Monday, November 16, 2009

The heart-mind connection

Yesterday my daughter sent me a video of brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor talking about her experience of a massive stroke to the left side of her brain. Having just returned from a contemplative worship service, I was extremely interested in what Dr. Taylor had to say, because it seems to provide such an intriguing explanation for my own internal struggles to quiet the brain and sense the oneness of things.

Dr. Taylor's left brain didn't stop functioning all at once, but rather gradually, moving in and out of consciousness as it lost functionality, so she was able to experience both the left brain's attempts to control the situation and, when the left side receded from consciousness, she could experience the right brain's sense of mystical oneness with all of life, and was in fact unable to feel her own boundaries.

Somehow thinking about this brought to mind a conversation I'd had before the worship service with my old friend Max. I happened to mention to him that my husband and I had been speculating that, since the nervous system is all about synapses, making connections, perhaps the more intelligent or sophisticated a brain is the more it delights in uncovering connections. But Max reminded me that it is really the heart that lies at the root of knowing.

And so, having seen Dr. Taylor hold out an actual human brain to us, and having seen that brain flop dramatically open to display how completely distinct its two halves are, I began to wonder if the function of meditation might be to strengthen the connection between our left and right hemispheres, so that the left brain decisions might be more informed by the right brain's understanding of wholeness and unity -- and if the way to connect the two -- at least at this point in our evolution -- is through the heart.

So I created this image as a way of exploring that heart/brain connection, and I am intrigued, both by the organic quality of that portion at the bottom of the heart, and by the sense that the division appears to come from above, and looks almost like divine hands reaching down through the two halves of the brain and in to the heart, both splitting the brain and, at the same time, a sort of inverse gesture of namaste.

I think I'll stop here; too much to think about! And I think it may be time to look more closely at Daniel Siegel's work on interpersonal neurobiology. But I did also want to share this wonderful quotation from George Bernard Shaw, found in the Richo book I've been reading:

"This is the true joy in life: being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

Yup. That's where I want to be. I suspect that's where all of us want to be. Now if we could only figure out how to get there!


Maureen said...

I saw the Taylor video many months ago and was astonished; then bought and read Taylor's book as soon as it came out. If I recall correctly, she has an artistic side that she nurtures.

That's a rather stunning image. All alchemical. It reminds me of the glass hearts that my husband gave me, one small one full of those same swirls of colors as in your image and a larger one with a swath of gold from one side to the next, like a sash holding together the two parts that need each other to be whole.

I think one key to the Shaw quote lies in the words "recognized by yourself". To me, these words mean acceptance, a looking within to the soul. The gifts God bestows are "mighty" precisely because they are God-given and awaiting your own discovery.

Kimberly Mason said...

Love love LOVE the quote! Love Jill. Love the image.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Diane ... that image is spectacular ... the flowing colors, the symbolism ... just lovely. I've seen that video too ... it is incredible. Love the quote ... this is a great post.

Dianna Woolley said...

Diane - the heart image is just beautiful and the post reminding me of how terrific I felt Taylor's research and presentation was in regarding to her own stroke and her study of the brain in general. I had no idea that the two sides of our brain were not really connected, but two separate - granted contiguous - working parts of our body. I've actually added a dimension to my prayer and meditation time and that is a concentrated effort and request to God that the tangles in my brain, both sides may be smoothed, untangled allowing for clear synapsing to take place. I hope this doesn't put me slightly off into looney-tune time but I have great faith in mind/body connection and thought I would just experiment with my own synapses:) Taylor's talk was the beginning of my experiment.......