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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.
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Living With Intention

Intentional living is a practice of making thoughtful, examined choices.


But rather than living with intention, we often live life on autopilot. We fall into habits that become established through the comfort of repetition and predictability. We don't pause to consider whether or not the ways in which we spend our time really reflect what we say we value. We wonder how an entire day, week, month, or year has gone by in a flash.


We get ourselves through school and hopefully acquire some intellectual and academic skills. We are taught to read, to write, to solve mathematical equations. But we also need to know how to communicate effectively, approach others with empathy, and regulate an array of emotions. More often than not, these just-as-essential skills are not directly taught. Some people may be fortunate enough to pick them up along the way. But why, exactly, are these intrapersonal and interpersonal skills left to chance?


Thoughtful, examined, intentional living can allow us to step out of autopilot, to identify our strengths as well as those skills we may be lacking, and choose to do something different. This does not mean that we have to get mired in an analysis of every thought or next step we take. It does mean being more mindful in the act of connecting with ourselves.


Choosing to live an intentional life can involve:

  • giving more consideration to your intrapersonal relationship—your relationship with yourself. It's the most enduring relationship in your life, so it should certainly be a healthy one.
  • taking a closer look at whether or not the choices we make in our relationships, careers, finances, and lifestyle choices are in alignment with our values. When there is a mismatch between our values and our lived experience, we feel the imbalance but may not be able to explain it.
  • identifying the skills we need to utilize in our everyday encounters and zeroing in on the ones we have not yet been taught. There is not a time or an age limit on learning how to identify and express feelings, examine biases or evaluate the ways in which we make decisions.
  • listening more closely to our self talk. We all talk to ourselves, and the messages we repeat have power and impact. We can choose to use that power productively instead of destructively.
  • distinguishing between the choices we have made for ourselves and the choices that others have made for us. We know that whether it's through our family of origin, popular culture, or long-standing social norms, we are influenced and shaped by the opinions of other people. Just because a message was passed down from a powerful source or has rooted itself in collective consciousness doesn't mean it is just or true or deserving of endurance.


The decision to live with intention is not a one-time choice, and it is not a destination. It is a series of deliberate, purposeful pauses, which give us the opportunity to check in with ourselves, confirm what we know, seek resources as needed, and move forward mindfully. Taking these pauses allows us to notice whatever is within us and around us along the journey, keeping us aware of our pathway more than our end point.