Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Walking Meditation

Batshit brain stuck in a spin again. Always trying to figure things out. Always analyzing. Turning inward. Blaming myself when things don't go right. Civil wars, forest fires, tornadoes: my fault. I didn't do what I could to help.

The dog takes me for a walk tonight through warm darkening streets. Doves chuffing softly in the dusk. An old man treading the muddy shoulder of the road. Long, flowing grey hair, bare feet, sandals in hand. He squints a sideways smile at me and I look down, to his mud-painted toes. Beautiful. Serene.

For a moment the world seems flooded with compassion. The sky is pinkening overhead, deepening to rose and then red, navy, turquoise. I feel stones through my thin soles. The dog pulls gently at his leash, his nose poised delicately over a dead squirrel. Its soft beige fur somehow unruffled, eyes half-open like the Buddha, a study in stillness. Contemplation.

It's hard to turn my brain off. And I know it will never be off till I can be like that squirrel, eyes turned inward yet resting outward, nothing in my head, my outsides as still as my insides. It won't happen until I am ready, until I can let go of the idea that I am responsible for everything, that I am to blame. Until I can stop analyzing, self-hating, turning things over and over in my mind. Put off the narcissism in favor of compassion.

This will happen slowly. Slowly as that old man padding along, feeling stone and softness alike beneath his feet, saying Yes to the night sky, Yes to the road, Yes to people passing by.

I try it. With my next breath, I inhale No and exhale Yes. No to the hamster-mind scrambling in its endless wheel, Yes to the Buddha-mind allowing all to flow through. A thought: maybe I don't have to die in order to be still. Maybe I just have to stop caring so much. It's alright to stop caring. It's alright to say, "I can't," and leave it at that.

Dog, deciding the squirrel is not after all very interesting, moves on, and I go with him into the night, toward home and the everyday/everynight that is life. One moment at a time.

KB© 5/29/2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ode to Pink: or, How I Became Female

You could say childhood was sort of a weird time for me, and that would be a nice way of putting things. I was a sexist brat by the time I could talk. I hated all things girly: dresses, dolls, lace, etiquette classes, any sort of personal hygiene, and especially the color pink. My first full sentence was, "When I grow up I'm gonna grow nuts and be a boy." This is not fiction (I did say times were weird).

I loved matchbox cars, model horses, airplanes, trucks, and firemen (because I wanted to be one). It got worse as I got older: I resented the hell out of my mother when she forced me into dresses for church or school; clad in frills and shoulder pads and those horrible things called "pumps" that made me sound like a Clydesdale clop-clopping down the hallway, I felt like a freak. A horse in a ball gown. 

The color pink stood for everything that had gone wrong with my world--namely, not being born a boy. It's like I had unconsciously decided, at some point, that pink represented the feminine and being female was equivalent with weakness. And I gave boyhood my best shot: climbing trees, beating up kids on the playground, taking my shirt off so I could hang out bare-chested like the boys who played street ball in my neighborhood, declaring my allegiance to the color blue. But I still couldn't make myself into a boy and thus, pink offended me wherever I saw it. Looking at a bottle of Pepto Bismol invariably made me queasy, and in kindergarten I once told a little schoolmate, in all truthfulness, that her Pepto-hued dress made me want to vomit. She burst out crying and I found myself in time-out, mystified that telling the truth had gotten me into trouble. 

The shift was bound to happen eventually. I was running away from something, and the something was my own body with its breasts and vagina and soft round hips; my own female brain with its desires and thoughts and passionate, freakish chemistry. I hid it all under baggy sweats and flannel shirts and the pretense that I had no feelings and thus no moods. But eventually it all burst at the seams, and in my ripe old mid-30's I finally "bloomed" and stopped trying to be a male. Other people could tell I'd bloomed because a sudden obsession with tulle and frills replaced my beer-swilling, 4WD-wielding, belch-contest-winning persona. Not that I stopped swilling beer or driving off-road. Or belching. But now I was doing all those things in a tutu, a pink one no less, and for a tomboy in her 30's that is the sign of a sea-change. It also may be a sign of madness, but I prefer to think of it as a healthy shift from identifying with (redneck) men to accepting--no, embracing--my female-ness. I was sort of like an amphibian that changes its sex from male to female just because, well, it was time.

Pink was really at the bottom of the whole thing. I fell in love with pink once I admitted to myself that constantly wearing red was just not cutting it for me. It was pink I hungered for, even as I picked red t-shirts and sweats and tennis shoes, and eventually a red car to accessorize my newfound womanly nature. Red was good to me, but it only symbolized the beginning of a love affair with pink. Raspberry, mauve, shell, magenta; the blush of sunrise; the fuschia violence of a bruise; the roseate, ravished pink of sex. The firm pink flesh of salmon, the neon of nail polish, the pink sparks of brilliance leaping off the ocean at sunset: I craved it all. It was like my brain, so long denied, suddenly went into florid hyperdrive. I dyed my hair pink. I wore pink girlie tank tops with my pink tutu. Bought shoes with neon pink laces, wore pink scarves, dressed my dog in pink. 

Recently I found this rosy factoid on the internet about magenta-philes (yes, I googled Color Psychology, don't act all surprised): With a vivid imagination and creative ability, you are a non-conformist who sees life from a different point of view. Different from what, it doesn't say. I'm assuming "different" from the norm, whatever that is. Different from before, when I hated my female self and tried in every possible way to negate it. Different from a culture that still denounces the sacred feminine. Different from the sad fact that many women, their own self-image and self-worth torn apart by a misogynistic society, will then tear one another apart in competition. 

It doesn't have to be that way. I don't have to reflect that culture, that societal norm, anymore by hiding who and what I am: a weird, emotional, nutty, sensitive, loud-mouthed maker of mistakes and lover of the femme. A pink-addicted makeup-wearing tutu-clad tomboy, a dreamer, the architect of my own future. I still love cars, horses, airplanes, trucks and firemen (because I want to bed one). I don't have to pick one way to be: I am big enough to be them all. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


The last time I cried myself to sleep I was a fragile mess, a mental case, and it seems like years ago but it can't have been that long. I tend to complain and weep a lot when there's not much wrong, but then clam up and remain dry-eyed when things are truly falling apart. A peregrine, I feel best when on the move and far away from the familiar. Novelty distracts and entertains me, keeps me from missing what I can't have, and ensures that my tendency to look for greener grass remains in check.

But now all I want to do is go home--to my familiar childhood home, which is being devoured by a 100,000-acre wildfire. The forest I used to smell at night, whose trees spoke to me in the wind, is dying. Ash and smoke blanket my mother's house, dirtying her newly washed windows and blackening the air she breathes. She's not in danger, not really, but I can't tell that to my overanxious brain. Somehow I feel threatened, though I am thousands of miles away and the fire can't touch me. It can touch my life; it can do damage, no matter if that is real or imagined. There is something violent about it, a blind and unconscious violence that could take away everything I love. My mother talked today about dying, about how all things die--trees, animals, and eventually herself--and her voice was so far away, so muffled and distant, and panic strangled me so that I couldn't reply.

And suddenly I find myself aching for what I can't have. For the touch of my horse's nose against my face. For the sharp briny scent of the air, the half-dark at midnight, the shush of birch trees talking at dusk. I miss the mountains. I miss living in the lower half of the food chain, bears and wolves above me; and above them, earthquakes and avalanches and wildfires. I miss the feeling of being a tiny cog in a giant wheel that overwhelms me with its deadly beauty.

My place on the wheel tonight is so obscure, so far off-center, and here on the outer rim I spin so slowly, like Pluto--the sun a distant memory. Crying myself to sleep seems childish and surreal, because after all nothing is wrong and no one I love is dying, and yet everything is wrong and no one I love is close enough. What is close enough? I would like to pile my loved ones into my bed with me and fall asleep hearing them breathe, feeling their limbs entangled with mine, knowing we would wake in the morning and all would be well. There would be birdsong in the trees and the light would already be full, having crept into our closed eyelids well before we ever thought of coming awake.

KB ©5/25/14

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Vipassana Day 4

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”                
--Pema Chodron

She says:
close your eyes and picture an orange

This is meant to focus the mind
slow down the hamster wheel that is my brain
reduce the chattering to a whisper.

But there behind the dark of my eyelids
and the quiet rush of my breath
my orange glows like a harvest moon.
It is the orange of a monk's robe
it is the bounding recoil of a rubber ball
the sweet freeze of sherbet on the tongue.

Eyes closed, I am peeling the orange
I am feeling its skin tear softly
tasting its sudden sharp juice: I have never
seen an orange so beautiful
or brought such a lovely color to my lips
the color of prayer
the color of desire
the color of a fist raised in celebration.

But this is not why I am here
this fierce joy that translates as pain
stinging fresh and hot against my eyelids
nor the sudden vision of a face I've tried to forget
how he smiled with his whole being
and how I lit up for that, my heart a harvest moon--
No, I am here to let go
I am here to breathe
I am here to be here.

So let it be.
Look back into the eyes of the dark
and let the colors go
give up the fruit with its violent goodness
give up my love
hunger fear pain joy need want belief
all the names I call myself
and when they are gone there is only
breath and a beating heart
so big it strains my ribs.

She says
now let the orange go
and I open my hand and it goes.

KB ©5/3/2014