- College of Medicine Students
Dr. James Austin is a master of science and meditation.
He invited students into both worlds during his talk on “Zen, the Brain, and Meditating Selflessly” at the UCF College of Medicine on February 28.
As he signaled for the lights to be dimmed, Dr. Austin encouraged audience members to inch forward in their seats, fix their eyes on a spot on the floor, and focus on their breathing. After several moments of quiet, he broke the stillness with the tinkling of a small bell.
“The question before us, as students of the nervous system, is what goes on in solitude? What happens when an individual undergoes such a transitional experience? How does it affect our brains?” he asked, his words flowing with a slow, thoughtful rhythm that reflected more than 30 years of practicing Zen Buddhism.
A professor emeritus of neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Dr. Austin has written several books on contemplative neuroscience, including “Zen and the Brain” and “Meditating Selflessly.” Dr. Austin said he became involved with Zen while doing research in Kyoto, Japan. Through training with a Zen master, Dr. Austin learned about the importance of paying attention.
Dr. Austin said that by meditating regularly, people can “reprogram “their brains to move away from egocentric views and reach a selfless state. He showed a brain scan that captured two hot spots that grew brighter in color when the subject was asked to be introspective and “cooled off” when the subject directed his attention to the outside world.
M-2 M.D. student Gosia Krzyszczak said Dr. Austin delivered some important lessons.
“The way we perceive reality is different for each of us because it is filtered through our own experiences and beliefs,” Gosia said. “This lecture shows that through meditation and self-discipline, we can introduce changes in our brain circuits that in turn will influence our character and bring us closer to selflessness.”