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What does it take to become more tender, open-hearted, and compassionate human beings in a world that trains us to judge, criticize, compare, blame, and shame? How does this evolutionary initiation happen, when one makes the journey from the head to the heart and the heart swells into actions that ease the suffering of others? What does it even mean to be compassionate?

Compassion and its compatriots—empathy, kindness, benevolence, gentleness, tenderness—they have a bad rap, suggesting weakness, passivity, becoming a doormat that other people can take advantage of. And yet, nothing is stronger—simultaneously fierce and feather gentle—than the open heart. Just look what a mother can call upon to protect her child when the child is in danger. Don’t mess with Mama Bear, and don’t mistake unconditional love for weakness. The ultimate strength lies in trusting that the heart can lay bare without getting trampled upon, not because there aren’t unkind people who can stomp across the raw, vulnerable parts of your heart with their dirty boots, but because YOU can become the fierce protector of your own heart without closing it or armoring it off. Because you’ve got your own back, love can flow through you unhindered as you bless the world simply with your presence.

You Are Naturally Compassionate

Your soul is hard-wired to be compassionate. Your ego, on the other hand, is hard wired to survive, even if it means participating in a dog-eat-dog world of rugged individualism and narcissism. Making the journey from the head to the heart means letting your soul take over your body, your mind, and your life, so that this larger part of you can choose compassionate action in a world in need of WAY more love.

Every baby is born with a wide open heart and no barriers to compassion. Yet the challenges of childhood bolster the ego, teaching us to protect the heart in order to keep it safe. As a result, the soul’s inclination to be compassionate gets blocked. What blocks compassion? Unhealed trauma, fear, self-protection, self-centeredness, a feeling of needing to “take care of #1” in an “eat or be eaten” world. But this can shift if you’re ready to shift it.

This is no small thing, to be brave enough to make this kind of shift. It requires a deep sincere promise to tend the inner child within, because to overcome those blocks to compassion, the tender wounded parts of us need to know they’re safe, so that we can serve the wounded hearts of others without violating our own wounded parts. It requires that we stop disowning or denying the wounded parts. They’re there, whether we like it or not, often hidden behind the armor that blocks compassion. By coaxing the inner child out of the fortress and offering her a hug and safe keeping by the wise older love force within us, we convince her to take down her armor and feel safe in these arms of love instead. Then, by loving that scared little child inside, we can hold her and tend her and prevent her from blocking compassionate action with her fierce vigil of protection around the raw, vulnerable parts of the heart.

Your Open Heart Blesses the World

Then with the inner child soothed and the armor melted, the open heart naturally yearns to ease the suffering of others, not from the people-pleasing, approval-seeking motivation of the ego, but from the sacred service-oriented longing of the soul to care for those who need uplifting. At that point, nothing makes sense except becoming a benevolent presence in the world. But this doesn’t happen unless we tend to the wounded parts within ourselves.

As a doctor who left medicine to heal myself and now trains health care providers to open their own hearts and help patients heal themselves, I am very familiar with the shadow side of service. If we haven’t tended to the wounded parts of ourselves, the hurt parts can co-opt even service, using it as a means to serve our own sense of unworthiness, as if we’re not good enough unless we help others. Then the motivation isn’t arising from the clean benevolence of the soul. It stems from the “not enough” wounds of the wounded child that drives the savior complex, when people give and give and give until they’re depleted, resentful, sick, and broke. Giving until you’re depleted is not the kind of compassionate action that is required in order to live more compassionately. That’s not service. It’s self-sacrifice. It’s martyrdom, and it’s not sustainable or compassionate to the self. But there is another way to be a compassionate presence in the world . . .

Practice Compassion for 21 Days

How do you do this? How does this journey from the head to the heart happen so that you can step fully into your sacred purpose through compassionate action? In my new book The Anatomy of a Calling, I wrote my own story of my journey from the head to the heart and offered many practical tools related to how to find and fulfill your calling by living more compassionately and choosing love in the world, regardless of your profession. But I also wanted to create something specially focused on how to become more loving, forgiving, compassionate, and inspired to yourself and others, not just in your thoughts, but in your actions in everyday life.

I felt really grateful to have been given the opportunity by Rodale Wellness to create the 21 Day Compassion Challenge that begins January 1. Putting together this course was such a labor of love. Each day includes a teaching and a practice intended to boost your compassion for yourself and others. To help with this project, I recruited some of the most compassionate people I know, interviewing them in the most beautifully produced videos ever. Included in this course are written teachings, daily practices, and video interviews with spiritual teacher Adyashanti, Adya’s assistant, psychologist and beautiful embodiment of the Divine Feminine Maja Apolonia Rode, Kitchen Table Wisdom author Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, and Nurturing, Healing Love author Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse died at Sandy Hook Elementary and who founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. (The video of Scarlett alone is 100% guaranteed to burst open your heart, leave you in tears, and break open your most compassionate self.) The course only costs $9.99 to cover costs, because we wanted to make this course available to absolutely everyone who is ready to make the journey from the head to the heart, so you can live with a wide open heart in everyday life.

Resolve to Deepen Your Compassion in 2016

I’m not into New Years Resolutions, because I think they just feed the “not enough” wounds we all struggle with. I’m also not into “self-help” because I think the most helpful shift we can make in our spiritual journeys is to move beyond the “self” and into Oneness. But I do believe in LOVE, in choosing love, not just at New Years, but all the time. I think we do this not through acts of will, but through prayers for grace. I don’t think we can try harder to be more loving. We can only surrender more into the love we already embody. We are made of love. We don’t have to effort, strive and struggle into the love that we already are. We need only strip off everything that is not love in order to shine our natural radiance. You can’t force yourself into being more loving to yourself and others. You can only relax into love and ask the Universe to use you to be a vessel of love. That’s what this 21 Day Compassion Challenge is intended to facilitate—with ease and grace and Divine support.

I hope this course blesses you as much as it blessed me to create it. I feel so grateful to the amazing humans who helped me put so much love into this course.

Watch the trailer for the course and register here. The course begins in tomorrow, so make sure you sign up right away. (But don’t worry. If you’re not getting this until after the holidays, you’ll still have time to catch up.)

From my open heart to yours,

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PS. The print and eBook version of The Anatomy of a Calling just came out Tuesday, so you can order it now here! The Audible version of The Anatomy of a Calling just came out too, so if you’re more inclined to listen than read, enjoy it here.

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