What a fascinating book.
The real life story of a neuroanatomist who has a stroke, survives, recovers, and tells all about it.
Apart from the science of how resilient our brain can be in the face of trauma, this book illuminated the biology behind the spiritual truths the Bible teaches.
For example, verses like this one in The Message Version found in 1 Corinthians 10:5:
“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”
I’ve read that verse countless times and while I wholeheartedly agree with it, I often find myself with the lingering question of “How? How do I actually do that?”
There were certain emotions like anger, frustration, or fear felt uncomfortable when they surged through my body. So I told my brain that I didn’t like that feeling and didn’t want to hook into those neural loops. I learned that I could use my left mind, through language, to talk directly to my my brain and tell it what I wanted and what I didn’t want….I was adamantly opposed to reactivating old painful emotional circuits…I may not be in total control of what happens to my life, but I certainly am in charge of how I choose to perceive my experience.
The two parts of my brain work in tandem to create responses to what is going on around me. My left brain defines and categorizes while my right brain experiences and feels. When I understand the neurology of my mind, I can layer the spiritual truth of “fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into…the life shaped by Christ” on top of that and actually see results. My brain is subject to my will, and my will is subject to Christ.
The clearer we are about which side of the brain is processing what types of information, the more choice we have in how we think, feel, and behave…
I can choose what stories I tell myself. Proverbs 4 helps me remember:
“Get wisdom; develop good judgement…guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
Another translation says it this way:
“Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.”
My mind is an expert story teller, and I believe almost everything it tells me. This book helped me see that far from being a weakness, it is an inherent strength that can powerfully influence how I choose to live…if I am aware of how it works:
One of the most prominent characteristics of our left brain is its ability to weave stories…specifically designed to make sense of the world around us…it’s particularly effective at hooking into the circuits of emotion and exhausting all the “what if” possibilities…I need to be very wary of my story-teller’s potential for stirring up drama and trauma. It has a tendency to be redundant – manifesting loops of thought patterns that reverberated through my mind, over and over again…we find ourselves habitually imagining devastating possibilities. [We] need to tend carefully to the garden of [our] mind.
Yes!!! My mind frolics through ‘what if’s,’ picking one after the other and tossing them to and fro with ease. They are never nice ‘what if’s,’ creating a world of peace and joy and calm. Nope – they are loops of fear, anger, intimidation, victim-hood, or self-pity. All the drama and trauma my mind can muster speeding through the neural pathways of my mind. Am I aware of the tendency towards gloom and doom that my left-brain has? How can it be redeemed? Am I tending the garden of my mind, or allowing weeds and thorns to take over? My left brain loves stories, so let it tell stories. Stories of life, truth, love, victory, overcoming, what is true and right and pure.
Of course there will be times when emotions flare and I find myself riding the rapids of fear or anger or shame. Is that okay? Did I just sin? What just happened???!!! How do emotions and a ‘Spirit filled life’ work together? Does the needle never budge and I stay ‘ooooooommmmmm’ through every circumstance? Or is there another way? Here’s a snapshot of what actually happens in my brain:
…it takes less than 90 seconds for one of the [emotional, limbic] programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream. My anger response, for example, is a programmed response that can be set off automatically…if, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run…The healthiest way I know how to move through an emotion effectively is to surrender completely to that emotion when its loop of physiology comes over me…let it run its course for 90 seconds…over time, the intensity and frequency of these circuits usually abate…I believe it is vital to our health that we pay very close attention to how much time we spend hooked into the circuitry of anger, or the depths of despair.
How much time I spend feeling angry, overwhelmed, abandoned, or fearful is my choice. Those first 90 seconds are free – my brain is doing what it’s created to do and doing it well. I’m thankful that does work so well because it gives me a chance to respond in the right way. Am I feeling fearful? Is it because a car is racing out of control towards me on the freeway, or is it because I just saw someone who reminded me of the bully who tormented me fifth grade? The same emotional programming will trigger in my brain, but I have the choice in how I respond. Car barreling towards me – use that fear to snap to attention and save my life. Dude looks like Johnny Bully – realize the story my brain is telling me and tell my mind the truth, choosing peace instead of anxiety.
The flip side also rings true. Those moments of joy, peace, or exhilarating calm are mine to choose to prolong. I can keep agreeing with them, and allow that circuit to continue to run its course through my body.
I often feel like I am in a wrestling match with my mind. Why can’t it just do the things I want it to? Now I realize it’s doing the exactly what it was created to do, and doing it very, very well.
I am not a slave to sin but free in Christ, to use the miraculous tool of my mind towards wholeness, freedom, and healing.
all quotes from My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor