A fairly long paraphrase of James Austin’s fairly long book, Zen and the Brain, titled Your Self, Your Brain, and Zen. While books whose titles begin with “Zen and the…” tend to be pretty silly, Austin combines the rigor of a scientist with someone who reports having deep meditative experience firsthand.
Before learning to meditate in Japan, I would not have believed it possible brieﬂy to lose all sense of self. Nor could I have regarded that experience as desirable. Hadn’t my teachers emphasized, early in medical school, that our patients were very abnormal if they did not know who they were, or what time it was? So how could any state of “no self” help clarify the normal operations of one’s brain?
As it turned out, two very different kinds of loss of self occurred on my long path of Zen. The ﬁrst experience was superﬁcial: my physical sense of self dropped off temporarily—a “dearth of self,” so to speak. Years later, I brieﬂy lost all sense of my psychic self and its bodily attachments. During this “death of self,” deep insightful realizations occurred.
In Zen and the Brain Austin switches back and forth between intensely personal experiences and detailed scientific explanation (he’s an academic neurologist). It’s a great book for browsing. You can take a look at (or purchase) the book here at Amazon.