Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Monday, July 17, 2017

Tyranny of Time: A Meditation

The more you know, the less you understand.  --Lao Tzu

Time is a liar. It tells me I am dying. Which is true, we all are; but that since I am dying, my options are limited and I must fit into smaller and smaller spaces and move more quickly through them. Time rushes, pushes us, urges that we must shelter, save, hoard, protect. Grab all you can and hang on!--the world spins faster the older you get.

Time is fear. I feel it, this need to solidify and consolidate. To gather my meager wealth around me, grab a gun, hunker down. Without it, death is certain. Time and fear whisper ugly things: you're a sitting duck. A target. There is nothing you can do. Across the ocean, a little man with a big weapon is waiting to blow you off this planet.

Of course, death is certain no matter what I do.

I wasn't given a syllabus for this life. I don't know how many days, years, minutes, hours I still have left. I don't even know what I'm supposed to be learning. I thought I did, but the more I knew, the farther I fell behind. Strange how that works: the more you know, the less you know. But why should I let that stop me from loving, being loved? Why push pause on my wish to drive down empty no-name roads that end in quiet fields filled with sunflowers? To rise up incandescent from a salty embrace, a love-bite, a tangle of sheets? Why not take flight across another ocean, explore a new continent? Am I too jaded, too fearful of what might happen, the insanity of the little men in charge?

This is not a test. I'm not asking rhetorically; I'm asking because I really don't know. I've lost my hunger, my capacity for joy. Joy, who used to ride my shoulders like some crazy bright angel; I've lost her. Or--somehow--dropped her along the way and never gone back for her. And I am so far down the trail now. We parted when I started focusing on the "should" and the "must" and the "might happen." She saw that, and she curled up and dropped away. I don't know how to find her again.

Time is not a thing. But it is not a no-thing, either. It is the spun fluff of a dandelion, the steady beating of your heart, the slow spin of galaxies turning in the night sky. Time is an orchestra just tuning up, these past four billion years, in a symphony that's about to begin. How many cycles have we been through, now, how many times have we destroyed ourselves and come back to learn again? We don't know. We don't remember. But self-destruction seems built into our genes along with survival, like the good twin and the evil twin, living side by side. Tiny bloated tyrants stand on opposite shores holding tiny bombs like footballs, ready to hurl them at one another, breathing threats: You first. No, you. 

I went running down an old trail the other day, all loose and cool in the wind, breathing in the smell of salt flats and clean mud. Blazing along at the edge of the world will empty your mind, shake it free of cobwebbed fears and dark imaginings. I was plugged in to a good soundtrack; a familiar song came on, sent to me long ago by a lover. And I realized that I had run right by his house, unaware, and that a sudden warm weight was riding in my belly, bittersweet. It wasn't joy and it wasn't regret; it was a mix of both, a sweet and strange infant they'd made, tangled with my DNA, pulling me toward that house.

I spoke to my feet, gave them wings, breathed deeply, flew back along the trail. The sun pressed into my back, pushing me along. I heard the music, the wilder deeper symphony, and felt the infant weight flying up and out of me: not mine. I never had any children. I never left anything of mine in this world. That is one thing I can choose to regret, or not, and today I choose not. It is a sadness I cannot carry, that rides in on waves of relief. I will not self-destruct this time around.

Time is a liar. Time is a friend. Time is the spiral on the face of a sunflower. It has taken certain choices from me, merely by letting me decide nothing while it stretches out like pulled taffy.  I have worked and played and walked with joy and lost it and found it, and now, lost it again. Time will drown us if we insist on diving too deep into its spinning waters; but it is possible to push away, into the shallows, where it plays idly by our ankles.

I can still run. I can still take flight. I will still, whether or not the little men hurl their bombs, be alright.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wilderness Elegy

When I die, don’t put me in the ground.
Prop me up and let me sit awhile
Among the trees in a northern forest
Where moose walk invisibly among willows
New-grown and smelling wild as heaven.

I could do no worse
Than the hollow trunk of a downed cottonwood
Against which I’ll recline, head thrown back
And mouth agape as if mid-snore.
I won’t bother anyone. Let me rot in peace
Sinking back into the ground until my skin
Sprouts a coating of moss.

Get the ravens to come and pluck my eyes and ears
And fly far and fast in the four directions:
I'll kiss this good old world goodbye
And say hello to the next one
Astride their night-black wings.

Tell the squirrels to come and nibble away
My fingerprints, erasing all traces of who I was
For I will not be needing them anymore.
Hear my last will and testament:
To be left in peace, here in the woods
Feeding myself to the wild.

Break out the oboe and call the wolves:
Tell them to take my ankles in their strong jaws
And sing while they eat my feet.
I cannot imagine a better place
For my worn-out soles and aching arches
Than their swift bellies as they go sliding
With a shadow’s ease among the black spruce
And pale peeling birch.

Rain will certainly come and fill my mouth
Making there a bath for wild birds
And a drinking-pool for moths
And bees and the long tongues of butterflies.
Perhaps flowers will grow where my smile once was:
Peony, poppy, iris, begonia.

But what is left for the great, wandering bear?
Will she want my heart? I can see her passing by
Stopping to sniff my face in its lichen shroud.
She places a paw upon my chest. Yes!
She will take my heart. It will go with her
Where she fishes for silver in the quick cold stream
And shout for joy when she strikes.

With my heart gone (that restless rhythm)
All is finally quiet.
There’s not much left, but what there is
The trees can have. Already they
Are soaking me up:
Drawing minerals from my bones
And water from my blood
While chickadees take my hair strand by strand.

What of my fingernails?
I surmise the wind will scatter them
With the sound of a mandolin played
By a happy idiot.
Here let the moose shake his antlers
In the branches of a yellowing alder
For the eulogy has ended
And the leaves are chanting their mantra:
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Where goes one, there go we all.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

god went mad

i climbed the mountain to talk with god
to ask him why he'd gone mad.
he was up there smoking hits of beauty
and playing with sacred geometry.
giving me a wink and a mutter
he drew patterns in the dust with his finger
then said he couldn't bear to see it wasted
and with a sweep of his robe erased it.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Princess Leia's Celebrity Ball

Princess Leia died today. May the Force be with her, and with us all.

Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen and Alan Rickman await the Princess in a cosmic room. A place without walls nor ceiling nor floor except the stage that sits at its center, lit by twin alien moons. They make an unlikely band, but things have shifted post-mortem, and karma breathes and beats through every timeless moment here. Cohen’s eyes as always are dark, ageless, inscrutable, hidden by the brim of his hat; he is about to step to the mic. But in this incarnation he is a young black woman, with wild plaited hair streaming past his spaghetti-strapped shoulders. His gown is of deepest funereal black.

Young Prince is on bass, the sleeves of his t-shirt brushed with stardust. He has just come in from a flight through the Swan Nebula, and light clings to him leaving a faint tail as from a comet. He never appears without a pair of black wings, one of which always hides his face. In life he was a dazzling dancer toying with the lines between flesh and fantasy; here in the In-Between he is a shy boy, beautiful and strangely birdlike, praised in whispers too soft for him to hear.

Jones is the newest of the group; she’s still wearing a red sequined gown, is shoeless and appears somewhat dazed. But ever the performer, she dances a little jig and smiles a smile that reflects the rays of the two moons. She will be on the alto-sax tonight, for stellar jazz is the only true cosmic response to the entrance of the Princess.

Lastly let the audience turn its attention to Rickman who is, of course, master of the most complex set of rhythm instruments ever seen this side of Death’s door. He sits a high leather-backed stool amid skin and steel and bowl-shaped devices that squat and tower and hover all around him. He handles sticks and brushes wizard-like, scowling, his flowing white tresses bound in a ponytail that cascades down his back and blends with his white ruby-studded gown.

A hush has rested over this crowd for what seems like, and probably is, millennia. There is no celebrity seating at this event, but strangely, no noses are out of joint. George Michael came too late to get a good spot, and so has wandered in at the very last minute to see that kindly Florence Henderson has saved him a seat. Gene Wilder is, of course, front and center, his eyes lit up like twin stars (“I’m simply dying of anticipation,” he jokes darkly to Edward Albee, who is sitting next to him and totally gets it). Wilder has carried a torch for the Princess for years, but then who has not? A few rows back, Muhammad Ali, here seen as a small white girl, is weeping tears of joy. Elie Wiesel, seated next to him and radiant as a very, very old and lovely woman, offers him a tissue with a brow arched in gentle irony.

Strangely, or perhaps not, Kenny Baker is incarnate as R2-D2; he is seated next to Anton Yelchin, which makes the both of them feel they must have had something very great indeed in common at one time, if only they could remember. Instead they amuse themselves with opening tiny holes in the space-time continuum, throwing Ali’s wet tissues into them, and then closing them again.

Now you can hear them: little whispers, gasps of awe, rushing throughout the vast, nay endless, audience: “The architect! The architect has arrived!” And indeed someone is moving forward through the gathered souls. He is the builder of this auditorium, the one who dreamed this party up, perhaps not the original founder of the idea, no, but the one who made this particular incarnation of the idea, possible. He is The One Who Came Before. A swift patter of clapping arises; everyone is on their feet as David Bowie approaches the stage.

And he is a sight to behold, this Star Man. His incarnation is a real stunner. On one side, as he approaches, he is a glorious sunrise; on the other, the most heartbreaking of sunsets. When he turns his face one way, it is the face of a gorgeous woman; and the other way, a smooth-jawed, handsome man. At some angles his skin appears black as the cosmic sky; and at others, white as an alien moon. Music flows from him wherever he goes, emanating from his hands, his eyes, his smile. He arrives at the stage and bows deeply to the audience, raising his hands for silence. And it is silent.

“It is nearly time,” he says. And everyone can feel that this is so. What has been, on this planet, a terrible, loss-filled year, is in this place a gathering of forces, nay, of The Force. And now the moment has arrived. Indeed it has always been arriving, is arrived, will arrive, will have arrived. There is no need for talk that tries to define time; there is no need for talk at all, anymore. The assembled souls are beginning to learn this now. It is good to stop, isn’t it, being impressed with how much time one spent in a different plane, doing and achieving and accomplishing this or that, or what you were in that incarnation. It is good to drop one’s focus on events and look instead at what is happening Now.

And Now, we note that music has begun to play—or was it always thus? Rickman is brushing softly on the steel, and Jones is playing one sweet, gorgeous note as if she has always been playing it. Prince’s fingers are walking along the bass, and Cohen—oh, Cohen! That voice, growling deep and low, you can’t mistake it.

But wait, what is happening? Bowie is looking off to stage left, out into the vast blackness of the cosmos. The music swells and begins to break, a syncopated rhythm, and Bowie raises one hand as if greeting an old friend. For that is what she is, and what they all are. What we all are. A collective breath is drawn by a billion stars, Inhale, Exhale.

Her arrival is sudden as a comet arcing across the night sky: no fanfare, no warning. Only a soft sound as of fabric tearing: there is a hole in the cosmos where time used to be. Here. She is here. A single beam of light graces the stage. There isn’t a dry eye anywhere. Welcome, Princess. Welcome.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Here is what happens when darkness falls:
countless times down sleep’s blind
alleys and wormholes slipping
through into new dimensions
I wake to find gravity’s laws
and I go looking for the tiger.

Often I have slept curled
inside her jaws while she pads
along the backbone of the night
her eyes fey and filled with fire
         and in the morning my temples ache
         with the distant rumble of her heart
         beating against my skull.

(See there, her heavy paws have left
impressions so deep they hold the water
after rain
still pools in which my reflection lingers.)

She is not easy
she leaves me uneasy
the quiet thunder of her passing
is a hollowed-out longing
as of a lover lately left
         but I have no memory of a lover
         only tingling along the nerves
         that would leash my tail to my spine.

Last night she found me
and hissed her name into my ear: Chaaya.
Shade walker.
Soul stealer.
If we fear only what we
do not know
then I am a mystery to myself.

The dream tells me this:
in some other world where gravity
pulls things apart and not together
the tiger is me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


"Music can change the world because
it can change people.” –Bono

at the risk of sounding classic
let me spin the tale
of the time back in 1997 I lived on the road
for a year in a beat station wagon
with a bunch of mix tapes.
one of them was bootleg gold:
a pile of live-concert recordings
pinched from the gods of rock n roll,

to which I listened relentlessly
for a year criss-crossing this great land
in that beat-down automobile
fear-torn hate-drunk once-fearless heartland).
music turned up so loud my brain caught fire
the unforgettable fire
          or that is the explanation
          I gave myself for the times I looked up
and saw god flying overhead
his teeth bared in a grin my windshield
reflected, clouds caught staring.

I was young and rebelling and
I ran from the halls of cut glass and stains
out to the roofless church of the desert
out in god’s country
to the gateways of the reservations
and found
:the rot at the heart of her:
no country can thrive on the bones
of the murdered.
          oh children! dread took hold in my heart then
and I never believed in her again.

I saw she was a
recording of ancient Greece
laid over a timeworn track
of slave-ownership. if nothing else
our music tells us this:
early morning, April 4
a shot rings out in the Memphis sky
free at last, they took your life
they could not take your pride

which brings the story up to date--
just today in the usa I found myself
howling down the highway
a sane maniac doped to the gills
on the roots of rock like the old days
laying tracks across the desert like ninety
with the windows down leaving
strains of gospel in the slipstream
 I believe in the kingdom come
 all the colors will bleed into one
 bleed into one

what this means is
(I am getting around to it children
put down your smartphones and listen up):
don’t believe in the history books
don’t believe in presidents nor promises
nor pilgrims nor noble savages
nor democratic process nor any thing
said by any one who’s got a stake
in the thousand heads of the snake
that we politely call politics.

you'll never understand the singular freedom
of driving down a lost highway
no idea where you are or where you'll end up
because your way is always mapped out
a satellite overhead to keep you on track
and another one making sure you've got
the right playlist for the drive:
you're on the road
but you've got no destination
you're in the mud
in the maze of her imagination

I neglected my devices today
thought about turning simply south
and crossing a border
and then another border, and another
until I reached an ocean
and then crossing it
to a place I'd never be found.

instead I took that drive
rolling up 500 miles of asphalt wind & rain
and smoking it all,
a cigarette of blame:
with or without you america
I am lunging at the chains
in an aborted diaspora
running outta room on a road
that is (for
now) still
of checkpoints, walls, militia
(yes I’m still runnin’)
choking on the lies that’ll hurl us
         back/ass/ward a century.

(an aside:not that they haven't already
not that we haven’t already
in these past four centuries
fucked it up so righteously
they can see the fires burning all the way
from across the water:
you plant a demon seed
you raise a flower of fire
see them burning crosses
see the flames higher and higher)

it’s coming back (what? you ask
picking up your thread of texts
as if bored; and I see you are)but
it’s coming back, can you hear it?
only the rattle and hum

is so much quieter now
just the whirring and the clicking
the tap-tap-tapping of keyboards
         that decides it all
         who is pop and who is not
         who gets the vote and who
         loses it all.
         quick strokes of keys that aim the mob      
         in the right or the left direction
         that control the war games
         where real lives are lost
but they are on-screen lives
mere numbers anymore
in the brave new war:
line up those fighter planes
launch the bombers into the air
and the populace keeps mum
and the populace stays numb.

I’m glad I did that road trip
shoulda tracked down the bootlegger
and asked him for more
but back then I paid for every album I owned
except that sweetly-made lost-forever mix tape.

I told myself the rock gods could afford it
         like prometheus:one
         stolen gift.

they are going now, those gods
the architects of sound
as if making room for the silence
of a drop-jawed populace.
if we could see it from space
I imagine there would be this
burning comet-tail spinning out
from earth: the soul of music
coming undone
like the thread of a sweater
pulled at high speed.

but they left a message for me
when I got home tonight:
a bootlegged copy of an ancient script
passed so many times
around the fires of our ancestors
it has worn a track in my brain.
         it said:
         this land is now your land
         you had better take a stand
         stay here and fight
         stay here and write
         it said:
one heart
          one hope
          one love*

*all italics taken from U2 song lyrics