Cheryl Smith: Do you find that people are increasingly interested in Mindfulness Meditation? It seems to come up all the time in news articles, etc. these days.
Stephane Treyvaud: Yes, its certainly an emerging awareness. The thing about it is that like anything else that becomes an emerging awareness, you have a lot of relatively superficial enthusiasm that accompanies it. I see that a lot of people do a lot of talk about it, but when it comes to actually developing the staying power, to actually engaging in the process that changes the neuro-circuitry of the brain, the number of (those) people who pursue it to those depths quickly shrinks. So thats the part that needs to be worked on. Everyone wants liberation from suffering and everyone wants to feel good, but everyone wants to feel good the easy way. And the thing is that there is no easy way of engaging in that because there are no shortcuts. Thats the atmosphere that I find. But the simple fact that awareness of mindfulness spreads is very important and the fact that theres a lot of interest and (people) come to lectures and think about it and talk about is all good. I dont know how much it will be translated into actual long-term rewiring, because thats the hard part.
CS: I see that the upcoming lectures at CSY studio are all around relationships. Can you talk about your thinking as you were developing these talks?
ST: There is really a fascinating finding in neurobiology and that is that the same circuitry that is responsible for our ability to connect with each other is also responsible for allowing us to connect with ourselves. So at the core of mindfulness training, at the core of meditation training, is (the possibility) of developing a deeper relationship to oneself. You can see, given what I just said about the neuro-circuitry, people sometimes ask, yes but isnt that (just) selfish navel gazing, sitting there paying attention to yourself, taking all this time every day, an hour a day of practice. Isnt that a selfish navel gazing? Well its actually the opposite. What youre actually doing is developing and engaging this circuitry, called the resonance circuitry of the brain, that deepens ones ability not only to relate to oneself, but to another person. This is why at the core of mindfulness is kindness, love and attunement. So thats why I decided to do these lectures, where we are going to focus on this particular aspect of mindfulness, which is a different one than the focus we had in the spring and the fall. There are a lot of interesting things to say about it, so its worth a little series on this topic.
CS: I was intrigued by this last one on the story of your life and the importance of narrative. We do like to have things explained to us through narrative, and we can remember things through narrative as well. Did you want to talk a little bit more about narrative and storytelling? Is it an interest of yours or is it strictly that you like to hear peoples stories?
ST: The move towards health and wellbeing happens when (we) move towards integration, and integration is a process whereby the parts of an organism differentiate from each other and then link. In order to move towards integration as human beings, we have to move towards a wholeness in all aspects of who we are. These aspects can be summarized in nine domains of integration, which correspond to nine major neuro-circuitries of the brain. One of them is called autobiographical integration; (this is) the way that we create our stories out of the non-verbal experiences of life. Because we are storytelling animals, there is no escaping that. The problem is that in that process of developing stories about our lives from the non-verbal experience of living, a lot can go wrong. A lot can go wrong depending on various factors, including what happened to us in childhood and how different parts of the brain (are connected) to each other, such as left and right brain, or the cortex to the rest of the body. What was discovered clinically is that there are different ways that people talk. You can actually sense, by listening to a person, whether that person has shut down this storytelling ability, whether that storytelling ability is so overwhelmed that they cant make sense of whats coming from inside, or whether they are well integrated and able to make sense of whats going on.
So all you need to do is sit down with a person, ( and) you ask personal questions like, why are you here? Whats going on in your life? And then they tell you, this and this and this, Im not happy about this and then you ask, tell me a bit about your Dad, and Mom, etc.. The way they tell the story tells you whether there are issues in the storytelling capacity, from which you can then come to conclusions with regards to the original childhood challenges that shaped them. So thats what this is all about.
CS: Can you give me an example. If you had a patient in front of you and they are describing their parents. What are some of the things you would notice in the way they would tell their story?
ST: To give you a simple example, I would ask you, what kind of a person was your father when you were a child? And your answer might be, Oh he was great.
I would ask, Can you tell me a bit more?
Oh, he was fine.
What kind of a relationship did you have? What do you mean when you say he was great?
He was fine. He was a Dad like all the others. I have no complaints.
I would continue by asking, Okay and how about your Mother?
Oh she was great.
And what made your mother great?
Well, she cooked and cleaned and took care of us.
And what kind of a relationship did you have with your mother.
Oh, a good one.
What do you notice about this persons answers and what consequences can you draw?
CS: Well, its not very detailed or observant or nuanced.
ST: Yes its very truncated, its very schematic. In fact its deeply distorted because no narrative like that can be true because theres no such thing as, my mother was great. People are complicated and complex. So that points to a certain problem with the way that this storytelling neuro-circuitry was affected and shut down, and with a deep lack of access to this persons inner world.
CS: And was that because the person was overwhelmed or bullied? They werent allowed to have thoughts other than those thoughts?
ST: There are several possibilities here. One possibility is that the parents were very avoidant, either withdrawn and absent or (created an environment where) nothing of emotional significance was ever talked about. That would usually be the case. When people have had the opposite, very traumatic parents who were very aggressive, usually the picture is different, the dialogue is different.
CS: Maybe these types of parents are themselves damaged, having experienced the same type of relationship with their own parents .
ST: Yes, of course, its a chain of events passed on from generation to generation which is why the work we are doing is so important because we have an opportunity to interrupt that chain of events for our children.
CS: On another topic entirely, do you find it interesting how popular TV reality shows are today? Were watching relationships being played out on these shows, and they seem pretty fake, but they still have an enormous audience. Why do we like to watch this when weve got our own lives to lead? Are we looking for guidance or role models? Or do we like to feel superior to these people who are often unwittingly humiliating themselves? Or have we always been watching human relationships in the theatre and on TV dramas and this is just the latest incarnation.
ST: Its an interesting question. The immediate thought that comes to mind is voyeurism, that we love to peek into the secrets of others because we are unable to access our own secrets. I dont know why reality shows would be more appealing than a theatre piece with actors, because of course every time you go to a theatre, every time you go to a performance, in a sense, you live through the story and actors, you live a piece of human life, it is very cathartic, it teaches us something. Maybe reality shows are so popular because they give us the illusion of bringing us even closer to ourselves because its in reality its actually happening, its not just play. That aspect may actually be the consequence of a numbing effect in society. I believe that we live in a society that has been profoundly numbed with regards to the earth and the body. Everything has to be bigger, louder, wilder, faster, more intense, more violent, because the decibel and intensity (level) of fifty years ago just doesnt do it anymore. We are so numbed, because we live more and more in disembodied lives. So maybe thats a part of an evolution of why these reality shows are exploding.
CS: Can you tell me a little bit about the format of the Mindfulness lectures, and who you see them being for?
ST: Im aiming it at human beings (laughs). Im just talking about one tiny little aspect of the work that we do, mindfulness and the importance of it, and the connection to the larger social and political processes, so whoever is interested in it
CS: So people who are meditators, non-meditators .?
ST: Anybody will find something interesting here. People will be exposed to looking at the importance of our relatedness and of our inter-connectedness on all scales, from the very personal to the socio-political and ecological. Thats what will be talked about, so anybody who has an interest in that is invited, which should be the whole of humanity!! (laughs) The structure of the lectures is similar to last term again, I will talk and there will be an opportunity to ask questions, as usual. I will also, at the beginning, introduce the sessions with a little meditation practice. In fact, Im thinking that this time, because of the topic, the first session I will introduce with a practice where people will interact.
CS: There may be people who will read this interview on the website, but they will not be able to attend the lectures. Do you want to give some practical advice on how to start a meditation practice, or just one very practical piece of advice on starting a meditation practice.
ST: The first thing that I would recommend to anyone who wants to start a meditation practice is to find a good teacher. Its so essential because we are so complex, and the way our mind works and our body works and our attention when you do it on your own, youll be very likely to very quickly get into a snag. You dont even notice that youre in a snag; all you know is that the thought comes up, oh this isnt helpful, this isnt for me. And you move on (quit meditation). So find a good teacher, thats kind of fundamental. The second thing that Ive come to after many, many years of experience is I absolutely stress and begin with connecting with the body. Thats what I call the somatic practices, learning to pay attention to the body, which of course includes the breath because the breath occurs in the body. How to do that I cant explain. Thats more complex. But bring your attention into your body and explore the connection with the body. Thats just the absolute foundation. From there everything else arises and moves.