First, what if you didn’t have any thoughts at all? You can ask Jill Bolte Taylor about that. You may have seen her on Oprah or You Tube, with her long silver hair and enthusiastic face. When Taylor was 37 years old, a blood vessel in her brain exploded. Her left cerebral cortex was drenched in blood and stopped working. All her thoughts went with it.
Strangely, this injury didn’t feel like a calamity, but like a move to Nirvana, a world with no thoughts, no fears, no time. As she says in her book, My Stroke of Insight, “The right brain (the part that was still working) thinks in senses. It knows ‘We are perfect; we are whole, and we are beautiful’ There is no separation; everything is connected…while the left hemisphere is all about the past and the future. It picks out details…thinks in language. It’s the source of our endless brain chatter. All of that was turned off. In one hour, I lost 37 years of emotional baggage. It was glorious.”
Over the following months, her left brain started to recover, and the thoughts, many of them fears and complaints, started to return. “The left brain would rather be right than happy,” she says. “It reminds me when I need to do my laundry. It’s that little voice that says ‘I am, I am.’ I become separate, a single solitary energy separate from others.”
Somehow, over fifteen years of recovery, Taylor has been able to integrate the left brain’s thinking without being dominated by it. She says she has learned to step into her right brain any time she wants to experience wholeness. She can commute to Nirvana with a couple of well-placed thoughts.
Could ordinary people do that, or do you need a stroke to show you how? Taylor thinks we can, but doesn’t say exactly how. The ancient Hindu and Buddhist masters must have learned this skill, though. Where else did the concept of Nirvana come from? Some drugs (e.g. cannabis) seem to have the power to shift our thoughts towards the right brain. But Taylor says we can do it ourselves.
“You are not your thoughts,” Taylor says. “Pay attention to your thoughts and decide if they are creating the kind of life you want created… If they aren’t, change them…[You can] silence the chatter.”
But for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – the ones who wash their hands 100 times a day, who can’t leave the house without going back 12 times to check if the gas is off and the door is locked – the chatter is crippling them. For them, it’s not about thinking their way to Heaven. It’s thinking their way out of Hell. People with OCD believe their thoughts. They think they’re dirty. They think they’re in danger. Their anxiety combined with some biochemical brain glitches control their lives.