Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Sunday, February 15, 2015

3 AM

The night, I think, is darker than we can really say
And god’s been living in that ocean, sending us all the big waves
And I wish I was a sailor so I could know just how to trust
Maybe I could bring some grace back home to the dry land for each of us

--Gregory Alan Isakov, "3 AM"

So I'm home now, whatever home means and after so much time has passed. Days. Years. Island time has stretched me, mellowed me, unspooled me. I haven't worn a watch in over a decade, but now I've stopped asking for the time, glancing at my phone, checking social media. I don't know how long it took me to return to this landlocked town; it was a ten-hour flight but it seemed longer. The time change, the hours spent waiting at airports. In one of them, sometime past midnight, I made a bed on the floor in a vacant corner and dozed for a bit; drowsing in and out, trying to decode the cryptic patterns on the carpet. I wondered idly if all human designs are pieces of a larger whole, a cosmic pattern that tells the story of the multiverse. Right there on the carpet, the answer to every question humanity has ever thought to ask, and all we do is hurry over it, cursing; or wend our way through a crowd, noses planted in our smartphones. We don't see, we fail to wonder. Maybe we have even forgotten what questions to ask, or how to read the stars at our feet.

Back in the middle of the continent, I miss the salt air. My ears strain for the perpetual sound of the waves returning over and over again, whispering the same few words. They are such good, soothing words; such vital words, for the ocean to say them so many times. Here on my inland couch, stranded in my living room, I feel my body rocking as if I've just come off a boat. If I close my eyes I sway involuntarily with the currents of an ocean whose shores begin some fifteen hundred miles away. I could turn around right now and go back there, tonight. I could walk into the waves under a half-moon and feel the ocean's cool embrace. I could swim with Honu, the sea turtle and Kohola, the whale.

But that would be running away from the life I've just built here. After all, I ran to here from someplace else. To this place that is, ultimately, an ocean too. If I think of it that way, imagination takes over and a vision, so clear it catches my breath, washes through my mind. Time slips and tumbles; it is millions of years ago, and today. All of human history fades, and the sky wheels backward. Here on my inland couch, in my living room which sits on a limestone shelf studded with the fossils of sea creatures, I can close my eyes and feel the waters rise around me. My skin welcomes the cool, clear sea that fills my house, sends me floating toward the ceiling which rises and sets me free, and I am swimming among prehistoric fish. Finning up toward the surface, my clothes disappearing, all the cars and buildings floating away like so many bubbles, I reach the night air and overhead the stars are out by the billions.

It is like my eyes are open for the first time. The stars have stories to tell, not unlike the patterns of a faded carpet I saw, long ago, in the middle of a journey from island to mid-continent. This time I am paying attention. This time I am awake. This time I will bring back their stories when I return, in the morning, to dry land.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Maui Meditation

The theory of relativity bears itself out here in the islands, time stretching languid and long, chewing-gum left out in the sun. Einstein would be pleased. Back on the mainland that same gum is brittle, has lost its fluidity, breaks up in little pieces under pressure, and there is never enough of it. On the mainland it seems I am always looking for more time; here, I have handfuls of it. I sleep, wake, play, eat, write, sleep some more, watch the sun set and the moon rise.

I do and do not know how many days I have been here. Five, I think. But each morning the sun gilds the green hills, the black-and-gold beaches, with fresh spray from the surf. It is the same sun as the day before and yet different. The same beaches but subtly changed. The sun takes forever to move across the sky; clouds are slow ships hauling through its blue depths. Each wave, which has traveled many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles to reach this place, rolls in across the coral reefs, rumbles over lava, stone, sand, kisses the roots of trees, drags at my toes, beckons. I dive in.

I play carefully with the waves. Some are quick and some are slow; some look fearsome and others playful, the way a friendly lion might be playful. I was taught from a young age never to turn my back on the ocean--my dad was a sailor, and my other mentor was the ocean herself. She threw me on my head a few times, rolled me end over end and burned my lungs with her brine, worked her way into my nose, ears and eyes. Now I play in the smaller waves and bow respectfully to the large, letting them roll over my body and coming up on the other side unhurt. I swim past them out into calmer, bluer, clearer water, and find Honu, the sea turtle. She is twenty feet down and her shiny black eye glances up at me through water clear as gin. All around us fish dart and flutter. Brightly-colored beauties: yellow, blue, orange, black and neon, urchins and sea stars. I gulp air then dive and roll, dolphin-like, flipping easily through the current. I can hear them nibbling busily at the coral: little pops and cracks, like Rice Krispies. And then a wilder, deeper, more urgent call: the humpback whales are singing. I stay down as long as I can. Come up for air, dive again and again. I don't know the words to their songs but I know the meaning, the exhiliration, the warning, the longing they hold. A single one of these creatures is big enough that I could fit comfortably inside its lung. They have no idea I'm way over here listening; no idea what my life on land is like; yet we're connected because they're out there, singing, and I'm here, an audience to their symphony. 

I stay out for what seems like hours. My fingers and toes wrinkle, my skin opens to drink in the salt water. I feel my body beginning to slicken and lean out, and the need for breath becomes less. I wonder if I might be growing a dorsal fin. I wonder if anyone back in Austin would notice if I didn't return, and if stories would be told about what happened to me. She decided to stay in the islands. She was lost at sea. I heard she turned into a dolphin. Such a fantasy is highly unlikely where I currently live, a thriving tech town in the middle of the continent, firmly landlocked and thus not a place where people routinely turn into sea creatures. But here in the islands, this tiny tail of land where people are daily reminded that the planet is, indeed, 70% water and perhaps 70% magic as well--anything is possible. Anything is possible, and everything is relative. To a person on the shore, I might look like a dolphin dancing in the setting sun; to a dolphin, I might look like a weird new jellyfish; to a shark, I might look like lunch. And to a humpback whale, like a mere sparkle on the crest of a wave.

The only thing on earth I am not relative to, is me. To myself, I am only myself. Moment to moment I might be a dolphin, an eagle, a humpback whale, a tiny human being, a cosmos. Again, I think Einstein would be pleased. Magic seemed to tickle him a little bit. "Logic will get you from A to B," he said; "Imagination will take you everywhere."