabilitate themselves more quickly because it will be from the inside out
instead of rehabilitation from the outside in.

 

I believe you've
become a frontline player in the paradigm shift.

One hundred percent. The paradigm shift has to happen soon,
and it happens one brain at a time. A lot of people didn't get the paradigm
shift before because it uses a language that they're not comfortable with. There's this blend now between western scientific communication and language of
an experience that we are one people, we are family, we are connected, and
putting that inside of a brain so a whole new population is getting it because
of the language, it's because of the language.

I'm thrilled to be part of the team that is helping create
this bridge between science and spirituality. We are one human. We have two hemispheres.
They process things very differently. We are circuitry. We have the rational
linear thinking language half, and we have the more holistic, present-moment,
bigger picture kind of thinking and they are all right there in the same brain
and a lot more people are finding that they can handle my language.

 

Image by Arenamonatus, courtesy of Creative Commons license.