The Path of Love Skill Tree

This post shares my current mental model for how The Path of Love unfolds—how developing skills associated with heart-centered cultivation grows and manifests over time. This includes loving-kindness and the other brahmavihārās (compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity), but is not limited to those frequencies of love, nor is it strictly a Buddhist conception of this Path.

It is presented as a skill tree—a mental model that visually represents how various skills are sequenced in order to master a larger skillset. I believe that various meditation skills and practices can usefully be related by way of a skill tree, and have attempted to do so with respect to heart-centered cultivation and The Path of Love here.

Of course, a skill tree is just a map of the territory. This territory includes other skills and experiences than the ones I describe here. You may need or develop a completely different understanding than mine. My own understanding will also evolve over time. I anticipate that I will understand this territory differently and better in time, and will make a different and better map in the future.

This post shares one subsection of this skill tree at a time, to look at each skill and milestone in detail. To see the full Path of Love Skill Tree as a PDF, click here.

May this skill tree inspire your practice of the Path of Love. May it guide you towards ever deepening love within your own heart, and towards endless kindness for the benefit of all beings. ❤️

Cultivating Loving Perceptions and Behaviors

We can usefully describe and understand the Spiritual Path in terms of Perception and Behavior. So, too, we can understand the Path of Love in terms of Cultivating Loving Perceptions and Behaviors. This skill tree is divided accordingly, into the skills and milestones that involve perception, and those that involve behavior.

The Path of Love changes the way we perceive, and the way we behave. It also affects the way others perceive us, and the way they act towards us. As Peace Pilgrim said, “Life is like a mirror. Smile at it and it smiles back at you. I just put a big smile on my face and everyone smiles back.”

May the love that you cultivate and the kindness that you enact benefit your whole life. May this love we practice bring you joy and happiness; may it touch each person in your life; may it ripple outwards as a gift to all beings. ❤️

Feel Love (Perception)

The Path of Love begins with thinking loving thoughts. One loving thought a day is a minimum viable love practice. You may not have time for an hour of formal meditation practice, or even five minutes—but everyone has time to think one loving thought.

Having oriented the mind towards loving thoughts, we turn towards the body. Becoming acquainted with our body, with the soma, is an important prerequisite for this practice. Traditional meditation practices like following the breath or doing body scans are certainly serviceable for this purpose, but I can also recommend a more modern approach like my friend River’s Somatic Resonance course.

Having gained a familiarity with your body, develop an awareness of your heart—your emotional body. The primary emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. Learning to recognize these flavors is the most important task at this stage. It also helps to be able to distinguish and express a variety of other feelings—something the Bio-Emotive Framework and the NEDERA Process are especially well-suited for.

Learning to purify The Five Hindrances is a traditional skill in Buddhist meditation practice. In my experience, this skill is necessary but not sufficient for deepening meditation practice and entering bliss states.

As you get acquainted with your emotional body and your heart, you will likely begin to notice various emotional pains, wounds, and traumas that are present for you. There are many roads to healing these wounds. We are experiencing a renaissance of therapy, self-therapy, and healing modalities designed to help with this work. In my own experience, Focusing, Internal Family Systems, Bio-Emotive, Core Transformation, Coherence Therapy, and Attachment Repair have all been extremely useful, along with other more eccentric modalities and bespoke methods.

Once you have learned to feel your body, feel your heart, and heal the wounds you find therein, it becomes increasingly possible to feel love. Love arises naturally when we are free and clear within our heart. If you are out of touch with your heart and its wounds, it is often painful to steer towards love—even to the point of feeling like an act of self-violence. Ideally, feeling love is a joyful, easy, flowing act that emerges in an effortless way.

The guided meditations I’ve created are designed to help you to feel and cultivate love. The basic strategy for cultivation practice is to use mental images and/or mental talk to bring up a positive feeling in your heart. Any and all positive thoughts and images are fair game for doing so. Over time, you will learn which images or phrases tend to help you to bring up feelings of love.

May you be deeply acquainted with your body, the vessel of your life, the ground of your being. May you learn of your heart, may you speak its tongue and heal its wounds. May feelings of love enter your heart, a medicine and a salve and a blessing and a joy. ❤️

Act in Kind and Loving Ways (Behavior)

With respect to action and behavior, one loving act of kindness a day is a minimum viable love practice. Some simple acts of kindness include smiling at someone, giving a compliment, or saying thank you. These don’t take very long, and everyone has time for them. However, it’s important that we want to do one loving act of kindness a day. If it feels forced internally, or performative externally, feel free to stay with cultivating one loving thought per day as a minimum viable love practice. If, on the other hand, it feels exciting and easy to begin doing one loving act of kindness per day—go for it!

Many practices are helpful for showing up to our lives in kind and loving ways. Having loving boundaries is one. Cultivating strong, deep friendships is another. It’s also worth developing a sense of our ethics, values, and morals. While this process will almost certainly depend on your own circumstances and disposition, there are various sources on ethics available to us from existing traditions that provide sound guidance. Coming from a Buddhist background myself, I’ve found the Five Ethical Precepts, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Bodhisattva Vows to be invaluable. Reflecting on the ethical teachings in religious or spiritual traditions that you are familiar with or drawn to would likely be equally fruitful—or simply wrestling directly with the lessons you’ve learned from the experiences you’ve had in your own life.

As we cultivate loving thoughts and feelings, these naturally wish to manifest as acts of kindness in the world. It is instinctual, reflexive. It is like how when you heat dough, it rises. Love is our very nature, and kindness is the demonstration of that nature.

May you act in increasingly kind ways towards yourself and others. May you discover that ethics is a source of safety, a shield and a protection—and further that kindness is a joy, a source of delight and intimacy with yourself, those you love, and the universe itself. ❤️

Feel A Wide Spectrum of Frequencies of Love (Perception)

Once you can reliably bring up feelings of love in your heart, the minimum viable love practice should shift from “one loving thought per day” to “one loving feeling per day.” Of course, you are more than welcome to still think loving thoughts, to cultivate love in that way.

The brahmavihārās are the traditional Buddhist frequencies of the heart: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Learning to distinguish, feel, and cultivate these wholesome heart frequencies is the traditional basis of heart-centered Buddhist practice.

However, there are other positive feelings of love that are possible to feel. I believe there is a whole spectrum of love, with a vast number of wholesome frequencies that are worth cultivating. Several worth mentioning include gratitude, forgiveness, and laughter and humor.

When you are easily able to give rise to feelings of love, and do so frequently and deeply—when you really enjoy those feelings—it is very likely that you will begin to enter Bliss States (also known as concentration states or the jhānas). These are wholesome, enjoyable states that have been independently discovered across many different contemplative traditions. Gaining fluency and fluidity with these states will help you to deepen the feelings of love you are cultivating. As you walk the Path of Love it will become your heart, filling your bones and your soul and your life, bubbling up, a cup overflowing.

Love is a spectrum, and the heart is boundless. Any and all positive, wholesome thoughts, feelings, mind-states, qualities, skills can be cultivated to great effect and benefit. As you can discern more and more positive feelings, use the same basic strategy to cultivate them.

May you love deeply, may your love spread far, may it bring you great joy and the world tremendous benefit. May your heart lead the way. ❤️

Love Widely (Perception)

As you open up to being able to feel forgiveness, it starts to be intrinsically motivating to forgive everyone you can, anyone that you need to. Work on forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and forgiving the world itself and/or God. Enjoy the healing and release and freedom that comes as you forgive, as you let go of hurts and wounds on your heart.

Cultivate love for yourself, others, and all beings in balance. At times, one or all of these will be difficult. Never force yourself to love, ease off if it’s hard—but do give it a try periodically, dip your toes in the water to see how it feels.

It may be hard, and you may not be able to feel it, but hold it as axiomatic that you are worthy of your own love. Hold it as axiomatic that others are worthy of your love. Hold it as axiomatic that all beings are worthy of your love.

Balance love for yourself, love for others, and love for all beings. Practice all three. Don’t skip leg day (loving yourself), don’t skip arm day (loving others), and don’t skip cardio (loving all beings). Loving thoughts and feelings towards yourself, others, and all beings will be mutually reinforcing.

You can love widely when you can easily connect to thoughts and feelings of love for yourself, others, and all beings.

May you love yourself with ease and depth. May you love others with compassion and kindness. May you love all beings with patience and magnanimity of spirit. May the love you have for any and all beings refract ceaselessly, a jewel casting its own light upon itself, echoing love into every corner of the universe and also your own heart. ❤️

Radiate Love Constantly Towards All Beings In All Places and Times (Perception)

At some point, having one loving thought or feeling a day will be automatic, and you will long to cultivate more love. At this point, consider establishing a regular formal love practice. You might find ways to integrate cultivating loving thoughts and feelings into your everyday life, and you might decide to set aside a regular time and place for cultivating love (perhaps with the aid of guided meditations).

However you decide to practice the Path of Love, it will become self-evidently worthwhile that you would like to cultivate love deeply: to feel love as often as possible, as deeply as possible. You see that you are happier in yourself when you are thinking loving thoughts and feeling loving feelings, and that your life goes better and you are kinder to others when you come from a place of Love.

At this point, you may find it helpful to learn to work with awareness practices. I am especially fond of my friend Michael Ashcroft’s Fundamentals of Alexander Technique course, which shares a mindfulness- and awareness-based approach to Alexander Technique that he studied under Peter Nobes. I’ve also heard excellent things about the approach taken by the Evolving Ground community (e.g. their recent Opening Awareness book), which is based on Vajrayana Buddhism.

With the ability to notice and expand your awareness, it becomes natural to fill your awareness with love, and to wish to radiate that love outwards. As Shinzen Young puts it, you can Become a High-Wattage Broadcaster of Human Positivity.

Peace Pilgrim describes how her prayer for peace evolved over time:

In the beginning I undertook my walking…as a prayer discipline to keep me concentrated on my prayer for peace. After the first few years the prayer discipline was completely unnecessary, because I had learned to pray without ceasing. I made the contact so thoroughly that into my prayer consciousness I put any condition or person in the world I am concerned about and the rest takes place automatically.

While she used the words “prayer” and “peace” to describe her own practice—and while I have not attained the depths of practice she described here myself—the same or a similar shift is possible for the Path of Love as well.

The Karaniya Mettā Sutra describes it like this:

Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child,

So should one protect the boundless heart that loves all beings;

Radiating kindness over the entire world: spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded,

Freed 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.

May we radiate love wherever we go, letting our very presence be a loving blessing. May we all gain the ability to pray without ceasing. May we all gain the ability to spread loving kindness through the entire universe. May we become beacons of love. ❤️

Become a Mettā Hero (Behavior)

The true measure of your practice is the kindness of your actions. As your perceptions of self, others, and world become increasingly loving, so, too, will your actions become increasingly kind.

As more and more of your actions are motivated by and demonstrative of kindness, you will begin to notice trends in the way kindness manifests through you. While we can all smile or say a kind word to someone or open a door, you will begin to notice specific ways that you express love that are rare or even entirely unique. Others will notice this expression of love, and begin to be able to emulate it, to express it themselves—but it will be as if you originated a distinct form of love, as if you discovered an entirely new species of love, as if you found a stream of love that longed to be tapped.

Love longs to express itself through you in a unique way. At the limit, your life as a whole can be an expression of love, a singular manifestation never seen before in the history of the universe. In other words, you can become what I call a Mettā Hero.

May you learn how love wishes to express itself through you. May you be surprised and delighted to discover how that love manifests in your life. May your unique love be of deep and unending service to all beings. ❤️


As I walk the Path of Love myself, I see it as a kind of axiom and a self-evident truth that there is always more love available. There is always more love to feel, there is always more kindness to express. We dare to imagine a more loving world, not because ours lacks love, but because more is always available.

As this realization deepens, I find a kind of humility—if there is always more love available, if there is an infinity of love to feel and connect to and express, then the amount of love I have is necessarily finite, necessarily infinitesimal compared to the amount of love that is available.

I present this Path of Love Skill Tree in that spirit. I have the confidence to express what I’ve seen and understood so far, and the humility to understand that there is far, far, far more love available than I have even begun to glimpse. I eagerly await the arrival of the hour when there is so much love in my heart that it feels as though I’ve never known love before.

If you have glimpsed heights of love that this map does not describe, I would love to hear about it. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions about how this map might be improved, or how you have understood the territory of Love as you have encountered it. Again, if you would like to see this full skill tree as a PDF, click here.

May we have the humility to admit there are virtues unglimpsed, wisdoms unknown, heights of love unfelt. May we have the confidence to know that we are always becoming wiser, more powerful, more loving versions of ourselves. May all the love you give return to you a thousandfold—and may that love, in turn, let you give a million times more love. ❤️

Further Resources

Thank you to Zev Benjamin, Brent Baumgartner, and others for our conversations about this skill tree.

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