The Science and Wisdom of Emotions Summit

Last week, I had the opportunity to (virtually) attend the Science and Wisdom of Emotions summit, a 4-day array of presentations, panel discussions and guided practices focused on emotional intelligence and its connections to well-being. There were many intersections between the summit topics and the concept of living with intention, so I thought I would share some takeaways that merit further reflection.

  • Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother's Hands, spoke about Somatic Abolitionism, freeing the body from enslavement to racialized trauma. His work emphasizes that racism resides in the body and therefore must be addressed in the body, not in the head. Too often, we ignore or avoid feelings as we experience them physically, and he calls us to face our discomfort in order to metabolize pain. Intentionally being present with our bodies, whatever they are experiencing, and learning to sit with discomfort, can allow us to do many things. This includes facing the difficult work about race that our ancestors could not, and no longer storing our racial pain so that we have the chance to end its multi-generational transmission. Some of his body practices can be found here. 

  • Artist Ana Teresa Fernandez challenges viewers to feel and act on empathy through her social sculptures addressing themes such as the US/Mexico border wall and rising sea levels. She encourages us to explore the power of creative potential and transform hearts and minds by opening them to compassion. How might each of us use our own creativity to get ourselves and others to look with a more compassionate gaze? How might seemingly-simple materials such as paint chips, water, or sky-colored pigment catch a viewer's attention enough to cause a purposeful pause?  Ana's Social Sculpture work.

  • Buddhist and scholar Alan Wallace acknowledges the role that hedonia (pleasure experienced in response to an agreeable stimulus) plays in happiness, but emphasizes that this type of pleasure is transient and competitive. Genuine well-being must involve eudaimonia—the cultivation of the mind, of one's relationship with oneself, and of the pursuit of one's potential and purpose. He asks us to consider how we might act intentionally to give joy to a person, a moment, or to the world, rather than receive it.

  • Laurie Santos, happiness researcher, shared the data and science supporting engagement in social connection, gratitude practice, and truly feeling compassion for others and for oneself. Slowing down and creating a different relationship with time can have a profound impact on our level of happiness as well. One example includes savoring, the act of becoming present with whatever it is we are enjoying with our senses, allowing good moments to last a little longer. Check out her podcast, The Happiness Lab.

  • Modupe Akinola looks at stress in the workplace and encourages us to transform our relationship to stress. Using introspection and individualization, we can develop a new mindset and reappraise stress as an ally, which can allow us to remember the times in the past that we rose to the occasion and thrived, to read our physiological symptoms of stress as a signal of engagement, and to ask ourselves how our stress is helping us.

  • Social-emotional learning researchers Mark Greenberg, Patricia Jennings and Robert Jagers encourage us to look at the role of emotions in the school setting. Intentional implementation of emotional education initiatives can benefit students by increasing their sense of safety in school, positively impacting their ability to focus academically, and ultimately promoting prosocial outcomes well past high school and college graduation. SEL programs can also teach youth to receive compassion, to keep the passion but drop the hatred of righteous anger, and to find connections to our common humanity.

  • Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Nepalese Tibetan Buddhist teacher, encourages us to work with our difficult emotions, or “beautiful monsters”. Rather than suppressing, ignoring, changing, or fixing our feelings, he invites us to welcome and notice them, to be with and in the feeling. Through a grounded body, open heart, and clear mind, we are able to get enough space to know that we are not our feelings, we just experience them. Access one of his teachings here.

  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Jon Kabat-Zinn continued to weave the theme of promoting growth and transformation through mindful awareness and compassion. It was clear that all of the speakers approach their research or philosophy as work in progress, necessitating trial and error, an open mind and heart, and the willingness to gently persist. None of the practices shared at the summit are stand-alone exercises or quick fixes. Considered in this context, they can allow us to plant some mental seeds as we reflect on the next step we might take out of autopilot and into a more intentional life.