How the Will to Know
Leads the Way to Love
Life is problem solving. You’re different from a rock ‘cuz you do shit — wake to sleep, this-that-and-the-other-thing. How often, though, do you stop to consider why in fact you do all this shit? In other words, how much awareness is spent around your intentions?
Dogmas & Habits
If you’re like me and know the feeling of autopilot, then this might be an opportunity to sink into some serious gratitude — gratitude for all the dogmas that keep you doin’ shit; that cause you to move here and there; that get you from one task to the next; that keep you solving problems and pursuing aims; that give you the signature of life.
Your respiratory system’s keepin’ you breathin’. Your circulatory system’s keepin’ you beatin’. And your nervous system’s keepin’ you movin’.
Now, of course, there’s plenty to be grateful for here — that is, on the genetic side of things.
But as you know, genes aren’t the only dogmas worthy of our gratitude. There’s also the current of cultural dogma to consider — our words, ideas, and beliefs; those things that give us the signature of humanity.
After all, our convictions have been slowly taking over the driver seat since we spit out our first stories. They are what give us our individuality — our identities, goals, and aspirations. They are the glue that holds our societies, laws, and institutions together. They lend understanding about ourselves and our place in the world.
There’s plenty, then, to be grateful for our dogmas. But what do you think would happen if you increasingly shined the light of awareness around your actions? Around your intentions? Around your will?
What you frequently think and ponder becomes the inclination of your mind.
The problem, though, if you’re like me, is that so many thoughts slip through awareness unnoticed. It’s like my awareness loves to hide itself, to get lost in its contents, so I don’t even realize what’s being cultivated. My actions and intentions, then, when I’m not mindful, just continue to be strengthened and propelled by the habit patterns of my conditioning, by dogma.
The good news is I’ve found something that really seems to help: I try to make mindfulness the habit of mind by committing myself to a formal vipassana practice.
See for yourself, of course, but I think you’ll find that, as you cultivate more mindfulness through practice, you’ll increasingly become aware of the ever-changing contents of awareness – your perceptions, thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions – as you go about your day.
And, with this increased awareness, you can then cultivate more wisdom – you can live a more intentional life; you can be less reactive to what’s arising and, instead, discern more carefully what thoughts lend support to your heart – values and aims.
“Learn something by being nothing for a while but the rich lens of attention.”
Mindful Love & Compassion
Through my own practice of mindfulness, one thing continues to grow very clear: that there is no one at the center of my experience, no self directing attention, no thinker of thoughts; that there’s no space between me and what is being known. There’s just this open space of awareness and its ever-changing contents. Everything, then, just inter-is.
And as this insight strengthens, as the barriers between me and the objects of awareness dissolve, as I continually fall back into the single realm of knowing, into the glue and container of all things, a quite miraculous feeling of unconditional love continues to expand in my heart and mind, which then leads my intentions more and more into the direction of compassion – compassion for my self, for others, and for the world.
“When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. And between these two, my life turns.”
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
“When you recognize the empty selfless nature of phenomena, the energy to bring about the good of others dawns uncontrived and effortless.”
When the famously loving Buddhist practitioner and teacher Dipa Ma was asked whether to practice metta (loving-kindness) or mindfulness, she replied, “From my experience, there’s no difference. Love and awareness are one. When you are fully loving, aren’t you also mindful? And, when you are fully mindful, is this also not the essence of love?”
Because all that you know and all that you can lend others is your mind, if you cultivate mindfulness through formal practice, I have little doubt you’ll find the practice of mindfulness itself to be an act of love and compassion, not only to yourself but to everyone around you. And so your motivation for practicing, then, will be undertaken more and more out of the benefit for the world, for Experience.
Know the Feeling
This feeling of loving-kindness that I’m pointing at is quite different from Hollywood’s version of love – that is, love with attachment. Loving-kindness is not extended to us because of who we are or what we’ve done or how we look. It’s extended to us because we’re conscious beings, because we have the capacity to feel joy and sorrow, it’s extended to us because we do not exist separate from the whole. Loving-kindness, then, is simply the generosity and openness of heart that wishes well to beings.
And it’s exactly this – the selfless, expectation-less, and condition-less nature – that, I think you’ll discover, makes the quality or feeling of loving-kindness so remarkable.
One of the first things I think you’ll find is that, because it doesn’t rely on things being a certain way, it’s always available. You can tune into love, into well-wishing, whenever you want. No subscription necessary. It’s free to access and free to give.
Another thing I think you’ll find is that the feeling of loving-kindness has a tremendous purity and fullness to it. Whether it’s directed to another person or to one’s own experience, when the feeling of loving-kindness is present, there’s no room for bad thoughts – for doubt or insecurity or hate or fear. The moment is one of true purity.
I think you’ll also find that, unlike conditional love, the feeling of loving-kindness is remarkably stable. In a world that knows only change, conditional love too often turns into disappointment, resentment, and jealousy when things don’t last or go as expected. The feeling of loving-kindness, however, is not easily shaken since it’s simply the wish ‘may you be happy.’
Finally, I think you’ll find loving-kindness to be among the most expansive states of mind. Unlike conditional love, where our capacity to love is limited by our time and attention (we can’t be best friends or lovers with everyone), the feeling of loving kindness knows no boundaries.
The feeling of loving-kindness, of goodwill, is wide open. It can blanket the world. It can encompass and embrace all beings, in all space and at all times. It’s entirely without boundaries or limits.
Incredible, no? When you really take the time to explore the space of possible mind-states, to connect with one that is so free, so stable, and without limit shows, I think, just how special and inspiring loving-kindness is.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth ‘you owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that – it lights the whole sky.”
“In a truly loving relationship, which I have experienced, rather than drawing the one I love to me, I give myself to him. Not merely do I prefer to do him good than to have him do good to me. I would even prefer that he do good to himself than he do good to me. It’s when he does good to himself that he does most good to me. If his absence is either pleasant or useful to him, then it delights me far more than his presence.”
How to Cultivate Love
How can you cultivate loving-kindness? Well, be as creative as you want. Once you know and familiarize yourself with the feeling, there’s plenty of ways to cultivate it. You can write letters to friends, family, and strangers to wish them well, to remind them of all the love they carry. You can go serve at a local shelter or school. When you speak with people, you can look them in the eyes, wrap them in care and attention, really connect with them, really try to understand them. You can hold a door for someone, pick up some trash on the street, smile at the clerk in the checkout line, count your blessings before you fall to sleep, acknowledge a good deed, etc.
Because, however, our states of mind have been deeply conditioned by so many outside influences, because so many of us have been conditioned to carry feelings of ill-will or insecurity towards ourselves, because so many of us have been taught to fear and hate others, because so many of us have learned to close our hearts and minds, it’s extremely important, if you wanna expand and enrich experience, that you actively build a formal practice of loving-kindness; that you work hard to unwind all the bad habits you’ve developed over the years; that you commit yourself to rewiring all those neural pathways with some love fiber. As the Buddha said, “with dripping drops of water, the jug is filled.”
“If we were aware that we all contain love within us and that we can foster it and develop it, we would certainly give it far more attention than we do.”
“Wisdom is knowing we are all One. Love is what it feels like, and compassion is what it acts like.”
“One love, one heart.”
Again, build a practice that works best for you. But here are a couple ways that’ve helped me to grow this feeling of loving-kindness into something quite extraordinary – into something I didn’t even know was possible, and which continues to surprise me.
Loving-Mindfulness. Every morning, I start my mindfulness meditation by asking myself sincerely and honestly, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I choosing to sit here for the next twenty minutes to an hour in open awareness, looking at the nature of my mind?’
And right then, when I pose this question, I realize that I keep showing up every morning because I’ve seen and felt that this practice actually changes my capacity for experience – it continues to expand, enrich, and enhance it. It makes me better situated in each moment and in each encounter to engage more wisely with whatever thoughts are arising. This is good for me, of course. But it’s also good for everyone around me. It’s good for my relationships. It’s good for my writing. It’s good for my being in the world.
I realize, then, that I’m not practicing merely for myself. I’m practicing for every relationship and encounter I have with others and with the world. I sit here and observe my mind because I genuinely want to be a better friend and family member. I genuinely want to be a better person. I want a better world. And I recognize that my mind is the only vehicle to these ends. So, by practicing mindfulness right now, I am preparing for every moment and interaction to come.
My mindfulness practice, then, is itself an expression of loving-kindness, not only to my self but to the world, to Experience.
Metta Practice. Another way I cultivate loving-kindness is by practicing concentrating on the feeling itself for extended lengths of time. In contrast to mindfulness meditation, then, where I sit in open awareness not concentrated on any particular thing, in a formal metta practice, my goal is very narrow and directed: I try to spark the feeling of loving-kindness and hold onto it for as long as I can.
I think you’ll find this beneficial in a few ways. First, if you make it a habit through practice, you’ll find that loving-kindness will increasingly become your natural state of mind. And, second, I think you’ll find that by practicing in this way, your concentration will increase, which increases your capacity for mindfulness, which increases your capacity for wisdom. And so your life will continue to spiral upward.
“In gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be, whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, the seen and the unseen, those living near and those living far away, those born and to be born, may all beings be at ease. Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings, radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading upwards to the skies and downward to the depths, outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill-will, whether standing or walking, seated or lying down, free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection. This is said to be the sublime abiding.”
You are an infinite expression of love. Can you feel that? If not, try to clean out your awareness of all those stories, of all those empty concepts, of all those illusions, until you connect directly to Experience, until you are no longer separate from the space in which everyone and everything arises. This is love. Not yours or anyone else’s. It’s just love.