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Map of Emotions and Meditation on Compassion

Anaheim, CA, USA, 4 July 2015 - The sky was overcast this morning, but inside a warm reunion took place between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his old friend Paul Ekman. Accompanied by his daughter Eve, his wife Mary Ann Mason and Eric Rodenback, Ekman had come to report progress that has been made in creating a Map of Emotions. His Holiness opened the conversation:

“Our focus should be all 7 billion human beings alive today, every one of whom wants to lead a happy life. We are trying to let them know that happiness is not entirely dependent on money and material things, but on inner values like compassion, without having to rely on religious belief. We are trying to adopt a secular approach that can reach all human beings.

“In this effort I especially value scientists, because they tend to be moved only by experience and evidence. We should base our promotion of secular values on our common experience of being born and brought up in the shelter of our parents’ affection; on common sense, such as observing that people who easily give in to anger are not happy and scientific findings that reveal the worth of inner values like compassion. You may have been alone when you embarked on your work, but now there are many others pursuing this too.”

Ekman replied: “You told me we needed a map of emotions and I have considered the work of 250 scientists studying emotions. We have distinguished five primary emotions: enjoyment, anger, fear, sadness and disgust. We want to show how they work, how emotions can help us, but also how they can get us into trouble.”

He explained that for this map of emotions, which is displayed as a computer model, emotions were identified as they are generally defined in English. He agreed that there are emotions that are not named in English such as ‘schadenfreude’, taking pleasure in the discomfort of someone we don’t like, and ‘naches’, the Yiddish term for the pride and joy parents take in their children. He asserted that nowhere else has there been such an attempt to outline and clarify the destructive and constructive emotions and their associated emotions. His Holiness agreed that emotions don’t arise in isolation but in relation to other emotions.

Eve Ekman described the timeline employed in the map, which involves appraisal, emotional triggers and the way we respond to them. Paul Ekman clarified that awareness of emotional triggers doesn’t come naturally but is a skill that can be cultivated. He suggested that a trigger for irritation and anger in himself can be someone else telling him what to do. It is possible to become aware of such a spark before it bursts into flame. That awareness is something that has to be developed. His Holiness concurred with this, citing Shantideva’s observation that we need to deal with anger when it is still at the stage of frustration, not once it has flared up.

Eve Ekman told His Holiness that there is a need to know how to create calm, how to achieve peace. People need to know that this is important. Her father suggested there is a dynamic calmness that can help us change what is happening. His Holiness agreed that we may be easily irritable, but we can learn how to deal with it. We can learn how to remain calm in the face of a challenge. We can, as it were, take a stand and maintain our composure. He pointed out that human intelligence allows us to evaluate our short term and long term interest, which is helpful here.

“Ancient Indian and Buddhist practice, for example, includes focus on breathing, taking a breath, which gives the mind a break. However, this may not help much if only one party to an argument takes time out.”

Ekman replied that a useful rule when training children is to say that in conflict, if one side takes time out, both should stop.

As the presentation ended, His Holiness praised the map of emotions as a great innovation.

“It’s wonderful and apt. It allows us to share understanding of how harmful destructive emotions can be.”

Paul Ekman asked where he had got the idea for a map of the emotions and His Holiness told him that when you go somewhere new, a map helps you find your way around. Such a map can help us explain how constructive emotions are useful and how destructive emotions bring harm.

The meeting ended with a brief survey of work the team still wants to do. This includes incorporating mood into the map and an exploration of chronic violence involving an examination of mood, personality and psycho-pathology. They want to translate the entire project into Spanish, which is the US’s second language, and create a complete stand-alone version that can be consulted without being connected to the internet.

After lunch, His Holiness drove out through wild and open country to Rancho Las Lomas at the invitation of the Peak Mind project to talk about meditation. He was introduced to an attentive audience of about 400 by actor and social activist Forest Whitaker, who first led the singing of ‘Happy birthday’ as His Holiness was offered a cake. He included His Holiness among those like Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa who help us understand better that we are all equal.

Before inviting His Holiness to speak, organizer Michael Trainer asked musician Tim Fain to pay a tribute to him on his violin.

“Brothers and sisters,” His Holiness began, “I am indeed very happy to be here. The last few days I’ve been in big cities, whereas here it is quite remote among trees and greenery that make us feel closer to nature. In our large urban buildings we have artificial flowers and trees to make us feel comfortable, here they are real. I thank you for your good wishes for my birthday, but I like to think of every new day as like a birthday. It’s a day we celebrate with joy which is an indication the purpose of our lives is to be happy. When we combine our intelligence with warm-heartedness it can be useful and constructive.

“Usually we seek pleasure through sensory experience, but whereas sensory experience of pleasing sights and sounds is fleeting, lasting only as long as the stimulus is present, our mental experience remains with us 24 hours a day. When the music we enjoy stops, our pleasure is only a memory. Since we have this marvellous brain, we need to pay more attention to our mental experience.”

He explained that to train and calm the mind we can choose an object to focus on. It may be something like a flower, an attractive idea or even the mind itself. Although it is more difficult, he said, it is more useful and more effective to meditate on the mind itself. If we learn to disengage from sensory activity, we sometimes catch a glimpse of an absence. It may be brief, but it gives us an idea of the clarity of the mind. It’s not easy to develop an appreciation of what the mind is, but it is possible. Yet it takes time, something modern people who want to have everything immediately can find difficult.

His Holiness also mentioned analytical meditation, thinking over ideas like impermanence.

“The trees here change in the course of the seasons, and similar momentary change affects everything else. This we can examine and analyze. We gain understanding by hearing about something, thinking about it until we gain conviction and experience of it. I find analytical meditation can be useful in almost any situation. Most of the problems we face derive from our failure to understand reality. Analysis allows us to correct this.

“Then there’s the matter of developing concern for others. We all have a natural seed of affection within us planted by the affection we receive from our parents. We can cultivate it so it extends not only to our close relatives and friends, but to all 7 billion human beings. Problems arise when we dwell on the secondary differences between us. We need to remember instead that basically as human beings we are all the same. If we do that we can strengthen our concern for others and the environment of this planet that is our only home.”

He suggested meditating together for five minutes on concern for others, eyes cast down, but not necessarily closed. He recommended too that to calm the agitated mind to begin with, it can be useful to focus on the breath, observing it rise and fall.

When the five minutes were up, His Holiness remarked that ‘shamatha’ or calming, tranquil mediation and ‘vipassana’ or insight meditation are commonly found in many Indian traditions. He said he’s also heard that such practices may be found amongst monks in remote parts of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Among questions from the audience he was asked what he means when he speaks of love and he mentioned the closeness we feel for each other. He drew an analogy with the way children warmly and openly play with other children with no concern for what religion, race or other background they come from. He remarked that modern education seems to change this.