Last week, I headed south to Upaya Zen Center for the Zen Brain retreat. A powerhouse collection of teachers – philosopher Evan Thompson, neuropsychologists Al Kazniak and Richard Davidson, and Buddhist scholar John Dunne – were converging to present the latest teachings and scientific findings on the impact of contemplative practices on the brain. I should have known what I was in for when I received via email a little over 100 pages of readings and a reading list that included Austin’s Zen Brain and Selfless Insight, Joan Halifax’s Being with Dying, and Thompson’s Mind in Life. I’ve owned Zen Brain since its original publication; it’s a great bookend. No seriously, I have been working my way through it – 30 pages in 10 years is a good rate for a neurologically challenged practitioner. I bought Mind in Life at the end of the retreat and am on page 25 already! I guess my reading skills have improved in the last ten years.
Like the dutiful student, I read almost all the articles and learned a new word: anosognosia which means a lack of awareness of one’s neurological deficit. With little trouble, I suspect it can be extended to include all my particular flailings in and at life.
There are many things I’m proud of from that retreat, some of which I will share over the next few posts as they are still percolating in my unZen brain at the moment. Having blown out three discs in my back just before going on retreat, I am quite chuffed that I managed to sit through all the meditations and only needed a backjack to sit for the talks on the second day ( a deep bow to my dharma sister for getting me one!). For the work period, I was kitchen aide and once more got to indulge my OCD by getting the size and shape of the chopped vegetables perfectly identical. And, when the customs officer at the Canadian re-entry port asked if meditation really helped the brain be more functional I was proud to say, “Well, I didn’t kill that aggravating man in the seat in front of me on the flight home.” Mea culpa.
For now, please indulge your brain in this YouTube slice of a rich and deeply insightful retreat. You can also listen to the first set of pod casts here.
Thank you for practicing,
Ummm, yea, I’m going to do the very un-Buddhist thing and be jealous of your retreat! Excellent line up there for sure.
I tell my sangha that we never go to retreats alone. And we must never come back empty-handed. I think you’d have loved John Dunne… so your style! 😉
When his talk is up on the pod cast be sure to listen to it. And the panel Q&A’s too.
Wow – thanks for sharing this, Genju! I had the pleasure of seeing John Dunne in Montreal last November and (I think) the previous year in Chicago. He’s marvelous.
I’ve long been fascinated by the growing dialog between Buddhism and Science, esp. neuroscience and was lucky (or very unlucky) enough to get some close-up experience with an individual with very abnormal empathy responses (she has Borderline PD).
Looking forward to hearing more from your retreat 🙂
John Dunne is quite the wildman teacher! Were you treated to his Sanskrit rants? 😀
I’ll admit to having had a huge reluctance to enter this nexus world of neurodharma. I think I’m more reassured by the embodied sincerity of the group than by any research findings (as fascinating as those might be too). btw, I asked the “is ethical behaviour inherent in humans” question – ie, does it emerge simply through meditation. Dunne’s answer was unequivocal: no. It requires practice. There ya have it!
Anosognosia – great term, to which I could relate if I didn’t have profound neurological deficits.
Thank you. It is good to be home. Anosognosia goes beautifully with that cartoon you posted about memory deficits!