Press Coverage

4/11/17 UCSF PULSE News

Inspired by Work with Dalai Lama, Eve Ekman Creates App to Map Emotions

Eve Ekman, now a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, had no interest in riding on the coattails of her father, but an entire childhood steeped in exposure to his work on the importance of emotions and his interest in antiwar efforts left its mark on her.

Ekman has always known that she wanted to make the world a better place, and her commitment to social justice began as a teenager. She participated in protests, volunteered in soup kitchens and even founded a Free Tibet student group in the 1990s.

It was her spiritual interests that spawned possibly the greatest collaboration of her father’s career: with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.

“My dad was definitely not interested in meeting a spiritual leader, but he knew that I had been a longtime fan of the Dalai Lama for his nonviolence and peaceful protests,” says Eve Ekman. Her father was invited to participate in the Mind and Life Institute’s Dialogues with the Dalai Lama, and accepted the meeting in 2000 because he could bring his daughter with him.

A Change in Course

Meeting with the Dalai Lama was an experience that altered the course of Paul Ekman’s career, as he realized that contemplative practices, such as mindfulness meditation, would allow him to help people in a way that he wasn’t able to through academic medicine or research.

After the meeting, Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama began an ongoing collaboration that came to include Eve.

Paul Ekman helped to develop the curriculum for an east/west emotion skills training course, “Cultivating Emotional Balance,” CEB, for the Dalai Lama alongside Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace.

Just before the first CEB teacher training of how to use and teach emotional skills launched in Asia for 50 students from 20 countries, Eve Ekman stepped in at the last minute to teach.

“I was taken aback by how simple and how awesome it was to use this kind of work to help people,” she says.

She later decided to rework that training for her PhD dissertation in social welfare at UC Berkeley, and uses it in her current studies. “I continue to adapt this frame of looking at the world through the lens of emotion,” she says, specifically how aspects of psychology and Buddhist practices can help understand and manage emotions.

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3/28/17 SF Chronicle: San Franciscans’ emotions these days are roiling — over the new occupant of the White House, stratospheric housing prices, unending homeless tent encampments and constant BART meltdowns. But, hey, in the joyful column: Opening Day at AT&T Park is just two weeks away.

Fortunately for this emotional city, two of its residents are among the world’s foremost experts on emotions. At the behest of their good friend the Dalai Lama (seriously), Paul Ekman and his daughter, Eve Ekman, have created an “Atlas of Emotions” to help people figure out just what emotion they’re feeling in an attempt to determine what triggered it and what they can do about it. They’ll discuss their new atlas at the Exploratorium on Thursday.

One of my favorite aspects of San Francisco is just how many innovative, whip-smart experts live dotted all over the city — so many we haven’t even heard of some of them and come to take the city’s collective genius for granted. Any one of them would be a superstar in Peoria, but here, they’re just part of the crowd.

Somehow, I’d never come across Paul Ekman, a professor emeritus in psychology at UCSF who’s best known for his research on decoding the emotions behind the tiniest facial expressions and gestures. In 2009, Time magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people, and in 2014, the Archives of Scientific Psychology ranked him the 15th-most-influential psychologist of the 21st century.

Ekman was the inspiration behind the main character in the now-defunct Fox television show “Lie to Me” and advised Pixar on creating the five emotions — joy, fear, disgust, anger and sadness — that live inside a girl’s head in the movie “Inside Out.”

The 83-year-old lives on the 25th floor of a Financial District apartment building with sweeping views of Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge. He and his wife, Mary Ann Mason, a UC Berkeley professor specializing in family law, have two children: Tom, 44, a teacher in Mexico, and Eve, 37, a post-doctoral fellow at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine who specializes in reducing stress and burnout.

Eve Ekman is a rising star in the study of emotions herself, having seen all of them in her previous work as a social worker in San Francisco General Hospital’s emergency room.

On a recent morning, the two sat in Paul Ekman’s living room to discuss the “Atlas of Emotions.” The senior Ekman wore bright red Nike sneakers and a black sport coat with gold buttons, his cane perched across his lap. His daughter sported big earrings and a tattoo reading “Frisco” on her inner ankle…..

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The Emotion Atlas Launches in the New York Times

ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Dalai Lama, who tirelessly preaches inner peace while chiding people for their selfish, materialistic ways, has commissioned scientists for a lofty mission: to help turn secular audiences into more self-aware, compassionate humans.

30186825A (02/22/16) - NAT - His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks with Eve Ekman about the Atlas of Emotions study at the Wilson House on the Sisters of St. Francis, Asissi Heights campus in Rochester, Minnesota, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (Photo by Tim Gruber for The New York Times)
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks with Eve Ekman about the Atlas of Emotions study at the Wilson House on the Sisters of St. Francis, Asissi Heights campus in Rochester, Minnesota, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016.
(Photo by Tim Gruber for The New York Times)

That is, of course, no easy task. So the Dalai Lama ordered up something with a grand name to go with his grand ambitions: a comprehensive Atlas of Emotions to help the more than seven billion people on the planet navigate the morass of their feelings to attain peace and happiness.

“It is my duty to publish such work,” the Dalai Lama said.

To create this “map of the mind,” as he called it, the Dalai Lama reached out to a source Hollywood had used to plumb the workings of the human psyche.

Specifically, he commissioned his good friend Paul Ekman — a psychologist who helped advise the creators of Pixar’s “Inside Out,” an animated film set inside a girl’s head — to map out the range of human sentiments. Dr. Ekman later distilled them into the five basic emotions depicted in the movie, from anger to enjoyment.

Dr. Ekman’s daughter, Eve, a post-doctoral fellow in integrative medicine research, worked on the project as well, with the goal of producing a guide to human emotions that anyone with an Internet connection could study in a quest for self-understanding, calm and constructive action.

“We have, by nature or biologically, this destructive emotion, also constructive emotion,” the Dalai Lama said. “This innerness, people should pay more attention to, from kindergarten level up to university level. This is not just for knowledge, but in order to create a happy human being. Happy family, happy community and, finally, happy humanity.”

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