Dec. 12, 2017 Group Meditation Part 2 of 2
This talk happened December 12, 2017 at the Boundless Love Project’s Group Meditation. Before listening to the talk, we suggest you listen to this guided loving-kindness meditation, which preceded the talk.
*** NOTE: This article includes bonus sections in italics that were not included in the talk. ***
*** NOTE: Please use our glossary to look up any terms you find in this article that are not familiar to you. ***
An Intro to True Love: Kindness, Peace, Compassion, and Joy
Field guides are helpful to identifying wildflowers. This series of talks is a field guide to your inner wellspring of love. Just as flowers in the same plant families often share similar characteristics, all of the various aspects of love share similar characteristics too.
In this talk, we will introduce you to the “plant family” of love. In it, we will define love, briefly introduce the four ways that love manifests, describe some of their shared qualities, and explain some pointers on how to best work with love for your own awakening. Future talks will go more in depth about the four “flowers,” or species, within the “plant family” of love.
What is Love?
To start, what is love? In the same way that truth is more about what it is not, love is also more about what it is not. Love is best defined as the mind free from active delusion.
If this definition sounds familiar, it is. It is the same definition we use for truth. To be free from delusion is to live in truth. In addition, to be free from delusion is to live in love. The paths of both love and truth will take us to the same destination.
Certainly, our mind has been conditioned with a horde of delusions. Thankfully, our good friend mindfulness, which clearly sees delusion as delusion, can deactivate any delusion in the mind, freeing us from it. Moreover, the mindfulness needed to free our mind from active delusion is available to all of us now, regardless of how little, or how much, conditioned delusion resides in us.
Strong mindfulness has the amazing ability of allowing us to start our journey towards enlightenment at the destination! In those moments when our mindfulness is complete and penetrating, we are peaceful, calm, joyful, loving, and skillful, just like an awakened being. Through mindfulness we see and eradicate the delusion inside of us.
Because mindfulness deactivates delusion, we may also define love as “what arises when there is complete and penetrating mindfulness.” Regular meditation will help you to deepen and strengthen your mindfulness, and thus, help you live a life of love.
Still, you may wonder, how does a mind free from delusion equate to love? Let’s look at that now.
Love Connects and Unifies
Egoic delusion sows division, discord, and disharmony. Delusion cuts things up into “this and that,” “us and them.” Delusion causes us to run away from, or attack, the present moment.
On the other hand, every moment we are free from delusion inspires us to turn towards the present moment, connect with the present moment, and have intimacy with the present moment. This open and receptive attention values, appreciates, and feels connected to the web of life. This intimacy with life is love. Love inspires us to care about, help, and assist others in a way that serves the highest good of all beings and all life.
Such intimacy, connection, and appreciation is not possible when active delusions are in the mind. A mind free of delusion is what allows these beautiful qualities of love to flourish.
Let’s briefly introduce you to the four ways that love shows up in our lives.
The Four Kinds of Love
Depending on the circumstances, water can be a flowing liquid, a floating vapor, or a firm ice. Whether in a state of liquid, gas, or solid, it is all still water. In the same way, depending on the circumstances, love appears as one of four different states, yet they are all still love.
Because love is intrinsic to our very nature, these qualities are as old as time and found in all secular and religious wisdom traditions in one way or another. The earliest know writings about them appeared in the Hindu tradition and were then adopted by the Buddhist and other Sramanic traditions as well.
The Hindus and Buddhists call these states the “divine abodes” or “home of the gods” because gods and enlightened beings dwell or live in these mental states perpetually. The good news is that we too, through meditation and mindful investigation, can train our mind to dwell perpetually in these pleasant states as well.
These four aspects of love will be discussed in-depth in the coming talks. For now, here is a brief introduction to them, along with a helpful example that Buddha used to explain each one.
Kindness: The Love That Adores
Kindness is love that is intimate with the good. Kindness values and cherishes. Kindness recognizes our shared desire to be safe, peaceful, and happy. Kindness sees the goodness and worth in everyone and everything, and responds by wishing them well.
For Kindness, the Buddha’s example is of a mother with her newborn baby. She adores her baby. She showers her attention, affection, and care on her baby. She would even give her life to protect the baby. This is the power, strength, courage, and whole-hearted love of kindness.
Compassion: The Love That Embraces Suffering
Compassion is love that is intimate with suffering and pain, without being devastated by it. Compassion recognizes our shared ability to suffer, and it responds by seeking to alleviate that suffering.
The Buddha’s illustration of compassion is of a mother with a sick child. She willingly sacrifices her sleep and energy to care for her child. She brings her child healing meals and liquids to drink. She tends any of his sores, cleans up any vomit, and takes him to the doctor’s office. She does what is best for the child, such as giving him medicine or administering shots, even if this goes against his wishes. This is the power, strength, courage, and whole-hearted love of compassion.
Joy: The Love That Celebrates
Joy is the love that can be intimate with the skillful successes and happiness of others, as well as our own. Joy appreciates and celebrates these things and feels uplifting, motivating, and spacious.
The Buddha’s example for Joy is a mother rejoicing at her child’s accomplishments and successes. The thrill in her heart over his first steps, his first words, and any other successes he has that show his continued growth and development. This is the power, strength, courage, and whole-hearted love of joy.
Peace: The Love That Allows
Peace is the love that intimately allows things to be as they are. Peace is committed to being skillful. To this end, peace brings a very open, spacious, and wise perspective to situations. This big-picture perspective of Peace allows us to be calm and balanced in all situations, even difficult ones where there is nothing we can do to improve the situation.
The Buddha’s illustration of peace is a mother with a teenager. The mother cares for and loves him deeply, yet she also knows that she can no longer control him. He is going to do what he does. She knows she could make more skillful choices than him, but by imposing her will upon him, she would diminish his ability to make choices and learn from them. During his childhood, she loved and cared for him by teaching and modeling her values to him. Now she loves him enough to let go of control and allow him to make his own mistakes. This is the power, strength, courage, and whole-hearted love of peace.
Shared Aspects of the Four States of Being
Because kindness, peace, compassion, and joy arise out of a loving mind, free from delusion, all four of these kinds of love share a deep intimacy with the present moment. They all connect us to individuals and situations.
In addition to this intimacy, these divine abodes have several other shared qualities: They are our fundamental nature. They are best understood to be states of being, or attitudes of mind, rather than emotions. They are unconditional and limitless in their ability to include every being, every live form, and every situation within their reach. They have infinite depth and complexity. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these shared aspects now.
Love is Fundamental to Your Essential Nature
Since love arises when our mind is free of delusion, the upshot is that love is a part of our deeper, truer, genuine essence. In the same way that you cannot separate sound from music, wetness from water, or heat from fire, you cannot separate love from who we are. Love is our mind and body at rest. Love is always with us. We cannot lose our love, and that love has not given up on us. In it’s own way, it is encouraging us from within to keep walking the spiritual path.
Where is the Love?
If love is always with us, and fundamental to our nature, then why don’t we always feel or experience it? It turns out that love can be buried, obscured, and hidden deep inside of us. Just as relatively tiny clouds can cover up and cut us off from the heat and light of the radiant and powerful sun, passing delusions can obscure, hide, and cut us off from experiencing our radiant and powerful love.
In nearly all cultures, delusional ways of thinking are consistently conditioned into us from birth. As a result, we may rarely, if ever, experience the various aspects of true love until we start walking the path of mindfulness. Then, we start to see that a lack of sunlight or love is not the problem, it is merely that our sun is obscured by these passing clouds of delusions. By seeing these clouds as clouds, the heat of our mindful awareness evaporates them, allowing the light, warmth, and love of the sunshine of love to radiate through.
We can be cut off from our love, but that love is still there. Our love desires to move through us into the wider world. Love is a prime motivator that inspires us to meditate, be mindful, and continue our spiritual growth. Look inside, be mindful, and see if this is true for you?
Love is a Fundamental State of Being
Love is talked about in our society as an emotion or a feeling, but this is not a helpful way to think about love. The Latin root word for emotion is emovere, which means “to agitate” or “to disturb.” True emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry, anger, hatred, lust, envy, jealousy, depression, apathy, and so on are disturbing, when not seen as the delusions they are. When experienced unmindfully, emotions upset us and cause us to behave in unskillful ways that harm ourselves and others. Therefore, see emotions as our body’s reflection to the delusional thoughts in our mind.
Rather than seeing love as a disturbing emotion, it is helpful and more accurate to see love as our natural state of being. Love is your natural essence. Love may arise with very specific bodily sensations, but this is not always the case. Most importantly, when sensations of love are present, they do not disturb you. In fact, the sensations of love aid and support you in behaving skillfully. For these reasons, think of love as a state of being, as our fundamental nature, as the mind and body at rest.
At times, love allows us to experience a deep and profound connection or sense of oneness with life. These blissful experiences can feel otherworldly, miraculous, or supernatural. Yet these peak experiences or sensations are not the defining characteristic of love. What defines love is its absence of delusion. This means that, at other times, love can feel basic, normal, simple, and common. Remembering that love is not an emotion will help you to see and appreciate love in all of its various manifestations.
Love is a state of being and is fundamental to our deepest essence. Besides seeing love as part of your intrinsic nature, there is another helpful way of understanding love and that is as an attitude or an intention.
Love is an Attitude of Mind
Love can also be seen as an attitude of mind. Having a sincere intention to live your life as an instrument of love, is love. Hold this attitude and intention of love towards others. You can do so even when you don’t “feel” love. You can even hold this loving attitude when you feel fear, anger, and hatred.
As an analogy, think of your heart and mind as the magnetic needle on a compass that points to the true north of total and permanent love known as enlightenment. At times, you have a clear path that makes it easy to hike towards your destination. This represents times when love arises easily in the mind.
At other times, obstacles such as rivers, cliffs, lakes, and dense forests block your progress, and you will have to find another route around them. Your progress will be slower, less direct, and more challenging at these times, but this does not dampen your commitment to reaching the destination. This represents how you respond when delusion arises in the mind.
Because of your loving intention, you respond to these delusions by turning your loving attention towards these delusions. Without judgment or fear, you calmly get to know them, befriend them, see how they work, and see how they encourage you to harm yourself and others. As you investigate and befriend these delusions, you see them clearly as harmful, and the wisdom in you naturally and effortlessly releases its habitual compulsion to believe these delusions and act them out unskillfully. Your alternative route around the obstacle has succeeded! Now you continue making good progress towards the destination of living in love.
Therefore, see love as a strong intention of the mind, as the truth north, and guiding star which your whole life is directed towards.
Love is Unconditional and Boundless
Another direct consequence of our love being free from delusion is that this deep love that resides in us is both unconditional and boundless. In the same way that a gentle rain waters all plants, skipping none, love is boundless and all encompassing in its reach. When our love is unleashed, there is no stopping it. We have love for all people, all beings, all life, and all situations.
Our love does not care if the life is friend or foe, microscopic or gigantic, helpful or harmful, animate or so-called “inanimate,” visible or invisible, from this planet or from another, in this dimension of reality, or in any other dimensions that exist. Our love embraces anything and everything.
Love allows us to care for and connect with others unconditionally, regardless of their particulars. At the same time, love increases our ability to appreciate, adore, and celebrate the particulars, differences, and diversity of others, and all life.
Love allows us to see the value, worth, and importance of everyone and everything, at every scale. We can turn our love inward and love our body, our organs, our cells, our molecules, and our atoms. We can even love our mental and emotional delusions, and other things that are difficult or challenging. We love them in that we turn towards them, give them our attention, befriend them, look for the good in them, wish them well, and offer them no ill will or hostility. We can appreciate delusions as cherished teachers who are here to help show us how to awaken out of our suffering.
We can turn our love outwards and love our friends, family, strangers, enemies, and all people. We can love all animals whether safe or dangerous, convenient or inconvenient. We can love all life forms from trees to flowers, lakes and rivers, rocks and soil, bacteria and viruses. We start to see how everything exists for our highest good, and is here to serve and support us in our ability to live from truth and love.
How does love create this limitless connection, and intimacy with all life? When you are free of the delusions of aversion and greed, you no longer need anything to be a certain way to feel happy and content. When you are free of the delusions of self-view, you have the ability to connect, appreciate, and be intimate with everything and everyone. This connecting aspect of love allows us to be one with life.
When you are one with all life, the happiness of others becomes your happiness as well. The love and service you offer others brings them joy, which brings you great joy as well. Love and service becomes how your happily move through the world.
Given the joy that your love brings others and yourself, why limit this wholesome joy? Why deprive anyone of your healing love? You love your friends. You love strangers. You even love those who hate, despite, and harm you and your loved ones.
Jesus emphasized this boundless quality of love when he encouraged us to, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 King James)
Loving your enemies does not mean you give them what they want, or enable their unskillful ways. Loving your enemies means that you harbor no ill will or hatred towards them, you will wish them well, and should the situation arise, you would gladly serve them in ways that benefits them and all life at the same time.
If unconditional love sounds way out of your league, or maybe even horrific to you, don’t worry. First, it is your birthright and is intrinsic to who you are. Secondly, no one is going to force it on you. As you start to experience more and more moments of love through meditation and mindfulness, unconditional love will make more sense, and you will gladly embrace boundless love on your own. I’ll talk more about this process when we talk about how to implement this information in your daily life. Before that, let’s talk about other qualities that the four divine abodes share.
Love Has Infinite Depth
Finally, it is helpful to know that love has infinite depth. As a result, anything that can be said about love is too limiting to fully encapsulate what love is. Love is also a topic rife with paradox. Here are various aspects of love to help you expand your understanding of it.
Love can be a mental attitude of intention to be loving in all situations. This is the love that gives us a strong resolve to walk the spiritual path, but this understanding does not fully encapsulate love in all of its manifestations.
Love is both our essential nature, and, at the same time, it is much greater than us. The infinite wellspring of love found within us is a gift from life, and it flows through us freely that we may do life’s work of overcoming delusion, and reestablishing harmony and peace. Saint Paul and Saint Timothy put it another way: “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13, NLT)
Love has many utilitarian uses. Love increases our ability to be easefully and joyfully skillful. Love allows us to reach deeper meditative states. Love allows us to experience blissfully pleasant states of deep peace, calmness, and healing. Despite loves many helpful uses, love is the end of the spiritual path, not merely a means to it. Of course, if you were to reach this destination of living in love at all times, that would not be the end either, but merely the beginning of a new, more glorious adventure.
Love teaches us to honor, cherish, and value everyone who is a part of our experience, while they are present. Love also teaches us to let go of all whom we cherish with ease and peace, when, for whatever reason, they are no longer with us.
Love works with wisdom to allow us to respond skillfully and appropriately to any and all situations. Love is both a partner of wisdom, but also the source of wisdom.
The four aspects of love: kindness, peace, compassion, and joy work together to support and balance each other so that we may be skillfully rooted in love regardless of circumstances. In the coming talks, we will give examples of how this works.
Just know that love is multi-dimensional, paradoxical, and wondrous far beyond what the language of words can capture.
Next, let’s talk about how to work with love to benefit our practice and aid us in awakening. We start with the inspiring truth that love’s presence in our life can be nurtured, cultivated, and profoundly expanded.
Love Can Be Grown
Love is like a tomato seed. Given the right conditions, the seed will grow, flower, and produce much fruit. If, however, you don’t give the seed the right conditions, it may never grow. Then it is merely a seed, an untapped potential. In the same way, for love to flourish in your life, it needs the right conditions.
When you grow a vegetable garden from seed, and seedlings start to break out of the soil, it can be hard to tell which seedlings are weeds, and which are your cherished vegetables. But if you can’t tell one from the other, how do you weed your garden? If you don’t weed your garden, the more hardy weeds will take the sunlight, rainwater, and soil nutrients for themselves leaving your vegetable plants stunted, withering, or dead.
In order to grow your vegetable seedlings, you need to be able to identify them. Then you can confidently remove those weeds that will prevent them from thriving, while fully nurturing, caring for, and protecting your cherished seedlings.
In the same way, when you know the various ways that love expresses itself, then you are better able to develop, nurture, protect, and grow these aspects of love in your own life. That is why we will help you identify the four kinds of love in the coming talks.
A quick note on terms: When we talk about “growing,” “cultivating,” or “nurturing” our love, we use these terms to describe metaphorically how the process of “growing our love” feels from our own perspective. It is more accurate to say we are tuning into, resonating with, freeing, digging up, or unleashing the innate inner love that is always and already inside of us.
In truth, we don’t “make” or “generate” love. The love is already within us in limitless quantities. It’s just that the ego disconnects us to it. Thus, when we talk about “growing,” and “cultivating” love, please know that we are really talking about tapping into, resonating with, and freeing our inborn love.
Let’s turn now to talk about how this process of unleashing your innate, unconditional love works.
Start with the Low-Hanging Fruit
If the thought of unconditionally loving those who have harmed you or your loved ones angers you, and makes you want to quit reading this in disgust, be patient. Don’t feel forced to do anything you don’t want to do, or are not ready to do. Don’t try to start cultivating your love by loving your worst enemy.
It is easiest to pick apples from the lower branches of an apple tree. In the same way, as we tune into our inner love, we do so by cultivating our love for those who are easiest to love. These easy-to-love beings represent the low-hanging fruit. Our “archenemies” represent apples growing on the top of the tree, who currently are out of reach.
Therefore, when doing a love-based meditation we start by generating love for our loved ones, ourselves, then friends, then beings we don’t know, and then a being with whom we have mild difficulties. They are the low-hanging fruit: easier to reach, easier to love. This allows us to tune into our love and feel its warm, healing energy.
As we get comfortable giving our love to these easier-to-love people, our capacity and desire to love increases. In our apple picking analogy, its as if by picking all of the apples we could reach, we were able to trade some of them for a ladder which allows us to now reach fruits we could not have previously touched. Each layer of apples picked corresponds with further growth and ability to love, or obtaining a taller ladder, until one day we have picked the entire apple tree clean, enemies and all.
When you are ready and willing to embrace your worst enemy in love, you will do so joyfully and wholeheartedly. Until then, don’t force it. Start with the low-hanging fruit.
Love is the Path
Love is the path out of our egoic misery. But in order to walk the path of love, we need to be confident in our ability to identify it. If we don’t know what the trail looks like, how can we stay on it?
When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, it had white blazes painted on trees, rocks, and posts to let me know I was still on the path. When I saw these white blazes I could rest at ease that I was still on the path, headed in the right direction towards my destination.
In the same way, when we know what love is, it gives us a trail of white blazes that shows us the way forward on our spiritual journey. Every time we see a white blaze and follow it, we know we are making progress. The more white blazes we see, the more progress we are making.
When the white blazes disappear, we know we are off course. When we are off course, we become mindful, figure out what derailed us, and search for the way back. When the white blazes are found, we rejoice and return to the trail more wise and resilient than we were when we left it.
We can use how frequently we follow the “white blazes” of love to chart our growth, progress, and maturity on the path.
Love is the Destination
In addition to being the path, love is also the destination.
You will know you are fully enlightened when during every moment of your life you respond from love, dwell in love, and radiate love. When your inner love perpetually emanates out from your heart in all directions, blessing all life that you encounter, you have arrived.
Love in its various forms is strong enough and powerful enough to be the most skillful response to any situation that might arise. You will be an unstoppable force of joy, peace, healing, and comfort in the universe. Your full potential will become realized.
Yet, even though you have arrived at your destination, your journey will continue…. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Typically we start from a place where anger, hatred, and fear block our love. Given this, how do we start where we are and still work with love? Let’s address that next.
Be Mindful of Your Intentions
When working with love, work on the level of intentions. Intentions are the motivation behind every thought, word, and deed we do.
Focusing our mindfulness on the skillfulness of our intentions, rather than on our actions, or the results of our actions, helps us get to the root of our issues. The path of awakening calls us to use skillful intentions to do skillful actions.
Intentions are the strongest and most powerful level to focus our mindfulness practice on. Why? Because if our intentions are loving and skillful, our actions will be too. If however, we simply work on the level of our actions, we can do skillful things from unskillful intentions.
For example, we might volunteer to feed and care for the homeless from an egoic and greedy intention to tell others that “we volunteer to help the homeless,” in the hopes of getting their approval and praise. To circumvent contaminating skillful actions with unskillful intentions, be mindful of the intentions behind the actions.
Be continuously mindful of your intentions. To do this, notice when your intentions are from love. Ask of every thought, word, and deed, “how is this an act of love?” or “who or what am I serving (through this act)?”
As you do this, keep in mind three points. First, you are a worthy recipient of your love. This is not about neglecting yourself for the benefit of others. This is about serving all life, of which you are a vital and important part.
Second, look at how your act serves all life and all beings. For example, when I mindfully bike somewhere, I do so out of love for all of life. I bike out of love for myself as it serves me with healthy exercise, fresh air, and a pleasant experience outside. I bike safely and patiently out of love for all other people around me, be they in a car, on a bike, or a pedestrian. I also bike out of love for all humans, all animals, and all life due to a desire to shrink my ecological footprint and ameliorate climate change, so we can all live on a healthy, vibrant planet. Get creative. See how everything you do is connected with all other life and work to make your actions serve all life at the same time.
If what you are doing serves no one, or harms someone, then see it as unskillful, abandon it, and investigate your intentions behind it.
Thirdly, while being mindful of intentions, notice what gets in the way of having loving intentions. See what delusions are getting in the way. The more you see delusions as delusions, the less they will confuse you and cause you to spin off with unskillful, delusional actions.
Finally, don’t just do this internally on yourself. Be mindful of all acts of love, and acts of ego, in self and others. This helps you develop confidence that love is the safe ground upon which you can stand on, depend on, and orient your life around.
Live with Love
I know I covered a lot, so let me summarize it once more. Love is what is left when we free of delusion. Mindfulness is the mental factor that allows us to be free of our delusions right now.
A cut diamond has many facets, but all of those facets are part of the same diamond. In the same way, love has four facets, and all of those facets are part of the same love. The four facets of love include:
- Kindness: our ability to be intimate with the good.
- Compassion: our ability to be intimate with the unpleasant.
- Joy: our ability to be intimate with the skillfully pleasant.
- Peace: our ability to intimately allow things to be as they are.
Just as wetness cannot be removed from water, these facets of love are our deepest, natural essence. Love allows us to be intimate and connected with the present moment and all life unfolding around us. In the same way a gentle rain covers the land watering all of the thirsty plants, love is unconditional and boundless in its ability to appreciate, care about, and serve all life. Finally, these qualities of love have infinite depth and complexity to them that goes beyond words and often involves paradox.
Love is the spiritual path as well as the destination. The most powerful way to work with love, is to be mindful of our intentions. If our intentions come from love, our actions will be skillful, and our lives and the lives of those around us will benefit.
I leave you with these words from Mother Theresa: “A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.”