Why Choose Love?

This is part of my Start Here series of posts aimed at teaching beginners the basics of the human hardware.

Blues wrote:

Rose tinted metta made me feel like a pushover hippy, men found me nice women thought I was creepy.

Tauredon wrote:

Metta to me always felt too abstract.

FirstTimeCommenter wrote:

 I was refering to the intense metta states Illuminatus described in his blog post […] I was wondering if they go along with impaired judgment etc.

This site has never been about morality. When I recommend metta (Buddhist loving-kindness practice) this is not a moral imperative or religious edict. It is simply that, from a purely practical standpoint, metta is the most directly observable transformative process for one’s personal relationships. In other words, it works. It works so well in fact that you would be forgiven for considering it a type of “magic spell” (and personal tracking via daily journal entries is one way to see those results playing out over time, in black and white).

The major monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) each have some variant of “Love thy neighbour”. The problem is that these religions are big on commandments (the “why”), but small on practice (the “how”). Buddhism and Hindu-yogic traditions on the other hand have detailed guides on the cultivation of states of loving-kindness and compassion. It is ironic that Christmas brings my family together each year, yet it is Buddhist metta practice which prevents things turning into a firestorm.

Metta simply means that you approach other people from the right place. Metta practice creates an internal alignment allowing you to perceive others’ needs (which operate below their surface behaviours), and reflect back a fulfilment of those needs. People just want to be acknowledged and feel understood. Love, as an emotion, is both the filter that reveals those needs, and the antidote to them.

Choosing to feel love as an emotion during a meditation session will also chill you the fuck out and stop you taking everything so personally.

Metta will not make you roll over when challenged by someone. It does however mean you will consider solutions which benefit you both, as opposed to appeasing your own ego. A calmness and mutual respect is much more likely to manifest following metta practice. For those of you with shouting, dysfunctional families, do you look on in awe when someone external is able to calmly manage arguments, and wonder, “How do they do it? What do they have that I don’t?” Metta practice can function as the missing piece from your childhood. It can replace the reasoned love and calmness you would have absorbed from your parents, had they had it themselves.

Metta also will not cause you to keep bad company. In fact, there is a natural gravitation towards nicer people (or, at least, the nicer aspects of people) following metta meditation. This should become very clear if you put in the time with the practice. Metta makes it easier to see the good in others.

Metta will not make you into a mindless “giver”. I gave the least number of Christmas presents this year but emotionally had one of the richest. Would you rather people want your money, or want you?

Loving-kindness won’t make you weak. In fact, it requires more emotional strength to choose love, since anger and the service of the false self is the path of least resistance. Love requires strength, and metta practice is resistance training for love.

Buddhist and yogic practices were not made up “for no reason”. They are structured in such a way that they can patch up any hole in your character – and virtually no stone has been left unturned in their exploration and codification. Be grateful and have respect for those who have gone before you on this path.

The Method

I usually send people to the following link for instructions on metta practice: http://integrateddaniel.info/magick-and-the-brahma-viharas/ (Section 36). Having revisited it however, I have found it rather wordy, especially for beginners. While I do appreciate the care given in the scriptures towards such practice, I have found great success in a far simplified version:

  1. Envision someone you already like (but don’t choose someone you are sexually attracted to, as this complicates things).
  2. Say “love” in your mind and attempt to generate feelings of warmth and love, especially in the chest area. Try to absorb into those feelings and amplify them as much as you are able to while holding their image. One sign of success is that the image of their face will begin smiling (though do not be discouraged if this does not happen).
  3. Repeat for a few minutes.

Then repeat 1–3 for someone you are neutral or indifferent towards. Then repeat 1–3 for someone you are hostile towards.

I recommend 15 minutes of this per day, though 5 is better than none, and 10 is better than 5. Practising during “found time” is also effective – e.g. if the choice is between watching TV or doing metta for 15 minutes, metta is the better choice.

Metta practice is best done as a prevention rather than a cure. Doing it in the morning before going out into the world will have you find a more peaceful, happier world. That said, metta can also be used as a cure when a situation is about to, or has gone, awry. In that case, say the word “love” in your mind to fire that mental anchor, and attempt to locate the associated feeling in your body. Then, let go, and have faith that you are coming at things from the right place. At least you are doing your part.

The best time to practise metta is when the mind has already experienced some unification, or has become slightly concentrated, or has “touched nonduality”. Therefore metta is best done as a “bolt-on” meditation at the end of your regular 30-minute meditation session (whether that is Do Nothing, mindfulness of breath, TM-style soft mantra, Awareness Watching Awareness, or whatever your standard practice is). Any of those standard meditation types will create some mental unification conducive to metta.

Do not be discouraged by a lack of “fireworks” (jhana, samadhi etc.) during metta. Metta does not need those things to “work”. While metta is certainly capable of producing such states, it is also cumulative and manifests progressively positive effects over time. I therefore encourage you to keep a daily journal tracking both meditation and daily events in order that such results are more easily noticed and evaluated. I have provided a board on the forum for this purpose: http://www.personalpowermeditation.com/forum2/meditation-logs/

I do not believe in a “self” at the core of each person. Rather, I have found that each person is simply the product of his or her relationships to people and things. Can you really refute that? Everything you think is just an impression put into you by someone or something else. Improving relationships is therefore the direct means to improving yourself. The relationship is you and is that other person at that moment in time. Long after the interaction is over, the relationship remains. Choose love as its basis, for purely practical reasons.

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36 Responses

  1. Rick says:

    what do you think of Tonglen? Part of it is the same as Metta with the benefit of integrating uncomortable emotions instead of rejecting or surpresssing them.

    you can read more about Tonglen here. curious what you think of it.


    • Illuminatus says:

      Seems to be a hybrid: insight/vipassana on the inhale, metta/compassion on the exhale.

      I haven’t tried it (and likely won’t) so I can’t comment on its effectiveness. My first impression however says there is too much to “do”.

  2. Saturnus says:

    I have recently finished reading Daniel Ingram’s Magick and The Brahma Viharas and one point has been bothering me ever since. In section 36 where he proposes phrases to invoke the Brahma Viharas, the first three (Loving-kindness, Compassion and sympathetic joy) are all wishes for the well-being of oneself and others. Then in the last one (Equanimity) he takes a 180 degree turn and says “[people’s] happiness depends upon their actions and not upon my wishes for them.” How do you account for this paradox?

    He somewhat address this problem right after (36.5.1) by saying invoking equanimity towards oneself is philosophically problematic (at least according to his model) by saying “with the exception of Equanimity, for which this first one is somewhat philosophically problematic”. But I don’t think this really addresses the problem. If anything it is best for one to feel equanimity towards their own karma.

    • Illuminatus says:

      >How do you account for this paradox?

      I don’t know. I remember thinking that a little odd when I read it. Hopefully Arpan will offer his thoughts when he is back from his business trip.

      >He somewhat address this problem right after (36.5.1) by saying invoking equanimity towards oneself is philosophically problematic

      Well, I don’t know about Daniel’s reasons, but I omitted the “wishing towards oneself” step from my method in the above post, and I would remove it from ALL Brahma Vihara practice. The reason for this is that there is no “self” to wish something towards. There are just relationships. Brahma Vihara practice works on relationships. The self is so blatantly nonexistent beyond a certain point in meditation that trying to work with it is akin to schizophrenia.

      I also omitted the “wishing towards all beings” step because I am not vegetarian so it seems hypocritical.

      • James says:

        well even plants are beings

      • Saturnus says:

        I somewhat reconciled this by thinking that someone might be carrying karma and they need to experience it and we are not able to change that (equanimity) but we can wish for them to not add to their suffering (compassion). For example we can wish for someone to stay present during their suffering caused by karma so they can learn from it and release it.

        This brings us to the next paradox. How is karma compatible with no-self? What is the entity that carries the karma, and how is karma carried to the next life?

        • Illuminatus says:

          Karma is just paths of causality playing out. If dominoes are falling in sequence, there is no entity required to continue that sequence — it just continues on its own.

      • Lukas says:

        This is not a paradox, it depends on the concept you’re applying and the goal of the practice. If you stayed true to your statement, you couldn’t direct metta at another being either, because they are equally empty of self. To make an example for what I mean: Does the breath exist? In insight practice you deconstruct it to the smallest sensation and discover that there remains nothing to be called “breath”. In concentration practice you focus on the very breath, you solidify it, you use it as a concept. Likewise you can direct metta to others and to yourself. It even makes sense to direct metta to yourself because many of us lack self-acceptance and we are way to harsh with ourselves. How can you be kind to others if you can’t be kind to yourself?

        Even the Buddha’s instructions contain metta for oneself. This is from MN 99: Subha Sutta; II 206–8 from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book. „In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon.“:

        „Here a monk dwells pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he dwells pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill will.“

        • Illuminatus says:

          >If you stayed true to your statement, you couldn’t direct metta at another being either, because they are equally empty of self.

          I personally am using “the other person” as a marker for “the relationship”. “Me” and “the other person” are imaginary endpoints of a line called “the relationship”.

          However your comment will be helpful for people who construct their universe out of objects rather than relationships (99.999% of people) so thanks. 🙂

          I switched to “relationship space” unexpectedly a couple of years ago after a spiritual experience and 8 years of meditation. I am not sure it can be forced.

          • Lukas says:

            Relationship is a concept (you could also say a fabrication) too, as I understand it. And if there is a relationship to others, then there could be one with yourself as well. But maybe I’m misunderstanding what you mean. Most important is that metta is working! 🙂

            • Illuminatus says:

              >Relationship is a concept

              No. To call something by a word is to automatically conceptualize it. That’s a product of the verbal-conceptual mind (left hemisphere).

              But the experience of it is non-conceptual.

              Actual experience takes place in “relationship space”. Conceptualization takes place in “object space”.

              Relationship space is entered in “flow states” where conceptual mind is (temporarily) deactivated.

              We cannot talk much further about it via text because turning experience into text is to conceptualize it. This will quickly become circular (as it already has).

              It is the old “finger pointing at the moon” metaphor. Look at the moon, not the finger. Experience the relationship itself (the moon), not the word “relationship” (the finger). (And don’t say the moon is a concept, or we are back in the stupid semantic circle. 🙂 )

              • Lukas says:

                Me again. 😉 I’m trying to understand you here, not do devalue or even disqualify your statement. That’s why I try to explain what I meant and what I don’t get in your response once more:

                By conceptual or fabricated I meant dependently arisen, i.e. empty of self and empty of inherent existence. I wasn’t aiming for a signifier – signified discussion.

                Now what I don’t understand in your point of view is the term relationship or relationship space. Relationship is a connection between people, objects, ideas. You described it as a line with endpoints. My question then is: A line between what? I’m perfectly fine with the idea (or fact) that you have the five aggregates on both ends, that means not a stable, ongoing entity. The Buddha advised to aim loving-kindness at all directions, below, above, around, at all beings and oneself. Why make it complicated and introduce relationship here?

                Maybe it’s really beyond words. Or we’re just coming from different backgrounds and verbalize our experience differently and are not able to find common descriptions.

                Have a great day!

                • Illuminatus says:

                  >Now what I don’t understand in your point of view is the term relationship or relationship space. Relationship is a connection between people, objects, ideas. You described it as a line with endpoints. My question then is: A line between what?

                  The normal way of thinking about things is that the world is made up of objects, and when these objects interact a relationship is created (describing the interaction). In this model (OBJECT SPACE), the objects are prime and the relationship is inferred from the interaction of two or more objects.

                  I am saying, turn that on its head. Assume instead that there are NO objects. There are just relationships. And the “objects” are inferred from the relationship. (RELATIONSHIP SPACE)

                  OBJECT SPACE

                  A ———- B

                  “A” is an object; “B” is another object. The line is the relationship between them.


                  A = me
                  B = sun
                  Relationship = heat

                  This model requires that A is a separate, perceiving self, capable of perceiving heat from a source object, B.

                  Insight practice would have me first break down the sun into constituent sensations (penetrate the object) then turn that lens back on myself (penetrate myself) to find No Self there at all.

                  RELATIONSHIP SPACE

                  Relationship space takes no objects, and no false selves as the perceivers of those objects.



                  (Just a line, the relationship; no objects)

                  You could label it:


                  (But we are dangerously close to making that a “concept”, so try to avoid that for now.)

                  This is how we actually experience reality. We experience a relationship (heat) then infer an object (the sun, the source of the heat) and a perceiver (me, he who is perceiving the heat) after the fact.

                  This is where all the false selves and false objects come from.

                  I was able to spend a day in a state of only perceiving relationships, following a long meditation around two years ago. Everything was flow; nothing was conceptualized. This is where all the above came from.


                  • Lukas says:

                    Thanks for the explanation. I now see where you’re coming from.

                    • Illuminatus says:

                      Related video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSobyZjJSvs

                      (His story starts around 2:00)

                      Shinzen Young sees flowing colour patterns during his meditation and notices his mind is compelled to turn them into objects. He experiences terror so long as he resists this urge. The terror was also flowing, so it was blissful (I have experienced this and will come back to it in a moment*).

                      His master instructs him, “I want you to reach a point where you never need to make an object out of self or world again.” Some interesting things happen.

                      Listen on 1.5x speed if you don’t want to be driven insane by his interminable stuttering and hesitation. A great man, but could use a few sessions with Toastmasters. 😀

                      *So, at some point maybe 18 months ago, I figured out that if I entered a state similar to yoga nidra — falling asleep without ever losing consciousness — reality would start to “flow” and the bit of the mind that compulsively turns things into objects would actually be deactivated during this time. This led to quite palpable cycling through the Stages of Insight, ending in Cessation. These were the first times I had cycled through the dukkha nanas (e.g. Fear, Misery etc.) without actually “suffering” from them.

                      This is when I realized that flow states are the key to navigating these territories, and that the “dry noting” method (Ingram et al.) actually creates most of the resistance and thus suffering during the dukkha nanas.

                      I guess the summary message is that assembling the world into objects, though evolutionarily helpful, creates resistance and suffering.

    • Illuminatus says:

      @Saturnus: Are you able to find any source material on Brahma Vihara practice to compare against Ingram’s?

    • cloudwyrm says:

      if you enter jhana with metta as the object the mind natural progresses through loving kindness -> compassion -> sympathetic joy -> equanimity as u go through jhanas 1 2 3 4. bhante vimalaramsi has some good utube videos about metta jhanas. i asume this is because all dharmas are equal in the absolute space of reality, so the experience of total equanimity is the natural state of mind when reality is seen as is.

      • Illuminatus says:

        Interesting, cloudwyrm, thanks. The jhanas are a journey from object space to relationship space (see above reply to Lukas) so this makes sense.

  3. Rick says:

    on step 2 I imagine that I hug this person. It amplifies the feelings of love in my experience

  4. Illuminatus says:

    Some interesting thoughts on metta, particularly the “love = weakness” meme:

    • Saturnus says:

      I find the weakness in love to come from unskillful near and far enemies of each Brahma Vihara which we confuse for love.

      For example there is no shortage of leftists who confuse pity with compassion. Their pity turns them into weak soy boys.

    • Saturnus says:

      It also comes from a lack of trust in surrendering to the universe.

  5. Florian says:

    I was thinking about this earlier. Do you think that metta practise makes it more or less likely that you will be fucked with socially, “appearing weak” and therefore a target for bullies – or actually appearing strong and open due to your warmth/glow, therefore scaring away bullies, who are low self esteem deep down and have a deep fear of well adjusted, self aware people?

    Of course there are situations where metta is not applicable, at least in that moment. If someone is really trying to harm you, you will be better off using physical self defense, finding a security guard or calling the police. But generally what “metta meditation” is referring to is just the process of having generosity of spirit. Seeing the humanity of others, not taking things personally, and realizing that even when someone IS out to get you, it’s not even really about you, but about them.

    Counter intuitively I think that this kind of generosity of spirit/warmth makes it less likely you will be fucked with, not more. Though when alcohol is involved, anything can happen.. generally I think bullies are low self esteem deep down and have a deep fear of genuine, self aware people (having been in situations where their bullying didn’t “work”, and they were made to feel like nothing by someone that was literally above them spiritually, who didn’t even perceive them as a threat (what the bully really wants)). Most bullies will see this in your face, and decide to target someone more “low risk”, usually a person who looks wounded/anxious.

    • Illuminatus says:

      >Most bullies will see this in your face, and decide to target someone more “low risk”, usually a person who looks wounded/anxious.

      Exactly. We all know on some level that if you are anxious of bullies, you present a target that draws them towards you. That is because the relationship is already established (bully–victim). Changing the relationship changes the endpoints of the relationship.

      The default (ego) strategy however is to strengthen one’s defences. This creates the relationship “attacker–defender” and still creates fights (despite perhaps being better able to defend oneself in those fights).

      Metta changes the relationship to something not based in conflict at all.

      However, I am NOT saying “if you do metta no one will ever go after you”. Life is complicated and throws you curve balls.

      I am however saying: Test it for yourself. If you think doing metta will make you weak, then keep a 30-day journal of metta practice. Are you taken advantage of more often during that trial than in the previous 30 days without metta? I suspect most people will find they are not.

      Like most important things in life, the problem and its solution are counter-intuitive. But don’t take my word for it. Test it out.

    • Saturnus says:

      In my last year of high school, for some reason I had high levels of metta. The school bully would never bully me because I respected him and he respected me. We were actually on good terms. I think because I didn’t fear being bullied or made fun of, it just didn’t trigger him to do those things to me.

      > If someone is really trying to harm you…
      Metta is just 1 of 4 Brahma Viharas. In the case of being attacked, probably equanimity would be the best response so you use minimal necessary force to repel the attack and not harm the attacker (out of hatred).

  6. Rick says:

    Hi Illimunatus,

    When I try to feel love in my heart I sometimes also experience feelings of some kind of anxiety. Sometimes I manage to feel love and sometimes it is quite difficult. Any explanation for this? And how would you deal with these feelings?

    • Illuminatus says:

      Hey Rick,

      Short answer: I don’t know. So what follows is speculative.

      In lay psychology, it could be said that you have an association between feeling love and feeling anxious.

      Biologically, the vagus nerve is involved in both love and anxiety. When you are anxious, the vagus nerve fires as a countermeasure. During terror, it turns on hard which is what causes people to pee themselves. So there may be a biological “circuit” link.

      Does the anxiety go away if you switch person? So, let’s say you envision your mother who you love but are also terrified by (this is just a hypothetical example), it would be normal to feel both love and anxiety since that is a conditioned association. In that case, try switching to someone more neutral and see if the anxious component disappears.

      Practice-wise, I would suggest first re-adding the “love yourself” script as the first target of your metta. The Buddhists will have put that step there for a reason and, if in doubt, following the source scriptures can often set you straight.

      Personally, I would practise through the anxiety. So, try to feel love more, and see if the anxiety eventually disappears.

      Another suggestion is NOTING. So, feel love and see where the loving sensations are in your body. Note them verbally in your mind, e.g. “Warm sensation in left (or right) chest.” Be quite specific with where those sensations are. Then, scan for anxious sensations and note them too, e.g. “Pulsing sensation in abdomen area” (and you can be more specific with that, too). This is one powerful of sorting out the two.

      A lot of meditation is just about sorting one emotion out from another and disentangling them.

      I would be interested to hear back from you how this went. You could start a log here and make regular updates: https://www.personalpowermeditation.com/forum2/meditation-logs/

      (Tracking is a powerful and underrated method for creating progress.)

      Good luck! 🙂

      • Rick says:

        Hi Illimunatus, it differs a bit per person but it differs mostly from moment to moment. The feeling of love I feel more in my chest and the feeling of anxiety I feel more in my throat. What helps is to imagine that I hug a person.
        Thanks for your tips. Do you still also practice the Loving All Method? So then basically you are sending love the whole time, right?

      • Rick says:

        This article basically says the same as Langdon in the Loving All Method


        I notice that the feelings of anxiety is most strong when it is about people I have a business relation with. What would you advise? Feel this fear until this dissolves? Or stay focussing on the love until love overrules the fear so to say?

        • Illuminatus says:

          >I notice that the feelings of anxiety is most strong when it is about people I have a business relation with. What would you advise? Feel this fear until this dissolves? Or stay focussing on the love until love overrules the fear so to say?

          The first step is to build up the love feeling on easier targets. Try directing love at yourself first till the feeling is stable. Then move onto somebody who doesn’t trigger the anxiety, till the love feeling is stable. Then move onto somebody neutral. Then move onto “worthy opponents”, your business relationships.

          From a pure concentration perspective, you would stay with the primary object (love feeling) till it overwhelms all others (anxiety etc.). This is what I would advise. Staying with the primary object with this strong intention is how I developed strong concentration in a relatively short space of time, and I have never lost that skill as a result.

          Also, do not be afraid to dedicate more time to growing and developing the love feeling. Make it your main meditation if you wish to get it handled. Spend 10 minutes entirely on an “easy target” (cultivating love for yourself, or someone you already like) until you really get a strong sense of what that feeling is and how to induce it. When you have mastered this, then turn that love feeling towards a worthy opponent. Maybe it would take you 20 minutes to get a strong undiluted love feeling on a worthy opponent. Maybe longer. This is the kind of dedication required to solve a problem with meditation.

          • Rick says:

            Thanks Illuminatus!!

            Do you still also practice the Loving All Method? So then basically you are sending love the whole time, right?
            It is often advised to feel gratitude. How does this relate to Metta? Or do you think love and gratefulness is basically the same thing?

            • Illuminatus says:

              >Do you still also practice the Loving All Method? So then basically you are sending love the whole time, right?

              That was something I did for a few days with profound results. However, it got me looking into more formal methods for metta practice which led to posts like the above. I feel I have “unfinished business” with the other core meditation practices (metta, concentration, insight) and I am happy to let myself be led down those paths as they present themselves.

              While I don’t actively practise Loving All at the moment, I’m pleased to report that a lot of that mindset “stuck” from those few days. I intend to return to that practice at some point because it is really effective.

              Currently I’m practising a “gentle noting” method I have developed, involving slowly noting body sensations as they arise, because it’s the only thing that effectively and permanently heals my body/muscles/fascia/neurology problem (which is actually looking quite simple to me now, following this practice). It is also the method that most consistently gets me to jhana (with possibly a 100% success rate so far) and feels extremely “non-invasive” as opposed to hard concentration at the nose. I will write it up soon.

              >It is often advised to feel gratitude. How does this relate to Metta? Or do you think love and gratefulness is basically the same thing?

              I would say love and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. It’s easy to be grateful when you love everything. However there is also something to be said for practising gratitude even during the most difficult times (i.e. when you do not feel grateful for the situation you have been delivered). I do not generally practise gratitude formally (though sometimes I feel the inclination); rather, gratitude arises as a result of pleasant states or satisfaction brought on by other meditations.

              One thing I will mention is that AWA brings on gratitude strongly and consistently for me.

  7. Rick says:

    Another things is that I encountered a quite interesting standing meditation like Zhan Zhuang designed to manifest things like love while at the same time releasing resistance using the power of gravity. as far as I know this is an unique approach. The pdf is free now on the Internet and I am curious what you think of it,


    • Illuminatus says:

      From a very brief scan it seems like a rehash of many things already written. I doubt there is anything in there you would not get from a yogic tradition or even straight Buddhism.

      The difference is that the ancient practices (Buddhism and yoga) codify the combined experience of thousands of yogis over thousands of years rather than just being one guy’s take on it.

      I get sent things like this quite a lot and cannot possibly read through all of them. Maybe this one is gold. If it helps you, more power to you.

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