Here’s Jill Bolte Taylor. She’s a brain scientist, studying schyzofrenia, and the micro-circuitry in the human brain which causes these (and other) mental illenesses. On the morning of September 10, 1996 she had a stroke. Amongst all other things that went though her head, she realized that this was a tremendous oportunity because she got to study this phenomena first hand. Luckaly, she fully recovered, wrote a book about it, and did a very impressive presentation about it at the 2008 TED conference, called “a powerful stroke of insight”.
Having watched this presentation, I realized that Zen monks already figured this out a long time ago, without knowing that they were talking about left or right brain halves. Here’s a short recap of what your left and right brain halves do:
The right half of your brain is a paralel processor. It processes all the information coming in from your bodies’ sensory system. It is concious of your body, it’s current dimensions, it’s current position. Your right half connects you to the world around you. It does not care about where you were 5 minutes ago, or where you are going. The right brain half lives in what Zen monks are calling “the here and now”.
The left brainhalf is a serial processor. It processes the information gathered by the right half, and stores it into memory. It is very linear and methodical. It associates the information of the right half with memories it stored, and projects things into the future. It’s your left brain half which is reminding you to pick up the laundry, or go to the dentist. Your left half is also considered to contain your “ego”, and opposed to your right half, it is seperating you from the rest of the world. The left brain half contains the things Zen monks consider to be less usesful, like “regret”, and “want”.
When Jill talks about what she sees as “Lalaland”, I think it has a great resemblance to what Zen monks believe to be “enlightenment” or “Bodhi”. It is a state in which the mind is freed from suffering and worries. Without maybe realizing, Zen monks know how to disconnect their left and right brain, or at least shut down a large part of their left brain. This has even measured in an MRI experiment.
Zen Buddhism, is largely based around a story, which describes how a normal man called Gautama Buddha reached this state of enlightenment. After that, he set out to tell other people how to do this, and this has more or less lead to the whole Zen culture we know now.
Combining the story about Gautama Buddha and Jill’s talk, I think we can say that Jill was “uncontrolled enlighted” taken one step further than what we would consider to be practical. I also think that we have to consider the posibilty that Buddha just had a stroke, survived, and lived on to tell about it, just like Jill.