On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud about his upcoming lecture series at Creating Space Yoga. Dr. Treyvaud is an Oakville-based psychiatrist who treats adults in a private practice, but also runs a Stress Reduction Clinic that teaches Mindfulness Meditation to reduce stress, manage chronic pain, and help prevent disease. He gave a series of well-attended lectures last year at CSY and has returned to do another four lectures this term on other aspects of the practice of meditation.
Dr. Treyvaud was born and raised in Switzerland, but came to Canada in 1983 to finish his psychiatric training at the University of Toronto. He had an interest in studying a more integrated type of psychiatric medicine, one which encompassed both mind and body, and U of T’s program was broad and interesting. In 1986, he began a 2-year fellowship in child psychiatry at U of T, and then went into private practice in 1988. Dr. Treyvaud is multilingual and speaks French, Italian, German and English, and has also studied Latin and ancient Greek quite extensively.
CS: Can you speak a little bit about the first lecture (Sat Oct 1), which explores the idea of wisdom and ways we can see ourselves truthfully.
ST: This is a complex issue – we are unavoidably biased by our conditioning (cultural, personal historical, genetic). We are always seeing things subjectively. However, there are some universals, things that are universally human – we all have a brain and a body ... with the same basic structures – there are some universal ways that we meet life that we’re going to share. There are some universal truths that we know from experience, and if we heed them, life is going to be worthwhile, meaningful; if we don’t, life is going to be full of misery and suffering. When I talk about ‘seeing things the way they really are’ – it is the ability to see the way things are distorted by our conditioning, to see through that; and to be able to share with each other the universal truths that make life worthwhile. Here is a simple example: If I scare you, you will not be relaxed, the whole body and mind goes to tension. (When) your whole body is in tension, you will start to distort things – that is a truth that is universal all over the world, for you here in Canada, for a pygmy in the jungle etc. – so that is a universal truth – if we want to see things in a clear way, we must be relaxed, must not be afraid. We need to be able to relinquish the defensiveness that prevents us from penetrating reality in a deep way– so that’s an example of how we learn to actually see what is universally human.
CS: How will these lectures be different from the series you did in the Spring?
ST: (Laughs) Sometimes I tell my long term meditation students that really, I’m always talking about the same thing, but using different ways of saying it in order to keep them coming ……..people have a big laugh. There are some very simple principles (in studying mindfulness meditation), and it’s always about the same thing, however it’s so simple we don’t see it, we forget it. We get lost in our complicatedness. But yes, it will be different.
There is (an Indian parable about) an ‘elephant of truth.’ You have several blind men who come to this elephant and each man describes the elephant of truth. One man touches the trunk and says, ‘oh, the truth is like a long snake.’ Another blind man gets to the ear of the elephant, and he says, ‘no, no, no, the truth is like a cabbage’, and the other blind man ends up getting to the tail of the elephant, and he says ‘no, no, no, the truth is like a brush.’ So the trick is to learn the kind of mindful awareness that allows us to see beyond our limitations, to perceive the whole elephant of truth. When I give lectures, it’s always about the elephant of truth, but we get at it from different points of view, and each point of view highlights a different principle that can get in the way of us seeing it.
CS: Do people need any background in meditation to come to the lectures?
ST: No, no, no, they don’t need any background at all. That’s what these public lectures are all about – I’m not assuming they are committed to meditation – they might be simply curious, and many people may have never done it (meditation) – they are just curious about it and want to see what this is all about. Those who want to pursue it will take the courses I run. I see this (lectures at CSY) as a way to raise awareness in the general public so people may feel invited to realize that deepening one’s awareness is a healing thing, a good thing in life, and they may be inspired to take steps to pursue that more. So that’s how I view my audience.
It’s not only the content of what I teach, not just about giving information, like a math class. It’s also the fact that I am embodying that attitude – people will have an experience of themselves with a teacher (who embodies mindfulness). I touch people not just with the content, the words, but all the non-verbal aspects of embodying mindfulness and the way that that energy manifests itself as living truth.
CS: What is the format of these lectures? Will it be the same as in previous lectures with a short meditation/relaxation at the beginning, a lecture, and then a question period?
ST: Yes. I was thinking of doing it similarly, perhaps with less demarcation. Perhaps with a little meditation practice after a certain amount of lecture, I haven’t nailed it down yet.
CS: I really love the part where people ask you questions. They have such interesting questions; at the last lectures, you could tell that the people with questions had been through something and they were trying to deal with it, and they were putting something out to you. And I think you do very well with the one-on-one. I feel like you’re inspired by the questions, so there’s this lovely energy around that interaction.... I think you like it.
ST: Yes, yes, it’s my preferred part. Because that’s the part where I feel I really teach, where I really can help people move. It’s when they ask the question. I help them, even more so in my meditation courses ... but still, (it’s through the questions) that I feel I can really help.
CS: You really welcome questions.
CS: May I ask you about your meditation practice? How did you come to it, and how often you meditate, etc.?
ST: Yes, of course. Students ask me about this often, motivated by a view of the teacher as a special person who has it all figured out, so they can figure out how to get to that point – but I tend to start with the statement: ‘My journey is exactly like yours,’ there is no shred of difference. Yes, I’ve had my unique story of how I got to it, but everybody does. The years and years of struggle, not practicing, falling off the wagon, coming back to it, getting into defenses, throwing it all out, coming back to it, back and forth, and finally one day coming back to it and it really sticks. That’s my story like everybody else’s story. That’s the foundation.
There’s my particular story of how I got to discover that. I was almost a professional violin player when I was young. At one point I wasn’t sure whether I was going to have a career in music or medicine. I was playing very intensely and very well, giving concerts etc.. By the time I was 16, I had developed a strong stage fright. Before one of the concerts I was supposed to give, several weeks before, I had a rehearsal and it was absolutely catastrophic. So my violin teacher at the time, she said, okay, I want you to start to do certain things – she put me on what was for me a completely incomprehensible program of doing nothing else but like this with my violin [he demonstrates by dramatically drawing an imaginary violin bow down on an exhalation with a loud “haaaaa”). I did that for two hours a day! And I was only allowed to do that – not allowed to play the piece. I had no idea what she was doing.
She would check up on me twice a week. And when it came close to the concert I would do it for her, and she would say, ‘No, no, no you’re not centered, let go. Don’t do anything, let IT happen. Centre yourself in your pelvis.’ And slowly I started to discover that notion of non-doing. Of centering down in the heart, into the earth. A few days before the concert, after not having played that piece at all for weeks, we had a rehearsal, and she said, ‘just play it.’ And it went absolutely brilliantly. I knew the piece already. It was about allowing the wisdom of my body to take over.
After the concert, she said ‘I’d like you to meet somebody’….it was Karlfried Graf Durckheim, the first westerner who brought Zen to the west. He was a Zen master in the Black Forest, not far from where I lived, and during all the many years I worked with my violin teacher, I did not know that she had been his student for decades! – that’s how I got to meet Karlfried Graf Durckheim, and when I was 17, I began my training in Zen meditation. I trained with him and then I got busy and I got caught up in the ‘monkey mind’ (busyness and distraction) and then I lost it and I came back and I lost it and I came back and over time, slowly, as I went through life, shit happens and all these kind of things, you struggle and come back and eventually came the moment when that kind of work became a way of life. That’s how it works.
The Foundations of Wisdom Mindfulness Series at CSY
The upcoming lectures begin on Sat Oct 1 with “The Wheel of Awareness,” a discussion of the need to focus and know ourselves, to recognize our world as it truly is, and not to be distracted or misled by the many factors that pull on us every day.
On Sat Oct 15, Dr. Treyvaud will discuss the importance of maintaining our connection to the body in the second lecture “From Head to Toe – the story of embodiment.”
Lecture three (Sat Oct 29) deals with the conflicting realities of the right brain and left brain, and ways to bring harmony between the two.
Finally, in the fourth lecture on Sat Nov 12, Dr. Treyvaud will examine struggles with certainty and uncertainty, mortality and immortality, how these struggles can lead to symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive disorders or phobias, and ways that they can be reconciled from “states of chaos and rigidity towards harmony and health.”
For registration details, please click here.
Interviewed and written by Cheryl Smith