“A good deed is never lost: he who sows courtesy reaps friendship;
and he who plants kindness gathers love.”


I attended a 5-day retreat (led by spiritual teacher Matt Kahn) that was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.There were 81 attendees, and from the moment I walked in I felt profoundly safe with all of them. I traveled there with a good friend of many years (and lifetimes), but by the end of the retreat I felt so equally bonded to each person present I couldn’t remember which was the friend I had arrived with.

I learned many lessons through this process, but the greatest of all was the power of vulnerability.

All of my life I’ve been the weird kid at the side of the playground, waiting to be invited to play. This has been my internal experience regardless of how many friends I had at the time, and the result has been I never felt safe around other people. Every interaction was tinged with the need to be liked, and any awkward moment was met with my own internal thrashing for mucking things up.

Having five days to practice connecting with 80 strangers gave me the opportunity to see this pattern in myself more clearly, and what transcends it.

In the past I’ve written about compassion as opening the doors of connection between people, but what I missed mentioning is how much courage it takes to demonstrate it.

Asking if someone’s okay, offering a hug, or giving a compliment, all push against an invisible barrier that keeps people separate from each other, and challenges the sense of safety that comes from maintaining distance.

Compassion comes from the heart. In order to share it with others, we have to open our hearts to them. This means letting go of an instinctive level of shielding and allowing for the possibility of being rejected.

Given that the strongest human drive (beyond survival) is to be accepted by others, inviting rejection is equivalent on a base level to handing someone a knife and inviting them to stab you with it.

This may sound extreme, but consider the following homework. The teacher for the retreat suggested that the purpose of your life is to tell others every day the one thing you were either never told or needed to hear more often in your life. A way to find what it is for yourself is to place awareness in your heart and ask what it most needs to hear.

My own words were, “I have you” and “No matter what anyone else says or does, you are perfect just as you are.”

Others at the retreat had phrases such as “you matter”, “thank you for being here”, and “you’re doing it right”. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone said things like this to each other on a regular basis.

During the weekend we said them to each other, but always with some sort of caveat along the lines of “I’m going to practice saying my words now”. The level of vulnerability required to actually speak them aloud was at the limit of the safety net of the retreat, and going out into the world with them has been next to impossible.

Love will always take us to where we are most vulnerable, because its act is of letting go. Wherever we hold fear, a sense of smallness, weakness, or inability, love will speak here and invite release.

People love each other on a deep level. That is the truth. The rest is all just intricate manners of self-protection. I would invite you into the same homework I have taken on for myself. I hold my words present in my mind each day, and I endeavor to share them with others in action if not spoken language.

The fear of rejection is released by opening ourselves to it. Consciously offer love and kindness each day, and you will feel beyond doubt that you belong. When everyone is the weird kid, everyone gets to play.