Have you heard of Jill Bolte Taylor? She’s a Boston neuroanatomist who has been speaking to groups about her experience of having a stroke.
The morning she had her stroke, she lost the use of the left hemisphere of her brain. In the YouTube video, she holds a real brain. The left and right brain are two distinct organs. They communicate with each other, but they process information differently. They think about different things, care about different things, and have very different personalities, she said.
The right brain is concerned with the here and now. It thinks in pictures. It learns through the movement of our body. Information comes in through the senses, she said. It understands what the present moment feels like, looks like, sounds like, smells like. We are energy beings and our right brain connects us to each other.
“In this moment, we are perfect, we are whole, and we are beautiful,” she said.
The left brain is focused on the past, on the information and experience it has stored. It takes the information of the present and connects it with the past and projects it to the future. It thinks in language. It organizes. “It’s that little voice that says, ‘I am,’ ” said Taylor. It makes us an individual, separate from the energy flow around us and separate from each other.
When she had the stroke, Taylor’s “brain chatter” went totally silent. Her mind was silent. Her left brain was hemorrhaging and her right brain was in charge. She felt at one with all the energy in the world. She calls it Lalaland, where she was totally connected to the external world. She felt light, euphoric.
So my friend and I talked about moments when we have achieved this state, sans stroke, in meditation. Later, I thought of other times. It happens a lot when I’m outdoors. Like, when lying on the ground in the woods, gazing up through the canopy of trees to the sky. Or while watching a sunset or moonrise.
It happens in the creative act. In the act of creation, we tap into our other self, surrender to it.
The Port Republic, Va., artist, Jeffery Stockberger, makes a living by painting interiors of homes and businesses. When he goes away to paint murals for a client, he uses the left side of his brain. The customer tells him what to paint, and Stockberger paints it.
Then there is Stockberger’s “real” art, and when he returns home to his studio, he has no confidence in his ability to create something. He diddles around in the studio, then picks up the brush and starts to “wash” the canvas. As he does this, something begins to emerge. And he moves into that creative state.
I experience this in writing. As an article writer, I conduct interviews and gather facts. Then I write an article using the information. It’s so left brain. But when I write a column — a good column, that is — I wake up early and just start writing. Anything. Stroking on the wash. Then, from those random words, something emerges. I have connected with my right brain. Those are the times when it works. Sometimes I cannot make the connection to my right brain, and I write a rational, uninspired dud. Sorry.
“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist,” writes Madeleine L’Engle. “Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work, and so he often wrote better than he could write.”
Just starting — to write, paint, compose — is an act of faith. Taylor spoke of surrender. We surrender in the creative act, in meditation, when we make love, behold beauty, worship.
Too often, church worship is a left brain, rational activity. All the songs are planned, coordinated with the sermon theme. Yet it is our right brain that connects our energy with the pure energy that is God and each other. Jesus said that the true worshippers “worship in spirit and in truth.” That speaks of both left and right brain, of all that we are.
Some years ago, Ken Nafziger interviewed over 100 people across the country about what they experience while singing. People told him they are open to emotions, memories and thoughts they wouldn’t be open to any other way.
“Because of music’s intangible quality you can’t trap it in any way,” Nafziger says. “Music has the ability to take you where you can’t be.”
When we truly worship, we are in that place, like Taylor during her stroke, where we are perfect, we are whole, we are beautiful, and, as the old hymn says, “it is well with my soul.”