This Is Your Brain On Zen

Zenshin Michael Haederle looks inside the meditating mind.

Zenshin Michael Haederle

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Brain Scan Tricycle Brain on Zen
A PET Scan of Dr. James H. Austin’s
brain during meditation. Courtesy James H. Austin

The brightly colored slide projected on the screen shows a PET (positron emission tomography) scan of the brain of someone in a deeply relaxed meditative state. It’s a safe bet that few of the nearly 100 people gathered in the adobe zendo at Santa Fe’s Upaya Zen Center fully understand what they’re seeing, but they’re rapt nevertheless. The speaker, a distinguished-looking silver-haired man wearing gray samue—Zen work clothes—uses a laser pointer to highlight the pattern of heightened activity on the brain’s right side. He waits a beat before delivering the punch line: “This is an image of the speaker’s brain from two decades ago.”

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