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.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sky Burial

The squirrel had died the day before, run down by one of the machines. Nobody did anything about her little corpse, mostly because the neighborhood animals had forgotten, over the years, how to deal with Death. They'd become nervous around it, numb to it, unlike their woodsy counterparts who knew to take it apart, piece by piece, and feed it back into the whole. In the woods, Death is another manifestation of life. It feeds life, becomes many new lives, becomes a hundred little resurrections for ants and birds and beetles and trees; it becomes the soil and the sunlight, meat for wasps and bees.

But not in the city. The body of the squirrel lay useless in the middle of the street, was hit by another machine so that its guts billowed from its mouth. And the birds of the neighborhood chattered to one another about how, soon, one of the humans would come like they always did and get the ugly thing and put it in a bag and take it away.

That, however, is not what happened. What happened instead is that an ancient priest, one of the old ones, looked down from on high and heeded the call of Death. He circled down the path of the wind, lower and lower, landed in the street, and stretched the shroud of his wings over the remains of the squirrel. And then he bowed his ancient, wrinkled head, as if in prayer, and began to eat.

Well! there goes the neighborhood! Jays and grackles and mockingbirds gathered in the trees. They just--could--not believe! Cries of pious rage came from the right-wingers: This is sacrilege! This is unholy! And quavering calls of outrage from the left-wingers: This is unsanitary! A violation of animal rights! And they all began to dive, one after another, at the priest as he stood, solid and huge and dark, performing the ancient rites with unhurried demeanor. He did not address their chattering; he did not fly away; he did not betray any irritation. He merely went about the sacred ritual of the Sky-Burial as if surrounded by serene, wide-open desert instead of a crowded, hostile city street.

There was nothing any of them could do. Death, despite all their chatter and politics and modern conveniences, could not be reversed. They had to watch as the corpse was transformed, bite by deliberate bite, into a solid mass of bone and blackness and leathered skin and feathered wing. And when it was done, the priest wiped his hooked beak and flexed his massive talons. He looked around him as if noticing the crowd for the first time.

"Someday I will come back for you," he said, and they all hushed, and pulled their heads into their downy little breasts where their hearts beat fast, fast. And with a mighty beating rush he shook the dust and blood from his wings and mounted the wind up, up, past the trees, past the roofs and power lines and still, up, past the thunderheads that boiled in the sun.

And he buried Death in the sky.

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.