Stroke and nirvana: what is the connection

Stroke and nirvana: what is the connection


Nitin K Sethi, MD


        Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Department of Neurology, NYP-Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY (U.S.A.)


Address for Correspondence:

NK Sethi, MD

Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

Department of Neurology

NYP-Weill Cornell Medical Center

525 East 68th Street, York Avenue

New York, NY 10021

Fax: 212-746-8984


I just read this article in the New York times today titled ” A superhighway to Bliss” by Leslie Kaufman which talks about Dr. Jill Taylor a neuroscientist working at Harvard’s brain research center who experiences nirvana while she is suffering a stroke. She suffers a left parietal bleed and at the time when she is hemorrhaging into the brain, she experiences this amazing peace. The constant chatter that normally fills her brain stops, her perceptions change and she feels disconnected.

What would you ask all this has to do with nirvana. Nirvana by the way is the state where you attain the supreme bliss. In Hindu mythology we talk about nirvana and mosha. Mosha as in when you are free from the troubles of this world and one with God.  Well basically as the article goes on to mention that the right and left hemispheres of the brain have different functions. The dominant left hemisphere (in people who are right handed) houses ego, context and time logic. The right hemisphere on the other hand gives creativity and empathy. So in a way when your left hemisphere is shut down (as in Dr. Taylor’s) case by a hemorrhagic stroke, she experiences this peace and calmness because her ego is gone. The article later goes on to mention, that she has written a book about the same and now lives a more peaceful and spirtual life because she has learnt how to sidestep her left brain.

Hmmmmm I am not sure what to make of this and where I stand on this topic. Sensory disintregation may occur at the time of a stroke and patients have reported some very vivid experiences during the time of the stroke such as out of body experiences. Did Dr. Taylor suffer something like that during the time of the stroke. The fact she is a neuroscientist may have given the ability to better recognize her stroke as it was occuring.

In any case, parietal strokes especially when large can be devastating and not everyone has such a nice outcome as Dr. Taylor. The two hemispheres in the brain are closely interconnected and it is not possible to voluntary shut down one part of the brain. We can do it in the lab, by injecting a drug which shuts down one side of the brain such as amobarbital. This test is called WADA test and it would be interesting to note if anyone else has described reaching nirvana at the time of WADA testing.

The human brain is indeed like the wind and difficult to control. Thoughts are always racing through the brain some useful and others at time meaningless. Why you may ask are we always having thoughts in our head? Is there a way to make the brain empty of thoughts maybe for just a short time so that we can be totally in peace. Can the practice of yoga and meditation do that.

This brings me to the question I asked in my post on yoga and meditation: Does a meditative mind lead to a meditative brain?  Can by intense meditation, yoga or spirituality we slow down and stop these thoughts in our head?

I would appreciated all my readers thoughts about this.

2 thoughts on “Stroke and nirvana: what is the connection

  1. You’re perfectly right in comparing the human brain to strong winds, as both are difficult to control. But like windmills, meditation can harness these strong forces and create a powerful output.
    I’ve been practicing Yoga for the last two years (21 months actually) using this hypnotherapy home study course and I could say that yes, self hypnosis allows me to clear my brain with negative thoughts and achieve moments of utter peace, or as others describe, nirvana.
    This state (nirvana) is very hard to describe, it jest feels like you’re floating in an empty space, like you’re lying in a huge uber comfy baloon. The best way is to have you try it for yourself.

  2. I loved the beautifully written “My Stroke of Insight – a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor and her incredible talk on TED dot com. Dr. Taylor’s unique perspective as a Harvard neuroanatomist having a stroke, combined with her sensitivity and awareness, produced something as powerful as I’ve ever witnessed. I want to share Dr Taylor’s story far and wide because it’s a wonderful story and a great book to read, but more importantly, this is the message we desperately need if we are to survive as a species.

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