Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Walking the dog past dark
I hadn't meant to be caught out this way
it was daylight when we left
but things happen
and the night seemed tame
there were couples with strollers
and dogs when I left the house.

It was safe, is my point
But it isn't now
it seems less safe as I push my way
through the patch of woods that leads
to the field where we always play ball
the dog and I.

For a moment I don't see him
the man sitting on the ground ahead of me
He looks like a tree stump
or a large rock
but he is a man
sitting motionless there
with a backpack, maybe, I can't tell
But a man all the same
just waiting.

And suddenly the patch of woods
that is so familiar during the daytime
surrounded by neighbors and filled
with green, filtered sunlight
feels evil, feels too-close, too-hot
with its smell of tomato vines and gasoline.

I don't know whether to run or stay
my heart does not race, my hands do not sweat
what happens instead is a kind of suppressed
molten rage that bubbles in my belly: he
has frightened me
and fear is a lit match to the lake of oil
that lies at the center of what it means
to be a woman walking alone past dark.

So what I do is I walk on past
I don't run and I don't stop to ask
what he is doing there, to see if he
might be hurt, or waiting to hurt me.
He stays silent and does not move
he just watches me go on by
and he doesn't know, or maybe he does
with the senses of those who prey
or are preyed upon
about the pillar of fire that is my spine.

I take the dog and we go on home
in the shadowless cover of the dark
while other men walk by.
I stare down each one
though I don't know their intent
and I know that my eyes throw out sparks
like a faulty furnace about to blow.

Lucky, is what I don't think to myself: lucky
that I didn't get assaulted for walking
in my own neighborhood alone
unintentionally after dark, when it could have been
so much worse.
People will say it though.
You were lucky.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Cowboy, The Horse and The Dance

You can't be sad and dance the two-step at the same time. It's some kind of law of physics. The same way that you can't sit heavy and weigh down a barstool while also lightly tripping along in the arms of some cowboy from just outside of town.

I don't know if he's a cowboy. He's dressed like one. Got the hat, the boots, the well-broke-in jeans. I guess first-off that he's fifty but that's a gift; on second inspection he's probably eyeballing seventy from several yards away, getting ready to clear the fence and keep on dancing his way toward the senior center. But the man is a professional with the ladies; he doffs his battered headgear and holds out a hand. The barstool I'm weighing down suddenly threatens to tip over, I leave it so fast. My girlfriend snatches the tequila from my hand and boots me the rest of the way onto the floor.

I haven't two-stepped since the year I moved to Austin. For the first few bars I struggle to remember: is it quick-quick-slow, or quick-quick-sloooow-sloooow, or a combination of both? What do I do with my feet when he turns me? I try to remember to put pressure against his hand, and to relax into his encircling arm. Ladies go backwards; men go forwards; sexist much? I wonder wildly if the cowboy has ever worked a horse in his life. The band is so country it hurts: I mean lyrics like "gee-golly-whillikers I hope we both die together so we can meet up in heaven" kind of shit. And it's still only the first half of the first verse and I'm struggling with my whirling brain, my two left feet, what to do with my clunky right hand, my stiff back and my jaw which will not do anything but clench, madly, against having to spin backwards. I feel like a mustang about to buck straight vertical.

And then it happens. The cowboy shifts his weight to accommodate my quick-quick-stumble. A drip of sweat falls from the brim of his hat to the back of my hand, where it rests on his shoulder. Time quits dragging me forward like a wild horse, and instead of racing into what I'm supposed to do in the next moment, I shut my eyes and stay in this one. I let the old cowhand press me around the dance floor. I move away from him when he moves toward me; I move toward him when he moves away. I stop stepping on his boots and my knees stop colliding with his. The sweat from his neck continues to drip onto the back of my hand, and the front of his shirt soaks the front of mine. He presses me into a graceful twirl, and my back arcs and my knees bend as I whirl away, floating in space but not too far, my center of gravity bound by a strong thin thread to the center of his.

My eyes are still shut. I peek now and then. He doesn't run me into any of the other dancers. Here and there I gouge him with a sharp elbow, but he doesn't seem to mind. And this is how I know he's worked horses. Nobody gains this kind of patience unless they've put in their time around large, gawky prey animals with nervous systems set to "run now, look later."

When the dance is done, he offers me his open palm and leads me back to my bar stool. I thank him and sit back down, but the sadness doesn't sit down with me. The cowboy has somehow unpacked that burden, slid it off and kicked it into a corner. I watch him slope off across the dance floor, just an old dude dressed in old ranch-hand boots and jeans. He's probably got a long drive to get back to wherever he's from. I realize we never exchanged a word. Didn't need to. Dance is a language, and most animals speak it. We're the ones who have forgotten, and have to re-learn. That's alright. The only prerequisite is to be willing, and to close your eyes so that they may be opened to possibility.

Below, I have included a link that illustrates the possibilities of what can happen when we learn to dance with creatures who have not forgotten how:


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Time, Space, and the Rosemary Bush

I go outside because I need to go home to myself. Too long indoors and I forget what my own skin feels like. It needs sunlight, it needs a cold stiff breeze scrubbing against it to know its own boundaries--where my body begins and the world ends--it needs rain.

I went out this morning with the dog to wander around the neighborhood. His perambulations guide our walks, though they don't make much sense to me, because I don't normally go about based on my sense of smell. We stop at benches and street lamps, the corners of fences; we stop at the neighbor's rosemary bush and a perfectly uninteresting clump of grass. Everything must be very carefully and thoroughly smelled and then peed upon. It's a ritual rivaling any one of the world's major religions. He all but crosses himself after every single one.

I choose to be patient this morning, instead of dragging him past his chosen stops. I choose to see the things around me: the leaves of trees silvering in a strong breeze; dark clouds gathering overhead; the flagrant, shameless red of the roses that release their scent so close to my nose while the dog cocks his leg on their lower branches. I take photos. I let words flow through my head. I notice the bumper sticker on a car: a large black and white image of a bald man. I think it might be Gandhi, or else the guy from Breaking Bad; I don't know, I never really watched the show, but I dream of a world where the two might be similar. Passionate, desperate, impoverished men, with a singular goal. Men who don't have much time.

I have time. My brain tricks me, most days, into thinking I don't, but I do. I have as much or as little time as anybody else. Today I have what feels like a dragon's lair of gold full of time. Hours before I have to be anywhere. Hours to wander around and let my skin remember itself, remember what its borders contain: bones that feel light as birds' wings, blood that travels from my fingertips to my feet, a heart that aches sometimes with the weight it carries. I am made of molecules tinier than anything I'll ever see which are 99% space--which is larger than anything I'll ever imagine. Buddhists have known this for centuries. In comparison, physicists figured it out a few years ago. My dog, with his sacred circles of the rosemary bush, doesn't know and wouldn't care that he is 99% space. Does any of it matter? Does time matter? It does to me, today.

We pass the roses and the rosemary again on our way home. They smell so riotous it is like somebody has crushed them together, like maybe god is conjuring up a new form of gorgeous in her giant lab. Who knows? She could be creating another whole universe, one that is contained entirely in the bowl of a rose blossom, and nourished with the rain that drips from the spires of a rosemary bush. If so, I hope there is a dog passing by, leading his human by the hand, and stopping her so that she will notice how slowly time passes there, in that place, while down below he does his business with the grave attention of a saint.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The C-Word

It's scary, looking the monster in the face. All these thoughts spinning around: it's cancer. It's nothing. I'm paranoid, it's a parasite, it's gluten, it's my imagination, don't be ridiculous. Could it be my imagination? There is pain. The pain scares me. I wonder if I am scared because I feel pain, or if I feel pain because I am scared. The cart and the horse, running circles around one another; the chicken or the egg?

The doctor, whose bedside manner resembles that of a construction crew boss, orders tests. There is little point, he seems to think, in attempting to explain anything to me until he's "gotten in there and had a look around." He says bodies are like machines; they wear out, parts go bad and have to be replaced. This is almost dead opposite of the paradigm I work from on a daily basis, encouraging my clients to think of their bodies as allies, intelligent organisms with multi-layered, elegant, sensitive systems that want to heal themselves and will do so with the right level of input. 

He hasn't said the c-word, but I can hear it whispering in the corners of the room. I can hear it in my own head, dogging my thoughts. It scares me. It also, simultaneously, is doing something I never expected: slowing me down. Distilling each moment down to its bare essence. Today, taking a shower, the sun came slanting through the window and turned the water droplets into thousands of prisms. I stood still, hands raised to my face, bathing in rainbows. It was so beautiful I could barely breathe. Not every moment, but many moments are like this lately: clouds moving across the sky. The white flash of a dove's wing. Water bouncing off my skin. The feeling of falling, when I'm in bed, just before I drift into sleep. The smell of my boyfriend's hair.

And when it turns out that it isn't the c-word, after all; when the tests all come back negative; the gratefulness and ease begin, strangely, to recede. The spinning thoughts of death and the stress and the mental agony, they go, and of course I'm glad to see them go, but also that deep joy in living, that slow loveliness--where has it gone? Daily life rushes back in, demanding, pushing, stamping its foot. My brain reverses and goes back into its usual spin, gets caught up in the little shit. Gotta go here, gotta get there, gotta book another client, what about paying the bills, did the dog get a long enough walk today, what's going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month?

And clearly I have lost my mind again. I find myself missing Death. It was teaching me something. When it was possible that I had something that could kill me, I suddenly knew with absolute clarity what was Important and (just as clearly) what was not Important. None of the daily shit that I worry about is Important. All of the things Death highlighted: the slow savoring of a meal; a conversation with a friend; water running across my skin; sunlight on my face; taking time to make love; feeling the breath fill my lungs; all of these things are Important. All of these things are Now. So what am I doing, right now? What did I do today? Did I do any of those things? Yes, but did I do them consciously, gratefully, as if it might be the last time? As wonderingly as if it were the first time?

I don't want to have cancer. I don't want to live under a death sentence. But I'm thankful that I did taste it, for a little while. I'm thankful for today, for being alive, for being here, now. It doesn't mean feeling happy, not really. Not today. But deeply, insanely thankful. This is a good place to inhabit and I plan to stay here until it's time to leave.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dog on the Tracks

You always know the ones
who grew up wild from the ones
who once belonged to someone:
that swift look
of unguarded hope they throw you
and the tail: brief flurry of a wave
ears gone twitchy for a voice
that used to summon them home.
Then the slump into despair
tail tucked, ears flattened
and the dog slinks off
just another stray after all.

The wild ones bluster by
a lucky pack of bastards;
never having hoped
they can never despair.
Sharp-eyed and wired for garbage
they tumble through the railyards
one haphazard, blissful day at at time.

I could learn something from them
those irreverent hounds.
I tell myself
to forget you, or if not
then at least howl in anger
but my dumb beast of a heart
just keeps looking down the tracks
wagging its arrhythmic tail.

KB 9/2015

Friday, January 29, 2016


Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, "You owe me." Look at what happens with a love like that--it lights the whole sky.  --Hafiz

Birthed in the heart of heat and flame
I flung myself out this morning
all fierce and raw and joyous
into uncharted infinity.
Your astronomers will tell you my journey lasted only
eight minutes and twenty seconds
but for me it was nothing less than a lifetime: days
and months and years
and endless permutations and paths not taken.
Your sages will tell you that Krishna stretched his jaws
and revealed the universe in his open mouth
but after all this time I have yet to see
god's teeth reflecting myself back to me.

I remember the curved face of a planet
her features robed in coy mist. She
was so achingly lovely out there on her own
bathed in the mysteries of space;
I saw Venus and I wavered
but thought of you, and did not stop to caress her.
Gravity sent meteors rushing across my path
that nearly derailed me
nearly cut my life in half
but no shadow was cast and I hauled onward
burning through the blackness
at the speed of love itself.
I knew where I wanted to land
and it wasn't on a rock out in space
and it wasn't in a far galaxy
on a moon that orbits a planet nobody
has yet heard of
although I could get there if I wanted
faster than anything your physicists
have yet discovered.

For I am the unbroken Olympic record
of the universe.
I can bend but never break
be born but never die
and the void you imagine as night
is filled with me
if only you could see--

And I long for you to see.
Closing the distance between us
became an everyday miracle:
endless years for me
mere moments for you
but closer and closer I flew, blazing
past the space station on my way in: what strange
and wondrous things they are doing, gazing out
across a universe their minds can barely fathom.
I gazed back at them through a portal
at their eyes reflecting my own longing:
so far from home
and yet so close, this blue-green marble
this microscopic marvel
home to seven billion souls.

I entered earth's atmosphere and made a sun-bow
in the first droplets of water I touched
and instantly shattered into multi-hued love.
(Ablaze! Saffron indigo magenta snowy brilliance 
Disastrous and devastating and gorgeous:
my heart, if I had one
would have died of joy
in that instant.
If only I had known
how painful beauty could be!
then I might have avoided you
I might have passed you by
journeyed millions of light-years to Andromeda
been swallowed up in the Horsehead Nebula
I might have missed you altogether
and flown on across the vault of timelessness:
what would I have discovered then?

But I chose you when I was born
and there are no clouds today and if there were
I would burn them into sun-dogs just for you
so that you would look up
and see halos in the sky
and your heart would leap with wonder.

Now my wandering has brought me here;
time is relative and it slows for me
so I can stroll like summer
along the branches of the pecan tree
that sways sweetly in the morning breeze
beside your house.
And I am nearly standing still
though you will think it impossible:
this final nanosecond stretching
slowly as a god waking from a dream.
For now that I have tasted each ultraviolet shade
of the spectrum, felt the vacuum
of outer space and danced
around every limned thing that might have held me
I have arrived, sweetheart, at your window.

And there you are
still lost in sleep and somehow
far more a miracle  
than anything I've yet seen
and here I am
the single ray of light come to wake you
sparkling my way past the forgotten window-shade
to find the place I always meant to rest.
Open your eyes, love
and let me dance in them;
flung from the heart of the sun
I've traveled ninety-three million miles this morning
just to kiss your face.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Magician and the Goblin King

Sometimes it's hard to keep in mind that normal people die, too. People who've never done anything great, never burned so brightly they lit up a stadium or tilted the heads of an entire generation to look toward the stars. There are people dying right this moment who have never captured the imagination of an audience, never mastered the fine art of manipulating people's emotions, of engendering mistrust, hatred, laughter, empathy, and finally love, all swirled into one complex and ultimately human character. I find myself deeply affected by the passing this week of David Bowie and now Alan Rickman, and it's got me thinking about the afterlife, or the land between lives, or wherever it is that we go when our last breath goes coasting into the atmosphere.

In recent months I've been plodding away at reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead. To those unfamiliar with this ancient Buddhist work, it is basically a manual, a set of instructions, on how to do death. It informs the dying and the dead how to comport themselves during their passage through the portal and then through the Bardo, the land between lives. This is a place which can be confusing, terrifying, overwhelming; a place where light and dark, deities and demons, love and rage frolic side by side and can mislead the one who goes there unprepared. The Bardo is no place for the uninitiated. We who are comfortable with our dualistic, navel-gazing, stuff-hoarding existence aren't really looking for instructions on how to avoid one more lifetime spinning around the sun.  

But our newly-dead heroes, I fancy them two souls that may already have been initiated at one point or another. Doesn't the Starman seem as though he might have tripped through untold parts of the universe a time or two? and what of our dark magician--might not wily Snape have survived the dark lands, might he not have battled a few demons and toed the line of temptation? I fell into a daydream today and began wondering, fantastically, what can be going on in the Bardo with the addition of those two. I imagine Severus Snape and the Goblin King tossed about in some wild dreamscape, demons scattering, wands and codpieces and Ziggy Stardust glitter flying about, and curses growled low in British accents. I imagine each of them fierce and joyful and completely at home with both the light and the dark, madly burning away into sheer energy.

Or maybe it's a completely different scene. Perhaps they're having tea and crumpets atop the spiny back of a peaceable dragon, discussing the possibilities of being re-born as twin girls to some oppressed woman in a little-known tribe off the coast of Africa. The joys of obscurity, of living in the dust, digging down into places they've never been. Sort of gleeful to entertain these thoughts. Not so gleeful to think of them being dust themselves, which is closer to the truth, in a way. Or again, I think of the words I read not long ago in a piece called the Physicist's Eulogy, which is actually quite close to the philosophy I find in the Book of the Dead. "All the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you...and all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are (your loved ones') eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever." 

I can get on board with that. Both physics and the Tibetan Book of the Dead tell us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So no matter how terrifying the demons of the Bardo might be, nor how demoralizing and unbelievable it is that we've seen the magic of both Ziggy Stardust and Severus Snape disappear in one fell swoop--nothing ever really disappears. It just changes form, and goes on forever. 

Goodnight, sweet princes. We will keep watching the stars, in case of any stray glitter, or a spark from a wand, or a random strain of Space Oddity beamed back from a distant nebula. Because if you taught us anything, it's that possibility is infinite.