Boris Cyrulnik: rediscovering the art of simplicity

- through Sophie Solere

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Renowned neurologist and psychiatrist, Boris Cyrulnik has worked extensively on the concept of "resilience", defined as the ability to take on a new development after trauma. The confinement was therefore the perfect opportunity to ask him for advice.

At the start of confinement, you spoke of a feeling of “agonizing beauty” to describe the strange period that was opening up. Almost two months later, what remains of that feeling?

There was something magnificent in seeing all these landscapes much more distinctly. In the morning, in my garden, I could hear the birds like never before and smell the smell of the trees that I usually no longer smelled because of the cars! And they were beautiful, these images of Paris or New York completely deserted, of the water becoming clear again in Venice, we had never seen that... But in the long run, this beauty has weakened, and above all there remains the anxiety, which develops.

Why ?

Because we are not made to live like this. We confuse loneliness and confinement: loneliness is when we need to isolate ourselves a little, to withdraw into ourselves, to breathe and to cut off for a moment with our human relationships which can be tiring and conflictual. These breaths are desirable, necessary. But the containment, that's not it: it's a kind of prison, it's not a desired moment, and everyone ends up finding the time long. Even the pleasures forced to taste silence or slow down end up wasted by wear and tear... The experience of prolonged and imposed loneliness represents a psychological attack.

Can this period generate troubles, in the long term, for each of us?

When you isolate someone sensorially, it restricts the stimulation of their brain. There is no longer this regulating mechanism of the presence of the other. However, experiments prove that this absence of cerebral stimulation causes neurological alterations, as can be seen in neuroimaging photographs: if there is no alter ego, the brain turns off. And if it lasts a long time, it causes anxiety and psychological decompensation.

Many studies have been conducted on the dimensions of sensory isolation: the threshold is variable – some have vulnerability factors prior to aggression, which weakens them – but in the end, everyone ends up cracking…

In your work on “resilience”, you have precisely worked on “protective factors”: which ones do you recommend to those who could be confined for a while longer?

You have to dive into yourself, try to find the resources within and around you. This can consist of getting back to reading or music, for those who had stopped or given up. Focusing on yourself and living at your own pace can be comforting things at first. The meaning we give to the test will partly determine the way we experience it.

But these protections can only be momentary, because if it lasts too long, our overall rhythm is unbalanced. But rhythm is an element of life, there is day, night, activity then rest, etc. The speleologist Antoine Spire experienced this in the 60s, when he isolated himself in a deep cave: after just a few days, he was completely out of sync with the rhythm of the day, and in fact, instead, he lived 25- or 26-hour days. In another style, this is also what Jean-François Clervoy, a former cosmonaut says: they often take a lot of books on a mission, with the firm intention of reading to keep themselves busy, and in the end, do not touch them, because they end up completely dazed by the situation…

A first phase of deconfinement must be initiated soon: have you projected yourself, on your side?

Of course you have to. I intend to write a book, and above all, to try to see my family and my friends again!

Can the notion of "barrier gestures" take root in people's minds for a long time, and with what consequences?

We are going to change rituals of politeness and interaction, we spend our time changing them! They even change surprisingly quickly: when I was young, it was unthinkable to kiss a girl and even more so a boy… Just as it was also unthinkable to go court a girl without combing your hair! And for the generation before mine, men had to bow squarely in front of girls, and girls squat in front of men! Which, today, seems quite bewildering to a young...

“Refocusing on yourself and living at your own pace can be comforting things at first. The meaning we give to the test will partly determine the way we experience it. »

In Japan, where I was two years ago for a congress on resilience, I could see that no one shook hands or kissed each other, even in the family. The fact of not touching each other in Asian countries inevitably played a role in the lower spread of the virus in these countries… There was no need to invent barrier gestures, they already had them culturally!

What other major cultural transformations can this period open up to?

There are going to be exciting philosophical debates: how are we going to organize our new way of living together? We cannot start again on the same bases, get back to sprinting in the great international competition, otherwise we will only be putting in place the conditions for a new virus, in the long term.

Chaos is deterministic, when it upsets and challenges old values, it calls for the establishment of new ones. This can be a source of magnificent reforms: two years after the terrible plague of 1348, serfdom had for example disappeared in France! But beware, this can also be a source of terrifying dictatorships! Recent history has shown us enough how these moments of chaos can be taken over by dictators, who are then adored...

We also see a lot of solidarity initiatives flourishing across the country at the moment: don't you believe in a return to secular values ​​such as benevolence and cooperation, which Buddhism teaches in particular?

We see, for example, how small farmers' markets are making a strong comeback with the crisis; near my house, there are crates for free distribution, with a small piggy bank next to it, it works on confidence, with the idea also of a more peaceful pace. Elsewhere, support networks have been set up in the neighborhoods, and there is greater attention to others, to the elderly and to children. In the street, people say hello to each other, smile at each other.

This also comes back through what are called “small trades”. Several sociological studies show that solidarity is often much more present in difficult, poorly paid jobs. Today we are rediscovering the importance of nurses, postmen and garbage collectors. Me, I experienced it in psychiatric hospitals, where there is a strong spirit of mutual aid in the face of very complicated contexts. Exactly like in the old days, when the peasants pooled their strength, shared the combine harvester, and then everyone did everyone else's harvest... And in the evening, everyone celebrated in the village!

We rediscover these ancestral values, which have always existed and which still exist in certain places. Solidarity is a very good factor of resilience, but it is not acquired. It is built, or rebuilt for all those who have followed the courses of great schools, with long studies where one first learns to sprint...

Do we need to rediscover the art of simplicity?

Absolutely. We have become an “obese” population from our excess consumption and sedentary lifestyle. We will be much better physically and morally if we find both a healthy diet and the spirit of the festival in the village!


Check out Part 2 of this interview:
> Boris Cyrulnik: “We have forgotten that we are part of the living world”

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Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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