Degrees of Muchness

I have to take my hat off to Tim Burton (once again)…the visionary behind the defining film moments that include characters like Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd and Beetlejuice has once again given me a cinematic moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. There are aspects of Burton’s films that always touch a chord with me – the gloomy, pseudo-Gothic ambiance which I repeatedly find every time I spend time in England is one, his ability to transform the morbid into the comical (the two have very often been interchangeable for me throughout my life) is another, but most of all, the significance and validity that he attributes to the fantastical, to the fringe of what is commonly accepted by the mainstream. And Alice in Wonderland brings all these amazing elements to dizzying new heights.

I know…this is starting to sound like a film review, so I’ll veer off here a bit…the reason I felt compelled to write about the film can be found in one of the lines spoken to Alice by the Mad Hatter when he says, “You used to be much muchier before. Yes you were much more Alice the last time we met. You have lost your muchness.

The notion of being able to alter such a basic word in our vernacular to embody such meaning, such enormity of the human condition and potential, really left its mark on me. Everything I work towards, everything I write about here, and everything I discuss with students in my classes all lead to that one word: muchness. If my definition of Yoga is about being the best version of oneself, about being the least blurry version of oneself,  then I welcome this new arrival in my proverbial word pool with fanfare. It’s all about muchness. Finding one’s own, tapping into it, and then making it glaringly visible for all to bask in and be inspired by.

How do you all tap into your own muchness?

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Plugging In

This week I have the honour of teaching 2 classes at the Palais des Congrès (Montreal’s main convention centre) for federal workers in the public sector from across Canada who are coming to our unusually temperate city (for this time of the year).  Getting everyone off to the best start possible as they trek through the 2-day convention is already something to look forward to, but what I’m really excited about is the theme of the event, which is connecting to community, something absolutely essential for these federal employees who deal with the public day in and day out.

The keynote speaker for this event is slated to be Dr. Samantha Nutt, the founder and executive director of War Child, an incredible organization that is dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance to children in war-torn areas of the globe, and in doing so, providing the catalyst to allow people from all corners of the world to connect with each other towards this common, collaborative goal. Connecting to communities whose values and traditions differ from ours, extending a helping hand to those we’ve never met but with whom we are connected by the threads of humanity that bind us together, all by-products of the main mission to help children who find themselves surrounded by the tears or rips in humanity that war inevitably results in. A keynote speaker who bridges the distances and the differences between us and our fellow men, inspiring a group of people who are the face of our government for each and every person they interact with in the public sector. Inspiring them to connect with the communities they work in, to be so much more than the person behind the partition, on the other end of the telephone, or at the other end of the web-chat.

Connection is also an essential facet of yoga…connection to one’s self, connection to the teacher, and connection to the other practitioners with whom we are blessed to share the practice space and our energies. Without the ability to draw our attention inside through to the subtlest layers of consciousness, our ability to connect with others becomes jeopardized. That connection to the source provides the blueprint conducive to reaching out and sharing our realities with others, and being open and compassionate enough to incorporate what others are living into our realm of existence. Establishing those channels, allowing for the vital exchange of information and events, is what brings us together and reminds us that the connection we share is always present, but occasionally makes itself more apparent based on the events that shape our lives.

Whenever something happens on a global scale, we feel that connection without having to search for it. The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are perfect examples of this. Princess Diana’s shocking death, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the 2004 tsunami in Asia…all the events that feel like tears or rips in the fabric of humanity, the vibration of our world changing in a heartbeat. Not all events, however, need to be traumatic to mark their passing on our collective journey…and despite my willingness to admit that sports are about as attractive to me as eating a bowl full of insects, I have to admit that watching the last 30 minutes of the Canada-U.S.A Olympic hockey match was a lesson in the unification of mankind for me. Initially drawn into the game by the insane media coverage, I was hooked within the first 10 seconds…I was logged onto Facebook, watching as update after update from the majority of my friends from all over the world scrolled down the index page…everyone cheering for Canada, the tension palpable, knowing everyone was on the edge of their seats (myself included, much to my surprise). The winning goal in overtime is what did it for me. Seeing the exact same exclamations of pride and congratulations exploding on the screen in front of me as horns started blaring outside in the streets, the overwhelming outpouring of love and unity, all of it left its mark on me, making me feel like I was plugged into the electrical current that was flowing straight across Canada and spilling over all around the globe. Any differences we may have had hours earlier before the game fell by the wayside as we all came together and celebrated, and it imprinted itself into my memory much in the same way the aforementioned events did. Growing up, I was surrounded by the adults in my life who remembered exactly where they were when JFK was assassinated, when Marilyn Monroe was found dead, when RFK was assassinated…and as I get older, I realize that the deaths of Diana, Michael Jackson, the horror of 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and countless other events that have changed the face of the world during my formative years have provided similar moments where time seems to have stopped for a millisecond, where the fabric of humanity is forever altered. The game tonight fell into that category, and the best part of the whole event is that there was no call for a collective outpouring of grief for a fallen icon, no wailing to the heavens for lives lost or communities shattered. Tonight’s game united more people than I could ever have imagined, and the beauty of that left me speechless (until I started typing, obviously!).

What I want to covey to everyone reading this is that the coming together that was demonstrated earlier tonight is something that needs not be relegated to the triumph of a sporting event or the tragedy of a natural disaster and the chaos that inevitably ensues. That connection exists 24/7…whether we choose to tap into it and to remind each other of its existence is up to us. Every second of every day holds the opportunity to do this, and every yoga class that we share is a reminder that we’re all in this together…uniting our breath and our intentions, consciously affiliating ourselves with each other…playing for the same team, an ever-growing swarm of awakened souls moving in the same direction, closer towards truth, light and love. We have the choice to live in the reality we want to see around us, it’s all a matter of flicking the proverbial switch we all have access to. This is the message I will bring to my classes at the convention centre this week…that connecting with each other is easier than we think, that it’s all a matter of intention and understanding that the current of connectivity is always flowing, that we have to visualize it as being something we just need to plug ourselves into. And like electricity itself, plugging in is all that’s needed…the results will be immediate and powerful, something we could easily get used to and have trouble living without…how nice would that be?

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Last month I came across and passed on the lecture given by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (Would vs Do) referring to the stroke she suffered, and her subsequent insights into the left and right brains. She encouraged us to be active participants in creating the reality within which we’d like to exist by deliberately tapping into the right brain networks,  the inner peace circuitry that deals with energy and imagery.

After receiving requests from students over the past week (with whom I’ve shared my latest journalistic find), I am putting up an article written by psychologist Richard Wiseman, taken from UK’s Telegraph webpage, recounting his findings after a ten-year investigative foray into the concept of luck. His findings seemed to interconnect in a very organic way to Dr. Bolte Taylor’s findings, all of which simply reinforce my conviction that we are solely responsible for being the change we’d like to see in the world and that our individual realities are largely dictated by our approach to life. Enjoy the article, and feel free to leave any insights or comments after reading it…

Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn

Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune, says Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman

A decade ago, I set out to investigate luck. I wanted to examine the impact on people’s lives of chance opportunities, lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time. After many experiments, I believe that I now understand why some people are luckier than others and that it is possible to become luckier.

To launch my study, I placed advertisements in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me. Over the years, 400 extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research from all walks of life: the youngest is an 18-year-old student, the oldest an 84-year-old retired accountant.

Jessica, a 42-year-old forensic scientist, is typical of the lucky group. As she explained: “I have my dream job, two wonderful children and a great guy whom I love very much. It’s amazing; when I look back at my life, I realise I have been lucky in just about every area.”

In contrast, Carolyn, a 34-year-old care assistant, is typical of the unlucky group. She is accident-prone. In one week, she twisted her ankle in a pothole, injured her back in another fall and reversed her car into a tree during a driving lesson. She was also unlucky in love and felt she was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the years, I interviewed these volunteers, asked them to complete diaries, questionnaires and intelligence tests, and invited them to participate in experiments. The findings have revealed that although unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their fortune.

Take the case of chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not. I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities.

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

Personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected. In one experiment, people were asked to watch a moving dot in the centre of a computer screen. Without warning, large dots would occasionally be flashed at the edges of the screen. Nearly all participants noticed these large dots.

The experiment was then repeated with a second group of people, who were offered a large financial reward for accurately watching the centre dot, creating more anxiety. They became focused on the centre dot and more than a third of them missed the large dots when they appeared on the screen. The harder they looked, the less they saw.

And so it is with luck – unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

I wondered whether these four principles could be used to increase the amount of good luck that people encounter in their lives. To find out, I created a “luck school” – a simple experiment that examined whether people’s luck can be enhanced by getting them to think and behave like a lucky person.

I asked a group of lucky and unlucky volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person. These exercises helped them spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky, and be more resilient to bad luck.

One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier. While lucky people became luckier, the unlucky had become lucky. Take Carolyn, whom I introduced at the start of this article. After graduating from “luck school”, she has passed her driving test after three years of trying, was no longer accident-prone and became more confident.

In the wake of these studies, I think there are three easy techniques that can help to maximise good fortune:

  • Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully.
  • Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives. For example, one person described how he thought of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.
  • Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.

The Yoga of Food

So much of my time as both a student and teacher of Yoga is spent mulling over the concept of union. Union of the body, the mind and the breath, the union of energies between myself, a class full of students, and among the students themselves, the union of theory with practice to redefine our respective realities. Coming from the school of thought that we are all connected but have somehow distanced ourselves from one another, one aspect of the meaning of life, as far as I’m concerned, is the re-unification of mankind, with love being the guiding energy that will ultimately bring us back together. Confident in the knowledge that Yoga is one of the most effective systems of tools in bringing about that reunion, I surprisingly seem to have become somewhat complacent in my notion of the other possible roles that Yoga, and consequently union, play in my life.

I love what I do because I do what I love. Such a simple concept, yet amazingly elusive to so many, myself included until a couple of years ago. Because my profession consists of immersing myself in the studies and environment that I love, it can become ridiculously easy to compartmentalize what Yoga is to me and the parameters within which it exists in my life. These past couple of weeks have seen my interpretation of Yoga grow exponentially,  largely due to one book and one film. The book, In Defense of Food, and the documentary film, Food, Inc.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have been a meat-eater for as long as I can remember. My parents have always been and continue to be voracious carnivores, to the point where my partner jokes that after they’re done with their dinner, all that’s left is a perfectly clean section of the animal’s skeleton. Because I was raised in a family of meat eaters (even my grandmother swore that the remedy to a cold was a steak), I have long been reluctant to completely remove meat from my diet, despite my urge to eventually move towards a more plant-based diet. Talk about the play of opposites! I have always strived to do my best with the information I had been exposed to, in all facets of my life, which is the main reason that I always kept factory farm-related documentaries at arm’s length (ignorance = bliss?…not so sure)…I knew that once I had witnessed images of how my meat supply got from the farm to my table, I would most probably cut meat out of my diet altogether. I have been what is now so commonly referred to as a Flexitarian for years now, leaning heavily towards eliminating everything meat-related from my diet, but allowing for those moments when I found myself staring at a juicy steak at my parents’ dinner table, uncomfortable imposing my beliefs on those kind and generous enough to prepare a meal for me. Years of moving in this direction seems to have finally brought me to a place where I’m now ready to go vegetarian…and let me get this out now, before I go on: this is my choice for myself, not one I would ever impose on or even suggest for others. I believe that what we choose to feed ourselves, what we choose to put into our bodies, and how we choose to translate our beliefs into our daily rituals is painfully personal, never to be used as the gospel for all.

Watching the documentary showed me not only the horrors (cut to me literally pulling my eyes away from the tv screen) of factory farming, but also showed me the practices of the conscious animal rearer, some of which proved to be counterproductive in convincing me of how “ethical” the “ethical” slaughtering methods can be. That’s what pretty much did it for me. Seeing animals suffer like that, even if only for a millisecond, showed me how far I want to distance myself from the source and cause of that type of behaviour. And, again, what’s right for me is exactly that…right for me. I know how it feels to have someone else’s opinions and beliefs become overwhelmingly stifling when imposed on others, and the last thing I want to do is put people off. I support anyone who has made a conscious decision to live any and/or all aspects of his/her life in a way that pleases them…my partner, for instance, whole-heartedly believes that we derive from meat-eaters and to eliminate meat from his diet would prove detrimental to his overall health, and I completely support and respect his decision.

I suppose what I’m trying to present here is that if practicing the asanas involves the union of the mind, body and breath, then why not transfer the concept of unifying the body, mind and ingestion of food and liquids? Why not start becoming mindful of the words that come out of our mouths? The same could be applied to our thoughts…if the majority of our thoughts can be classified as useless because they involve us creating stories in our minds that are mainly based in assumptions or in the past, then why not start becoming mindful of the senseless waste of time and energy these thoughts initiate? Practicing Yoga, or union, in all aspects of our lives can only result in good…in taking responsibility and accountability for what we put out into the world, and ensuring that we reap what we sow…only good, only love, only light…amazing what we can cultivate with mindfulness…and Yoga.

Truer Words

As the first month of 2010 comes to an end, I find myself exactly where I hoped I would be when I mentally mapped out the changes in my life, the first steps of which were taken in late 2008. Leaving my earlier career behind meant spending 2009 hard at work and immersed in my studies, getting the education I needed to move towards working full-time as a yoga teacher and manager of a yoga studio. I basically gave myself two years to accomplish what I felt was the bare minimum to justify all the time and expenses that were invested in my new endeavours.

As I mentioned in my Quickpost from the first day of the year, I have never been fond of New Year’s resolutions, as I preferred to incorporate the changes I wanted to make in my life into my everyday existence as opposed to choosing one day out of the year to do so. Regardless, 2010 is the first year for which I took time to sit down and think about what I wanted to accomplish over the ensuing 12 months, and as uncomfortable as I was dealing with financial goals, I wrote them down regardless. My friend Vanessa once told me that despite not wanting to be motivated by money, we should never feel the burden of guilt from wanting to live life comfortably, without having to worry over finances. Her advice has become a pseudo-mantra for me, and so I found myself on January 1, 2010 writing my goals, some financial, others not.

Four weeks to the day, I find myself amazed and humbled by the workings of the universe. After working tirelessly coordinating and preparing my website (www.bramlevinsonyoga.com), after marketing myself with nothing but ambition fuelling my actions, I have started to see all the effort, hard work and time pay off in the form of private classes, corporate classes and requests to join studios to teach group classes. As incredible opportunity after incredible opportunity continue to present themselves, my appreciation for life continues to swell as does my gratitude to the people who have encouraged me and picked me up when I let discouragement get the better of me. My primary reason for shedding my past career was to see if I could create a professional life for myself that was capable of matching the perfection I am blessed with in my personal life, and I am now seeing that occur, which motivates me even more to continue on this path.

I’m sharing all of this for a reason…I want everyone who finds themselves in a situation that is not to their liking to understand an incredibly basic, but often incomprehensible truth: we are the masters of our lives, and we have the power to change our lives through hard work and a steadfast perseverance, never taking “no” for an answer. Throughout my life I have heard people say that hard work is the only road to success, and I’m not sure if I was ready to apply myself without knowing what I was working towards, or if I thought those words just fell into the growing pail of clichés I heard people slinging around. I now know that truer words have never been spoken.

Yoga is often described as “wisdom in work”, which might explain why it feels so natural for me to immerse myself in it daily, as it taps into the innate wisdom and energy we are all born with, yet conditioned to suppress as we buy into, or make agreements with, the values that society glorifies. As we get older, we continually make decisions based on how we can better integrate into the world we live in, regardless of whether those choices are really beneficial to us as individuals. The most we can hope for is that some of us have some sort of awakening which joggles us out of our dream of reality, allowing us to recognize that the decisions we’ve made may not have been the ones we really needed to make, and that it’s never too late to re-direct our intentions and efforts towards the life we know we could (and should) be living. Understanding that happiness does indeed lie in our own hands makes all the difference, all we have to do is make that connection. Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to change how we see the world we live in and our respective (and collective) roles in it. Unifying the body, breath and mind brings us back to the simplicities of life. Practicing postures we’re not entirely comfortable with teaches us to focus and breathe through life’s more challenging moments. Inverting the body in postures such as Sirsasana, Pinchu Mayurasana and Sarvangasana conditions us to look at everything from a different perspective. And that’s what it’s all about. Looking at the world with new eyes, with innocence and humility, always a student ready to learn, understanding that we are the managers of the blessings in our lives, that we do not own them.

So I continue doing what I’m doing, allowing my life to unfold into the perfect lotus flower I was dreaming of over a year ago, and I offer it up for all to see, as an example of what is, what can be, and what always was. And for that I’m grateful 🙂

Would vs do

I came across a link to a video today through Rhetta, (a friend of mine with whom I spent last year in teacher training), a video of a brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, giving a lecture recounting her experience of having a stroke, and analyzing the gradual deterioration of her motor skills and perception throughout the ordeal. The words that come out of this woman’s mouth, the insight and inspiration that she conveys about humanity, and the decisions we make about who we want to be and what we see in our immediate surroundings that we classify as our reality are all life changing. The fact that a neuroanatomist can explain enlightenment and connecting to energy, channelling energy, in such succinct terms is refreshing and reassuring. I’m including the transcript of her lecture as well as a link to the video…enjoy it, and pay particular attention to her closing paragraph…Enjoy it 🙂

Stroke Of Insight – Jill Bolte Taylor – TRANSCRIPT

I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder, schizophrenia. And as a sister and as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true — what is it about my brother’s brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common, shared reality, so they instead become delusions?

So I dedicated my career to research into the severe mental illnesses. And I moved from my home state of Indiana to Boston where I was working in the lab of Dr. Francine Benes, in the Harvard Department of Psychiatry. And in the lab, we were asking the question, What are the biological differences between the brains of individuals who would be diagnosed as normal control, as compared to the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or bipolar disorder?

So we were essentially mapping the microcircuitry of the brain, which cells are communicating with which cells, with which chemicals, and then with what quantities of those chemicals. So there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing this kind of research during the day. But then in the evenings and on the weekends I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

But on the morning of December 10 1996 I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own. A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. And in the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. I essentially became an infant in a woman’s body.

If you’ve ever seen a human brain, it’s obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another. And I have brought for you a real human brain. [Thanks.] So, this is a real human brain. This is the front of the brain, the back of the brain with a spinal cord hanging down, and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head. And when you look at the brain, it’s obvious that the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another. For those of you who understand computers, our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor. While our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus collosum, which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers. But other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate. Because they process information differently, each hemisphere thinks about different things, they care about different things, and dare I say, they have very different personalities. [Excuse me. Thank you. It’s been a joy.]

Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.

My left hemisphere is a very different place. Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it’s all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment. And start picking details and more details and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information. Associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It’s that little voice that says to me, “Hey, you gotta remember to pick up bananas on your way home, and eat ’em in the morning.” It’s that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, “I am. I am.” And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.

And this was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke.

On the morning of the stroke, I woke up to a pounding pain behind my left eye. And it was the kind of pain, caustic pain, that you get when you bite into ice cream. And it just gripped me and then it released me. Then it just gripped me and then released me. And it was very unusual for me to experience any kind of pain, so I thought OK, I’ll just start my normal routine. So I got up and I jumped onto my cardio glider, which is a full-body exercise machine. And I’m jamming away on this thing, and I’m realizing that my hands looked like primitive claws grasping onto the bar. I thought “that’s very peculiar” and I looked down at my body and I thought, “whoa, I’m a weird-looking thing.” And it was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality, where I’m the person on the machine having the experience, to some esoteric space where I’m witnessing myself having this experience.

And it was all every peculiar and my headache was just getting worse, so I get off the machine, and I’m walking across my living room floor, and I realize that everything inside of my body has slowed way down. And every step is very rigid and very deliberate. There’s no fluidity to my pace, and there’s this constriction in my area of perceptions so I’m just focused on internal systems. And I’m standing in my bathroom getting ready to step into the shower and I could actually hear the dialog inside of my body. I heard a little voice saying, “OK, you muscles, you gotta contract, you muscles you relax.”

And I lost my balance and I’m propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I’m asking myself, “What is wrong with me, what is going on?” And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and — total silence.

And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.

Then all of a sudden my left hemisphere comes back online and it says to me, “Hey! we got a problem, we got a problem, we gotta get some help.” So it’s like, OK, OK, I got a problem, but then I immediately drifted right back out into the consciousness, and I affectionately referred to this space as La La Land. But it was beautiful there. Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world. So here I am in this space and any stress related to my, to my job, it was gone. And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine all of the relationships in the external world and the many stressors related to any of those, they were gone. I felt a sense of peacefulness. And imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage! I felt euphoria. Euphoria was beautiful — and then my left hemisphere comes online and it says “Hey! you’ve got to pay attention, we’ve got to get help,” and I’m thinking, “I got to get help, I gotta focus.” So I get out of the shower and I mechanically dress and I’m walking around my apartment, and I’m thinking, “I gotta get to work, I gotta get to work, can I drive? can I drive?”

And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, “Oh my gosh! I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!” And the next thing my brain says to me is, “Wow! This is so cool. This is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?”

And then it crosses my mind: “But I’m a very busy woman. I don’t have time for a stroke!” So I’m like, “OK, I can’t stop the stroke from happening so I’ll do this for a week or two, and then I’ll get back to my routine, OK.”

So I gotta call help, I gotta call work. I couldn’t remember the number at work, so I remembered, in my office I had a business card with my number on it. So I go in my business room, I pull out a 3-inch stack of business cards. And I’m looking at the card on top, and even though I could see clearly in my mind’s eye what my business card looked like, I couldn’t tell if this was my card or not, because all I could see were pixels. And the pixels of the words blended with the pixels of the background and the pixels of the symbols, and I just couldn’t tell. And I would wait for what I call a wave of clarity. And in that moment, I would be able to reattach to normal reality and I could tell, that’s not the card, that’s not the card, that’s not the card. It took me 45 minutes to get one inch down inside of that stack of cards.

In the meantime, for 45 minutes the hemorrhage is getting bigger in my left hemisphere. I do not understand numbers, I do not understand the telephone, but it’s the only plan I have. So I take the phone pad and I put it right here, I’d take the business card, I’d put it right here, and I’m matching the shape of the squiggles on the card to the shape of the squiggles on the phone pad. But then I would drift back out into La La Land, and not remember when I come back if I’d already dialed those numbers.

So I had to wield my paralyzed arm like a stump, and cover the numbers as I went along and pushed them, so that as I would come back to normal reality I’d be able to tell, yes, I’ve already dialed that number. Eventually the whole number gets dialed, and I’m listening to the phone, and my colleague picks up the phone and he says to me, “Whoo woo wooo woo woo.” [laughter] And I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, he sounds like a golden retriever!” And so I say to him, clear in my mind I say to him. “This is Jill! I need help!” And what comes out of my voice is, “Whoo woo wooo woo woo.” I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, I sound like a golden retriever.” So I couldn’t know, I didn’t know that I couldn’t speak or understand language until I tried.

So he recognizes that I need help, and he gets me help. And a little while later, I am riding in an ambulance from one hospital across Boston to Mass General Hospital. And I curl up into a little fetal ball. And just like a balloon with the last bit of air just, just right out of the balloon I felt my energy lift and I felt my spirit surrender. And in that moment I knew that I was no longer the choreographer of my life. And either the doctors rescue my body and give me a second chance at life or this was perhaps my moment of transition.

When I awoke later that afternoon I was shocked to discover that I was still alive. When I felt my spirit surrender, I said goodbye to my life, and my mind is now suspended between two very opposite planes of reality. Stimulation coming in through my sensory systems felt like pure pain. Light burned my brain like wildfire and sounds were so loud and chaotic that I could not pick a voice out from the background noise and I just wanted to escape. Because I could not identify the position of my body in space, I felt enormous and expensive, like a genie just liberated from her bottle. And my spirit soared free like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria. Harmonic. I remember thinking there’s no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny little body.

But I realized “But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.” I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated my to recover.

Two and a half weeks after the hemorrhage, the surgeons went in and they removed a blood clot the size of a golf ball that was pushing on my language centers. Here I am with my mama, who’s a true angel in my life. It took me eight years to completely recover.

So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are — I am — the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.

Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.

Video located here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

QuickPost 01/01/10

So I’ve just pulled myself out of bed after last night’s New Year’s celebrations, and I have to admit that I’m a bit puzzled at what I’ve been noticing over the past 3 or 4 days. So many people around me have told me how horrible a year 2009 was and how 2010 will prove to be rife with all the things that eluded them in 2009. As much as I’ve never been a “New Year’s resolution” type of guy, I’m all for reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to the year to come with hope and the best of intentions. Having said that, it does take me off guard when the only thing that can be used to sum up a period of 12 months is a negative emotion. Regardless of what happens in our lives, however horrible and traumatic, there is always beauty, opportunity, and light to somehow emerge. Call it universal law, call it the play of opposites, call it what you want. The point is that sometimes we need to clear the proverbial table of the things we don’t want on it to make room for those things that we do want, and there’s no other way of getting to the things we want than having to go through the experiences that show us what doesn’t work for us in our lives. Those negative events are necessary to show us the true beauty and light in the people and events that show up when things are going well, and they allow us to truly appreciate them because we remember what it was like when things were not working in our favour. If 2009 was “the worst year in memory” (which is what I’ve been hearing), then look closely at what made it so, and see if there aren’t glimmers of promise, of opportunity and of hope in the wreckage of the events, and walk confidently into 2010 with the wisdom that those events provided. Every single second of our lives holds unlimited possibility…we just need to see it for what it is and not get distracted by that which is impermanent.

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