“Consciousness presents us with an altered, subjective, tampered-with view of reality, but it rarely tells us so. ~ Tor Norretranders, The User Illusion
One of the great gifts Harvard neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor has given us is an intimate account of what it’s like to lose the language networks of the brain, but then to be able to closely attend as a neuroscientist and watch them regrow, reconnect, reanimate and come back online. I’ve excerpted Jill’s original brief account and posted it as a separate blog entry HERE. What I’ve learned from Jill – and continue to re-learn over and over again – is that if The Vigilant Sentinel my brain is not paying exquisite attention to what is unfolding moment by moment in the time and space right around me, there’s a high probability that my brain is making up a story. And it is most likely a Past Story or a Future Story, a Pleasant Story or a Painful Story. Many wisdom traditions refer to these stories as Daydreams and urge us to awaken from them.
What Are the Odds?
One reason to mindfully understand and not be captivated by these stories is that without, ongoing, directed, concentrated work, the vast majority of them can not or will not come true. Your brain and the world are too complex. It has 88 billion neurons making 100 trillion connections. Multiply this times the 7.5 billion other ever-changing human brains on the planet all making up their own pleasant or painful stories and the resulting complexity is beyond comprehension. Who really knows what’s going to happen from one day to the next?
To demonstrate for this blog post how my Storyteller frequently operates in pain-causing ways, I’m taking Jill’s account of her brain’s healing process, and I’m altering and editing it to fit current world conditions. See if it resonates at all.
Don’t Believe What You Think When It Hurts
One of the most prominent characteristics of our left brain is its ability to weave stories about Donald Trump. This story-teller is specifically designed to make sense of the world outside us that seems to be filled with Donald Trump. It functions by taking whatever minimal information it has to work with about Trump, and then weaves it together in the form of a Trump Story. Most impressively our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up about Trump, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in factual data about a Trump whose brain is constantly changing.
As my left brain language centers recovered and became functional again, I spent a lot of time observing how my story-teller would draw conclusions about Trump based upon minimal information. Or second, or third-hand information. For the longest time I found these antics of my Trump storyteller to be rather comical. At least until I realized that my left hemisphere whole-heartedly expected the rest of my brain to believe all the Trump stories it was making up! . . . . I need to remember however, that there are truly enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know about Donald Trump (my italics). I learned I need to be very wary of my storyteller’s potential for stirring up personally and politically painful trauma and drama. ~ adapted and significantly modified from Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight
So does this mean that we’re never supposed to believe what we read online or see presented in the media? I can’t tell you. You’ll have to weigh the Opportunity Cost and decide for yourself. What I CAN tell you is that my own Storyteller is a VERY FORMIDABLE OPPONENT – clever, seductive, compelling, and it knows my every vulnerability, every desire, every bias, every weakness. Engaging skillfully and successfully with him day after day, week after week, month after month is more than a full-time job.
In the Beginning Was the Word
Neuroscientist and surgeon, Leonard Shlain wrote about the Storyteller in our brain in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. Shortly after the human brain developed the ability to put the words it was speaking and hearing into a form that made speech visible – by creating alphabets – it shifted the dominant development of the brain’s hemispheres from the right to the left. This was a profound transformation, shifting from a world in which Goddess theology predominated into one in which male monotheistic religions took center stage. The stories human beings’ brains began to make up – rooted primarily in the rigid, constricting confines of the left hemisphere – resulted in women’s rights taking a beating. In the beginning (of the left hemisphere’s ascension) was the Word and the Word was masculine. And the Word (born of Broca’s Area and Wernicke’s Area in the left hemisphere) was God. Image (feminine and born predominantly in the right hemisphere) was a blasphemy and fearsome. Scary images generate scary stories. They undermine cognitive and compassionate function. Scary stories and scary pictures hijack our adrenal glands. Ask any guy if he ever heard the story as a little kid that some women’s vaginas have teeth! Little good results when scary stories compel the adrenals to take overpowering command of and dominate the human sideshow.