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heart insight

Heart and Right Brain Insights

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. is a fascinating true story written by a neuroscientist who had a stroke at age 37, about her lengthy but full recovery and what she learned about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When an aneurysm ruptured in her left brain, leaving her without language temporarily, she discovered the wonders of her right brain. A blissful sense of peace, fluidity and oneness, like nirvana, enveloped her. She was able, with great difficulty, to make the phone call for help which saved her life. 

While her left brain slowly recovered, Jill was at first unable to understand any words spoken to her or to communicate verbally, but she was acutely aware of the energy and intention a person brought to her – kindness and compassion, or frustration and impatience. All sound was chaos, noise; everything radiated pure energy, without clear boundaries. The inner dialogue was silent. She was aware of how everything affected her energy; that some people (anxious, irritable) quickly drained her energy while others (kind, gentle) gave her energy. She no longer thought linearly, and had to be taught to put socks on before shoes. 

“I liked knowing I was a fluid. I loved knowing my spirit was at one with the universe and in the flow with everything around me. I found it fascinating to be so tuned in to energy dynamics and body language. Most of all, I loved the feeling of deep inner peace the flooded the core of my very being,” she wrote. Whenever her wounded brain needed time out from an overload of stimuli, which was often, she would sleep. This was crucial to her recovery. Her mother devoted herself to Jill’s care and gradually introduced new things to re-learn. After 8 years, she decided she was fully recovered.

“I learned how to feel the physical component of emotion. Joy was a feeling in my body. Peace was a feeling in my body…I could feel when a new emotion was triggered. I could feel new emotions flood through me and then release me…I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me…Certain emotions like anger, frustration or fear felt uncomfortable when they surged through my body. So I told my brain that I didn’t like that feeling and didn’t want to hook into those neural loops… I suddenly had much more say about how I felt and for how long…Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of heart and mind. That was completely up to me.” She realized that the surge of an emotion (such as anger) lasted just 90 seconds before it was completely flushed out of the blood stream; and at that point, we are at choice about whether or not to keep running the circuit of anger and return to the present moment. She calls this “stepping to the right” – choosing a peaceful mind.

Prior to her stroke, she believed, “the judging and analytical character in my left mind dominated my personality,” inhibiting the right brain. “At the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy, and compassion in the world.” It seems clear that the right hemisphere is connected more with the heart and emotions and with intuition; some call the right hemisphere the “feminine” aspect. The question of balancing the hemispheres showed up for Jill as the desire for normal functioning in the world while retaining the ability to access deep inner peace, compassion, and oneness. 

“Sadly, the expression of compassion is often a rarity in our society. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ decision.” These negative thought patterns generate increased levels of anxiety and/or hostility. The more we repeat these patterns, the more ingrained and automatic they become.

“My right hemisphere is all about right here, right now. It bounces around with unbridled enthusiasm and does not have a care in the world…it is filled with gratitude…content, compassionate, nurturing, and eternally optimistic…my right mind character is sensitive to nonverbal communication, empathic, and accurately decodes emotion…it is my intuition and higher consciousness…it is tuned in to my gut feelings…My right mind sees unity among all living beings, the big picture.”

On the other side, “My left hemisphere is preoccupied with details and runs my life on a tight schedule…It clenches my jaw and makes decisions based upon what it learned in the past. It defines boundaries and judges everything as right/wrong.” She adds, with appreciation, “My left mind is responsible for taking all of that energy, all that information about the present moment, all the magnificent possibilities perceived by my right mind, and shaping them into something manageable.” She refers to the left brain as a great weaver and teller of stories. “Most impressively, our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in its factual data.” She realized that this story-teller created upsets because of these fabrications and repetitive thought-loops. 

Tending the garden of the mind: “Learning to listen to your brain from the position of a nonjudgmental witness may take some practice, but once you master this awareness, you become free to step beyond the worrisome drama and trauma of your story-teller.” When her brain is running loops that feel out of control, counter-productive or harshly judgmental, she surrenders for 90 seconds for the physiological emotional response to dissipate, acknowledges the feelings, then says firmly: “I am really not interested in thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions anymore. Please stop bringing this stuff up.” Jill believes that we must pay close attention to how much time we spend hooked into anger or despair, acknowledge these emotions, and then make a conscious choice to return to the present moment.

If the story-teller persists, she recalls something fascinating to ponder, or “something that brings me terrific joy,” like her dog. “I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry in our right brain…constantly running and always available for us to hook into, in the present moment.” To come back to the present moment, we must consciously slow our minds, not be in a hurry. Focusing on slow, relaxed breathing is a great way to do this. Attending to smells, sounds, sensations in the body, or listening to music can help. “When I am simply grateful, life is simply great!”

“Once I consciously take over the responsibility of tending my mind, I choose to nurture those circuits that I want to grow, and consciously prune back those circuits I prefer to live without…with determination and perseverance, even the gnarliest of vines, when deprived of fuel, will eventually lose its strength and fall to the side…You alone choose who you are and how you want to be in the world…Own your power and show up for your life.”

I believe that this book sheds light on the heart-brain connection. It seems as though the ego has its home in the left brain, while the heart is in close contact with the right brain and they share emotional qualities of connection, compassion, gratitude and intuitive wisdom. So when we bring our awareness to our heart and away from the “thinking” brain, essentially we are choosing to experience through the right side of the brain, where we can access insight and see the bigger picture. 

It’s very valuable for me to recognize that a pure, biochemical emotion runs its course in just 90 seconds. This can be seen in babies, who have not developed the “thought-loops” we adults hook to our emotions that can keep us stuck there for hours or days. After a red-faced, all-out screaming fit, within a minute a baby can be smiling and cooing. Jill taught herself the skill of detaching from those thought loops by “moving to the right” side of her brain, and even by purposely interrupting the repetitive thought patterns. 

The tips she shares for “moving to the right mind” are very much like what HeartMath teaches: setting the thoughts aside, slowing and deepening the breath, being in the present moment, focusing on a beloved pet or something that brings joy. 

What Jill learned through the painful process of recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage can guide us all in our goal of becoming balanced: less frequently highjacked by our stressful stories, better able to recover from emotional upsets, more aware of energies, more compassionate with ourselves and others, able to access the bliss of oneness. 

Little Blue Flowers

Sometimes I look at my progress, shake my head, and find fault with myself.  I see myself as putting out inconsistent effort, procrastinating, playing it safe, shrinking, contracting. One class I taught went especially badly, partly because I did not see the people as my “target audience” and did not prepare with my usual attention and energy. The unconscious pattern I was falling into was that by focusing on what I’m doing wrong, and feeling inadequate, this leads to more of the same and I was going into a downward spiral.

Luckily for me, I have a housemate who is such a good friend that when she heard me starting down this path recently, she offered a corrective. Instead of saying, “No, it’s not true, you really have worthwhile things to offer, don’t feel so bad,” she gave me much more. “Cathy, remember how you were beaming the other day when you told me about going out in the morning to water those little blue flowers near the stairs, and how pleased you were when you saw a few more?” I agreed. Then she said, “What about seeing your work like those little blue flowers? Remember that class you taught for the Moms Against Gun Violence? That’s a little blue flower. Those clients you have are more flowers. Celebrate and build on your successes, and don’t dwell on the failures.”

She was reminding me that feeling gratitude for the small successes will lead to more progress than finding fault with myself for my shortcomings. Intellectually, I know this, but it takes a good friend sometimes to keep me on track because the old patterns still sneak up on me.

How about you? Do you know how to communicate caringly, yet old entrenched patterns surface and get in your way, leading to results you don’t want in your relationships? Do you find yourself in an anxious or stressed state frequently? Could you benefit from having a coach who, like a good friend, gently points out your strengths and helps you to build upon them?

I’m now offering a 4-session package of HeartMath Coaching for Resilience, in which you learn to get your heart and brain into “sync”, or “coherence.” Here’s what’s included:

1st session:

  • Mapping your stressors
  • Heart-focused breathing
  • Biofeedback – learn coherence in real time
  • Acknowledging your own feelings and needs
  • 2nd session:

  • From depletion to renewal
  •  Quick Coherence Technique
  • Biofeedback
  • Active listening and empathy for others
  • 3rd session:

  • Plugging energy leaks
  • The Inner Ease technique
  • Effective decision making
  • Gaining insight through coherence
  • 4th session:

  • Connection through empathy
  • Communicating your truth without judgment
  • 3 strategies for sustaining coherence
  • Action plans going forward

    Special offer

    This package of 4 sessions, regularly priced at $320, is now available for just $250. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep watering my little blue flowers!

“It is only with the heart that we can see truly.”

www.heartspeakpeace.com

828-545-9681

 

Completely Connected

Completely Connected cover   “Completely Connected is brilliant, authentic and potent. Rita Marie Johnson puts leading edge theory into groundbreaking practice and offers us a medicine that is both soulful and acutely relevant.”  – James O’Dea, author of Cultivating Peace

“Combining empathy and insight, as Johnson has shown, is a valid and proven way to improve human relations.”  – President Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

This is a book that gives me hope. Rita Marie Johnson is an

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice, Rasur Foundation International

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice, Rasur Foundation International

extraordinary woman who received a calling to be a teacher of peace at the age of ten. After developing a set of practices that resolve conflicts, she has trained hundreds of school teachers, positively affecting over 160,000 students in Costa Rica alone. She has fought her way back from lymphoma twice, always learning and growing, and is passionate about spreading the steps she calls “the Connection Practice” far and wide.

Johnson offers story after story in which people of all ages and from many countries and walks of life have experienced breakthroughs using the Connection Practice. It involves identifying one’s own feelings and needs, those of others, and using the “Quick Coherence Technique” to get our hearts and brains into sync.

School children

Joe, a fifth grader, had just failed a math exam and he pulled a classmate across the playground by her hair. Instead of punishment, he was given empathy for his anger, hopelessness, and need for belonging. After being led into a state of harmony between heart and brain, he had this insight: “I could ask for what I need instead of hurting someone.” Later, this same child became a school mediator.

“When we deny the most basic aspects of ourselves–our feelings and needs–and don’t teach young people how to express themselves safely, it’s far more dangerous than not letting them open up,” writes Johnson.

Two rival 5th grade gangs were in conflict. When a teacher assisted them to list the feelings and needs of each, the need for communication emerged. This was because one gang spoke Spanish, causing suspicion and distrust. They agreed that everyone would speak English when they were together, and conflicts ceased as friendships formed.

Teachers

Not only are misconduct reports cut in half; the teachers benefit too. Several public school teachers shared that their marriages turned around by the end of the week-long course in the Connection Practice. One teacher was on the brink of separating from her husband; instead, she offered empathy to him and they connected “for the first time in ten years.” They are still together years later.

Brain research shows that naming feelings reduces the amygdala’s response to stressors, and naming needs enhances empathic responses.

Businesses

Two CEOs who’d had a 10-year conflict used “Feelings and Needs” cards to name their own feelings, and then to guess each other’s needs. The CEOs resolved their conflict, and then decided to have their executive teams do the same exercise. The two organizations agreed afterwards to use the cards to resolve any future conflicts.

A study of businesses showed that employers spend nearly 3 hours each week dealing with conflicts between people. One business now uses the Connection Practice at Monday morning meetings. A management consultant said, “The Connection Practice allows me to get clear about the needs I have and to consider the needs of the group…a much easier way to come to a solution or strategy that can work.”

Recovery

A 12-step participant said, “I got the skill set that transformed me from codependent behavior to unconditional love and acceptance.” Another wrote, “After all these years I’ve finally been able to forgive my father, and he has forgiven me.”

International

Students from all over the world attend the University for Peace in Costa Rica, one of the places where the Connection Practice is taught. Comments from students:

“This course has saved me years of therapy; it has empowered me.” – Mayn from India

“This practice can be applied in every country in the world.” – Maham from Pakistan

“I went home with the sensation of a clean soul.” – Laticia from Brazil

“This practice can be very important for preventing gender-based violence.” – Marion from Australia

For classes with Rita Marie Johnson, please visit www.rasurinternational.org. She is offering web based courses. For classes in the Asheville area, please contact cathyfholt@gmail.com or call Cathy at 828-545-9681.