Two specialists provide guidance on the path to mindfulness

Monique Brocard-Sacco et Xavier Gravend-Tirole. Credit: Alain Herzog | 2022 EPFL

Monique Brocard-Sacco et Xavier Gravend-Tirole. Credit: Alain Herzog | 2022 EPFL

At EPFL, Monique Borcard-Sacco and Xavier Gravend-Tirole use different approaches to mindfulness but share the same goal: to improve people’s mental health and well-being.

One of the experts is a psychologist by training, and the other is a theologian. One views mindfulness as a “modern tool,” while the other draws on ancient philosophies and religions, including Eastern ones. And each of them is unique in their field. Monique Borcard-Sacco, who has written two books on positive psychology, has been working at EPFL for 25 years and is currently a half-time administrative assistant at a research lab. Xavier Gravend-Tirole, EPFL’s Catholic chaplain, is not your typical clergyman: he’s a globetrotter who wrote his PhD thesis on interreligious dialogue.

They each lead a weekly meditation session for the EPFL community. Monique’s class is held on Tuesdays as part of the university sports center’s Sessions program, which is funded by EPFL’s Security & Safety Department and Sustainability Unit. Xavier’s class is on Wednesdays at the Géode, a calm, spiritual place where he’s been holding mediation sessions since he started at EPFL in 2014. Both facilitators prefer to hold their sessions at lunchtime. “That forces people to take a break and check in with themselves,” says Xavier. All the sessions can also be followed remotely. “The pandemic has forced us to spend a lot of time face to face with ourselves,” says Monique. They both agree that meditation can provide useful resources for confronting the challenges of modern life.

Their techniques differ slightly. While Monique uses her voice to guide participants through the session, Xavier prefers to let participants take their inner journey in silence after a brief introduction. But both Monique and Xavier select a topic or orientation – such as kindness, patience or gratitude – for each of their 30-minute sessions.

Benefits proven by neuroscientific research

What happens if someone doesn’t take the time for mindfulness? “If you spend your days on autopilot, that gives free reign to your reptilian brain, putting you on the defensive and activating your critical inner voice,” says Monique. “This in turn lowers your vital energy and weakens your immune system. What’s more, in today’s perfectionist society where we’re constantly pushed to be the best, running on autopilot can amplify negative emotions and lead to psychosomatic disorders, depression or burnout, for example.”

Meditation makes you not only a better worker, but also a better spouse and parent.

Monique Borcard-Sacco, psychologist

Monique points out that being kind to yourself doesn’t mean you’ll become lazy, but will rather motivate you to improve – a finding backed by neuroscientific research. “It makes you not only a better worker, but also a better spouse and parent,” she says. This is especially important at a place like EPFL, where the mental and cognitive demands are huge.

Questioning the pursuit of excellence

Xavier agrees with his colleague and warns against idealizing the practice of meditation. “EPFL encourages people to strive for excellence, with a focus on brain rather than body,” he says. “However, we need to question this endless pursuit of excellence, including in meditation. The goal is not to become ‘good’ at meditation, but to simply move towards inner unity and consciousness. And there are many different paths to get there. The key is to let go of everything that’s built up over the years. Just look at how children are entirely connected with their true selves. What we need to do is get back in touch with this inner self, and I find meditation to be perfect for that.”

Xavier adds: “I often tell participants that getting your degree, meeting the love of your life or winning the lottery won’t automatically bring peace and happiness to your life. Happiness is fleeting. The idea with meditation is to tap into the deeper peace that we each carry within us, and that isn’t shaken by emotions or outside events.”

As a matter of fact, in her first book, published in 2011 (Psycho positive : Mode d’emploi, available in French only), Monique cites a study by two American psychologists – Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky – which revealed that just 10% of our happiness depends on external factors.

Reducing eco-anxiety

For Monique and Xavier, EPFL’s student body and the international nature of the EPFL community are a constant source of wonder, giving meaning to what they do. Monique is a mother of two young adults and sees a difference between previous generations and her children’s generation. While young people have always held ideals, she feels that today’s youth mostly suffer from eco-anxiety. She also thinks it’s a shame that children are taught how to take care of their physical health but not their emotional health. “If more attention were paid to mental health, people wouldn’t jump all over each other for the slightest problem!” she says.

Meditation also has a political value,” he says. “Wanting to be happy is a political choice you can make for the well-being of the entire planet.

Xavier Gravend-Tirole, EPFL’s Catholic chaplain

Xavier, who has two small children, sees an additional benefit to mindfulness. “Meditation also has a political value,” he says. “Wanting to be happy is a political choice you can make for the well-being of the entire planet. Meditating isn’t a selfish gesture – it’s a way to slow down amid the frenetic, over-consumerist, productivity-oriented society we now live in. Meditation is another action each of us can take to improve our environment, like turning off the faucet and switching off the light.”

For more information, visit:

Author: Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle

Source: Sustainability

This content is distributed under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 license. You may freely reproduce the text, videos and images it contains, provided that you indicate the author’s name and place no restrictions on the subsequent use of the content. If you would like to reproduce an illustration that does not contain the CC BY-SA notice, you must obtain approval from the author.