Stepping Into Wholeness

– Noble Eightfold Path | Thoughts of Kindness –

The Four Noble Truths

OVER THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS, we’ve been exploring the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. And in the last episode, we explored more fully one arena of our training along this path, training in thought. More specifically, we explored thoughts of renunciation.

Today, we will continue in this direction but, instead of looking at thoughts of renunciation, we will examine thoughts of kindness and compassion.

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If you recall, I once again emphasized that thoughts shape how we move and navigate through the world, they shape our morality. I also highlighted that our thoughts, in turn, both influence and are influenced by our beliefs, worldview, and understanding. And in particular for those of us seeking freedom, I highlighted the importance of the Four Noble Truths, the causes of well- and ill-being, because understanding this is what can liberate us.

I then suggested that when you apply your own direct understanding of the Four Noble Truths to your self, to your own situation, to your own interior, thoughts of renunciation would begin to unfold in your heart and mind. And when you apply your understanding of the Four Noble Truths to your relationships with the world and others, thoughts of connection, loving-kindness, and compassion would unfold.

This is where we’ll pick up the conversation today — with thoughts of love, kindness, and compassion.

Thoughts of Kindness

See for yourself, of course, but as you become more mindful of suffering, as you cultivate a more caring attention, I think you’ll discover that there is actually no space between ‘you’ and whatever is known—that there is no space between ‘you’ and the person across from you, no space between you and the rest of the world.

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”—Rainer Maria Rilke

‘You’ and everything else arise and are known in the formless, open space of awareness, each object an expression of awareness itself, like a wave in the ocean. And each wave is arising and being known by itself, as itself, and in its own place, not by some ‘self’ in the center of experience. The ‘self’ is just another wave, seamlessly connected to the rest of the boundless ocean.

Practice insight meditation or vipassana and discover this inter-being, this inter-connection for yourself, discover this intimacy, this Love.

Continually fall back into the single realm of knowing, into the glue and container of all things, and see if the barriers between you and the objects of awareness dissolve. See if a feeling of unconditional love continues to expand in your heart and mind. See if your thoughts move toward kindness and compassion—to yourself, others, and to 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.” — Nisargadatta Maharaj

Metta | Loving-Kindness

What would become of the world if we each acted with love and kindness?

Kindness not only leads to more safety, cooperation, and ease in the world. But it also feels good to be kind. It leads to deeper connections and meaning in our lives and in our relationships. It’s a win-win. So, why do so many of us forget to act with kindness?

Again, a conceptual understanding is not enough. Because our minds have been deeply conditioned by so many outside influences, because so many of us 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 that we actively build a formal practice of loving-kindness into our lives.

It’s important we work hard to unwind all the bad habits we’ve developed over the years, that we commit ourselves to rewiring our neural pathways with some love fiber. As the Buddha said, “with dripping drops of water, the jug is filled.”

What, exactly, is Metta or Loving-Kindness?

Before we dive into loving-kindness practices, perhaps it would be best to first explore a bit the actual mind state of metta or loving-kindness. Now, probably the first thing to say is that metta is not Hollywood’s version of love — romantic love, or love with attachment, a grasping and limited love. Loving-kindness is not extended to us because of who we are (a child, friend, or lover) or what we’ve done or how we look.

It’s extended to us without conditions. It’s extended to us merely because we are — we exist, we are bound up with the whole, inextricably linked to the cosmos, to god, to awareness, or whatever else you wanna call that which encompasses all things.

Loving-kindness, then, is simply the generosity and openness of heart that wishes well. And it’s exactly this — the selfless, expectation-less, and condition-less nature — that makes the quality of loving-kindness so remarkable.

One of the first qualities I think you’ll notice about it 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.

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 someone else or to your own experience, when metta is present, there’s no room for harmful thoughts or emotions — there’s no room for doubt or insecurity or hate or fear. The moment is one of true purity.

I think you’ll also find that, unlike conditional or romantic love, the feeling of loving-kindness is remarkably stable. In a world of constant change, romantic love inevitably turns into grief, disappointment, resentment, or jealousy when things don’t last or go as expected. The feeling of loving-kindness, though, can’t be 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 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 boundary. It is wide open. Our good-will can blanket the world. It can encompass and embrace all beings, in all space and at all times. It’s entirely without limit.

Incredible, no? When you really take the time to explore the space of possible mind-states, to connect with one so free, so stable, and so vast, shows you, I think, just how special and awe-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.” — Hafiz

How to Cultivate Metta or Loving-Kindness?

Okay, so 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 your full 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.

Again, build a practice that works best for you. But here are a couple ways that’ve helped me 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.

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(1) Loving-Mindfulness. Every morning, I start my mindfulness meditationby asking myself sincerely and honestly, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I choosing to sit here and observe directly 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 or whoever is in front of me. This is good for me, yes. But it’s also good for everyone around me.

I don’t practice merely for myself, then. I sit and observe my mind because, in my heart of hearts, I want to be a better partner and parent. I want to be a better friend and neighbor. I want to be a better person. I want to live a better life. I want to build a better world.

I realize, then, that my mindfulness practice itself is a practice of loving-kindness! To my Self, to the World, to Experience.

(2) 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 stay open to the ever-changing field of awareness, in a formal metta practice, my goal is very narrow and directed: I try to spark the feeling of loving-kindness and then hold onto it and enhance 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 will increase your capacity for mindfulness, which will increase your capacity for wisdom. And so your life will keep climbing upward.


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 that space in which everyone and everything arises. This is love. Not yours or anyone else’s. It’s just love.

“I would like to pass on one little bit of advice I give to everyone. Relax, just relax. Be nice to each other. As you go through life, simply be kind to people. Try to help them rather than hurt them. Try to get along with them, rather than fall out with them. With that, I will leave you, and with all my very best wishes.” — Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

John Driggs | Meditation Teacher & Founder of The Space of Possibility Podcast, Blog, & Retreat Center | Explore & Expand the Space of Possibility that You are!

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