Friday, December 19, 2008

Into Balance

I'm intrigued by the experience of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, which she presents in this video. If you haven't watched it, do take the time. It's about 20 minutes long, but you'll think about it for the rest of the day and beyond.

Dr. Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered from a massive stroke on the left side of her brain in 1996. Surprisingly, she found that the stroke opened her up to an entirely different -- and blissful -- experience of existence. She has since called it her "stroke of insight."

She recounts that, as a scientist, she had lived her whole life sensing the world through the left hemisphere of her brain. The left hemisphere of the brain processes sensory data in a logical, linear way. The stroke changed that for her. As a result, Dr. Bolte Taylor was forced to experience the world through the creative, intuitive right hemisphere of her brain. Her description of the experience is mystical.

What intrigued me about her talk was the idea that I was experiencing much the same journey, but in reverse. While Dr. Bolte Taylor's journey of consciousness moved from the logical left hemisphere of her brain to the intuitive right hemisphere of her brain, my journey was taking me from the intuitive right to the logical left. My years in the Center were all about the development and elevation of my right brain operations to the exclusion of the logical left (at least from a neurological point of view).

Unlike Dr. Bolte Taylor, though, the agent of change for my journey from intuitive insight to intellectual development was not the sudden physical violence of a stroke. Instead, I was moved psychologically.

Honestly, I had nowhere else to go. After nine years in the Center, I had no inclination to return to the contemplative life. And after I had spent close to three years cultivating my inner warrior only to have that dream come crashing down with my utter failure at SEAL training, intellectual development -- the left hemisphere of the brain -- seemed the only option left.

Thankfully, after three years of menial labor on the USS Nimitz, I was desperate to study and it was a great relief for me to begin classes at MIIS in January 1996. Though I was a little apprehensive that first day, I quickly settled into a routine that would sustain me for the next two and a half years.

Shortly after starting classes, my wife, two year old son, and I moved from Santa Cruz -- where we had been living with my mom -- to Monterey. From that point, I began walking back and forth to school every day.

The walk was about a mile, up one side of a hill, through the Presidio of Monterey Army Garrison, and down the other side of the hill into Monterey proper. Typically, I might have had two classes in the morning and another in the mid-afternoon. So, after my morning classes, I'd head over to the Monterey Sports Center (quite possibly the best city-run athletic center anywhere). There I began working out again in earnest, for the first time since quitting BUD/S. Twice a week I swam and three times a week I lifted weights and ran north along the Monterey coast.

On weekends, I began doing long runs out to Pebble Beach and the famous 17-Mile Drive, which always reminded me of the first time I ran there in the late 1980s with Sundar. My life was coming into balance for the first time.

As for scholastic activities, I got a job with one of the Institute's research facilities, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. CNS, as it is called, is the largest research organization in the United States devoted to tracking, reporting, and in that way preventing the spread of WMD throughout the world. For the next few years, I spent about 20 hours a week at CNS -- which is right on campus -- reviewing papers and journals for articles reporting about the trade of ballistic missiles in and around Asia.

I also began studying Japanese. My initial plan had been to study Arabic, but at some point between leaving the Navy and starting school I realized that to really perfect my language acquisition I would have to spend time living in the area of study and I didn't think Elaine -- who is Jewish -- would feel comfortable if we moved to Syria, for example. Plus, I'd always felt some affinity for Japan. Between the ages of five and 12, I had studied Judo at a traditional dojo (Santa Clara Judo Club run by Sensei Tosh Higashi).

With that, my formal journey into the logical left hemisphere of my brain began. My life entered a state of relative equilibrium that I hadn't experienced in a long time, if ever. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was building a solid intellectual foundation that was to support the reemergence of my psychic being in the very near future.

1 comment:

sunirmalya said...

that jill-bolte taylor is amazing - it is the best story of this century