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I’ve just recently finished the book My Stroke of Insight by neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.  In it she tells the story of a four hour stroke she experienced at the age of 37.  The stroke occurred on in the left hemisphere of her brain, the part her mind that coordinates language, speech, movement and most importantly, the stories of her life that create her sense of self or ego.  This hemisphere of the brain tends to dominate our daily lives with mind chatter, stories and beliefs, concepts and ideas that, as we know , keeps us bound in thought loops often of a destructive nature. With this part of her brain debilitated, Dr. Taylor became privy to the reality known by the right hemisphere of the brain.  She experienced this reality as a boundless pool of interconnected energy that instilled in her a deep sense of spaciousness and calm. 

Faith traditions across the world refer to this other reality as samadhi (yoga), nirvana (Buddhism), cosmic consciousness (new age) or mystical union (mystical traditions of East and West).  Invariably, in each of these traditions, techniques are employed to slow the functioning of the left hemisphere of the brain (using Dr. Taylor’s explanation) so that the other reality of the right hemisphere can begin to emerge.  While we may not necessarily be graced with the depth of unity experienced by spiritual practitioners (and spontaneously by others) in rare circumstances, employing these practices can certainly lead to a slowing of the left brain monkey mind, softening of hard psychophysical patterns and increase feelings of connection and wellbeing.  In my experience, over time a greater establishment in the right brain reality can occur and it becomes more and more accessible.  In brief, spontaneous moments I have been swept into the current of the unitive experience where, as Dr. Taylor describes, my boundaries dissolved and all sense of personal identity vanished.  In these moments, all I knew is the energetic pool of reality that is one flowing, living dynamic.

This isn’t important in the sense of these experiences being some kind of spiritual accolade, but rather that they have shown me that there is another way of seeing the world.  And, according to Dr. Taylor, both realities are real, valid and valuable.  Over and over again, in philosophy, religion and spirituality we hear of the fundamental paradoxes of life that must be reconciled – this is yet another example.  Yoga and spiritual practice, then, become a way of integrating the right-hemisphere reality that has been lost in our frantic, left-hemisphere, egoic striving tendencies.  But, magically, it doesn’t end here.  At first, we recover the lost capacity to see a more interconnected reality of energy and beauty.  Then we get better and moving between the hemisphere’s with greater ease.  But, at some point we are invited to hold the two realities as one.  Where the tension between “being” and “doing” are suspended in the light of awareness and something else can show itself.  Here our human/divine potential gives birth to something beyond this duality. 

Everyday I am truly astounded by this spiritual process.  What a gift to have a neuroscientist share her journey and give a different language to the journey that has been poetically expressed for millenia by the faith traditions around the globe.