You may have seen her on YouTube, but Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, is still worth a read, especially if you’re curious about the workings of the brain. Taylor, a neuro-anatomist (or brain scientist, as she translates it for the layman), experienced a stroke that flooded the left hemisphere of her brain, leaving her to experience the world largely from her right hemisphere’s perspective. Over the next eight years, Taylor carefully observed her recovery with a scientist’s curiosity and attention to detail. As Taylor worked diligently to relearn to navigate in the world and to recover her former self, she found one the most life-changing realizations for her was that she had the capacity to make choices she’d never realized were choices.
In the past, when some event triggered a reaction like feeling angry, jealous, or highly critical, she would react reflexively and run the well-established neural pathways. These old pathways, with their myriad interconnections with all sorts of past history and associations, resulted in plenty of unpleasant feelings, memories and subsequent behaviors. After the stroke, Taylor was blissfully unaware of any of these. As her functions returned, she discovered her memory had not been destroyed, but she would have to work hard to re-access and reactivate those pathways…or she could choose not to.
She learned that when an emotion is triggered in your body, its initial physiological effects—hormone release, etc.– last only 90 seconds. After that, if you are still connected to that emotional response, it is because an extensive and complex array of neural pathways has been activated. It may happen so rapidly that it feels like a natural, inevitable reaction. But in that moment at the end of the 90 seconds between the emotion and stepping on the pathway, one has a choice. Taylor says she realized she could choose to engage her left brain connections with past memories, with fears about the future, with its tendency to fill in gaps of information with assumptions–the “storyteller’s potential for stirring up drama and trauma.” Or she could “step to the right” and embrace her right hemisphere’s personality and value system, which emphasize staying in the moment and meeting it with compassion. Taylor makes clear this isn’t easy; she says it’s a choice you may make many times every day. But it’s a realization that changed the way she meets the world.
Taylor’s book also offers what I consider supportive evidence for the impact Clean Language has for a client. To cite but one example, Taylor says, “I believe the real power in experiential recreation is located in our ability to remember what the underlying physiology feels like.” (p. 176) In a Clean Language session, you may re-imagine the past, re-image it. Inferring from Taylor’s book, I suggest that by doing so you are building new neural pathways– ones that serve you better than the old ones. By using your own metaphors and getting to know not only where they are, but how they feel (Taylor’s ‘underlying physiology’) and by revisiting them often, you can strengthen them and increase the likelihood of ‘going there’ when an unwanted memory or emotion is triggered.
Given that this is the start of the year, it’s a good time to re-image what you’d like to have happen…or like to have had happen in the past. When you notice uncomfortable memories surface or their accompanying old feelings (such as anxiety, sadness, or jealousy) or physical reactions (perhaps shallow breathing, queasiness, or headache), they’re a signal to you that those old, familiar neural pathways are being engaged. Replace them with your new image and its accompanying feelings—emotional and physical. Or… step to the right. And if you read Dr. Taylor’s book, we’d be curious to hear how you think her experiences explain Clean Language’s effectiveness.