I like to think that relationships are not just about the similarities we may have, but in the connections we share. Consider the way our nervous systems work. Wherever the neurons meet, neurotransmitters are exchanged. In these miniscule spaces, the real connection occurs, and without them the exchanges would be meaningless. Same thing goes for people. If we view these connections as miles apart, chances are we feel alienated and little sense of responsibility to others. On the other hand, if we can’t differentiate between where we physically and emotionally end and another begins, we can intimately relate to that person.

Unfortunately, I’m not particularly enlightened and have to give credit to Jill Bolte Taylor. Taylor is a neuroanatomist that experienced a stroke in 1996. She did a TED talk about her left hemisphere stroke where she discusses her insights into how our minds work. Below is the video itself, which I strongly suggest watching, as well as a link to transcript of the talk. The premise of her talk is the inherent interconnectedness between us all.

TED Talk: Jill Bolte Taylor

This may sound a bit like hippy propaganda, but I assure you that a neuroanatomist knows how to remove all the fluff from the idea.  Taylor explains the difference between the way our right and left brains work.  The right side of the brain takes in information all at once. It is the unrestricted landing zone for all of our sensory perceptions. This is Taylor’s explanation of the way our right brain thinks:

“I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.”

As bizarre as this may sound, it seems to me to be a pretty accurate view of the individual in relation to everything else. We all have the same basic wiring and design that doesn’t set us apart, but instead makes us more similar than not.

Taylor describes how she was able to recognize the continuity of her body to the wall and the entire universe. She was unable to grasp where she ended, and everything else began. The most amazing thing is that this did not take away from the uniqueness and definitive characteristics of objects around her.  It’s a difficult thought to wrap your head around. Without separation, how can there be uniqueness? How can we be utterly and completely connected to everything else in this universe, but still individuals?

Role model?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, and don’t think I ever will, but I find that her words still resonate.

In my saddest and happiest moments, it’s been others that have made the difference. The seemingly unbearable anguish at the loss of a loved one is possible because of a connection we shared, even as I’ve never felt more alone than during those moments of grief. In the memories of empathetic conversations and loving embraces, I know that we were not simply two individuals. Our relationship, connection, symbiosis or whatever you choose to call it, was both unique and universal all at once. It was our ability to understand the other person and to empathize that was fulfilling. It was the intangible, but almost palpable feeling that we were a part of someone else.  It was the connection shared that was important, not just the feelings of one person.

This is not some imaginary or unattainable relationship. It’s merely a description of the multitude of interactions every single person experiences.  They are reciprocal, and they are flawed, but most of all, they are so very meaningful. And I truly believe that the more we understand ourselves as connected to each other, the more easily we will find satisfaction with our lives.

1 comment for “Neuroscience

  1. Linda Bailey
    01.08.13 at 21:09

    Dear Joshua Stark – I am a fellow ASU alumni. RN-BSN program, from a family of 3 ASU graduates. I read your article in the ASU Fall 2012 Innovations in nursing & Health student spotlight and wanted to thank you for your well spoken words on the nursing profession as a whole. You have truly passed along some much needed encouragement and motivation. I am midway tackling a very challenging MSN/FNP program at a neighboring school, while working as an ER nurse. I am very thankful that you found your way into a profession that will fully serve your passion and enthusiasm to care for others. Your parents must be incredibly proud of your journey. You are extremely well spoken and well read. I would love to challenge you to attend the annual Nursing round table discussion on healthcare at the capital. We need nursing representatives that can effectively discuss our issues with vigor and really make a difference. Some really big issues are nurse-patient staffing matrixes, providing care to medically underserved, educating patients and their families on lifestyle choices to improve their health, and educating people on emergency room visits/urgent care/primary care in order to be fiscally responsible with our medical dollars. Thanks again for your encouraging article. I am sure everyone that reads it will be uplifted in some way. I hope you have a truly great experience in the rest of your nursing clinicals and preceptorship. I also recently viewed Jill Bolte Taylor’s video on her stroke experience showed in my MSN class by my teacher, it was fascinating. I am so glad she made it so that she can utilize her experience as a stroke victim and Neuroscientist to make a difference in the future in a very big way. Most sincerely, one of your future nursing colleagues

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