tenderizing the heart

Empathy is one of those tricky emotions.  

We want more of it.  We want to get better at it.  We want to model it for our children.  

Empathy takes different shapes and it can be elusive.  Sometimes it looks like honoring the needs of that human who has a really different way than you.  It can mean seeking to understand situations and experiences that come at us from nowhere and seem to be beyond our control.  It might just mean going out of one's way to help.  Often, I find it takes the form of excellent, attentive listening.

Empathy is tough though, because for many of us, especially the women, and especially because of cultural conditioning, we can go straight for empathy when what we really need is to feel a precursor emotion (like rage or fear or embarrassment, for example).  

Click to Tweet: Sometimes we bypass all the difficult feelings and shoot straight to Empathy Town because we feel like it's the most evolved choice.

Sometimes we go straight to empathy when what we really want is to massively assert our boundaries.  

For example, before we can feel empathy, we might need to forgive and might not be ready.  We might need to grieve a loss and maybe we can't find our way there yet.

Artwork: Hanne Lore Koehler

Artwork: Hanne Lore Koehler

Empathy can be a really challenging practice.  It can also (for some) be as simple as tying shoelaces.  It's really personal, so wherever you find yourself along the continuum, know that your position is perfect.

But really, why bother with feeling and expressing empathy?


Empathy is a tonic.  

It soothes the soul in a way that other approaches to digesting human events can't.


Empathy can provide context.  

We never really know what another person's internal landscape is like, but exercising your empathy muscles can get you into a healthy place of curiosity and wonder about that very thing.  


Empathy can clarify.  

It can help to bring much needed focused attention to something that feels profoundly confusing.


Empathy can bring an opening quality to the foreground. 

It might prompt a conversation that wouldn't be had otherwise.

Artwork: ARTesstR

Artwork: ARTesstR

So how do we do it?  How do we "get better" at empathy?

I find a little ritual, a little intentional food or drink, and some focused attention can bring great clarity.  So I created an empathy tonic recipe that feels like an invitation to soften.  And, as with all things ritual, practicing within a sacred container is very life affirming.  Creating a space of reverence (psychically, emotionally and physically) for re-connecting with self helps to get us back in alignment with our greatest truths - our purpose.  It creates a sense of connection and safety.


Empathy Tonic Recipe

This #EmpathyTonic is refreshing, cooling to the system, lightening, a little earthy and calls forth plant qualities that are at once refreshing and tender.  Why call forth #tenderness?  

Well, as much as my wide open heart has the potential to be hurt, stagnation just isn't on the menu today.*  For me, part of practicing the full range of emotion is leaning in to the extremely vulnerable parts.  I think that's where empathy lies quietly, waiting to be invited out.


  • 1/2 cup of Chinese pearl barley (also known as Job's tears)
  • several stalks of sweet basil
  • 3 Tablespoons dried rose petals
  • 1-3 pandan leaves (optional)

You will need:

A cooking pot, glass or earthenware is ideal, but metal is fine too.  A 1/2 gallon glass jar with lid.


  1. Rinse the Chinese pearl barley and add to a saucepan/pot.  
  2. Add the cold water to the saucepan/pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Once at a rolling boil, reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 45-60 minutes, stirring every so often.
  4. This barley water is ready once the barley is soft on the outside but slightly chewy on the inside, resembling of popcorn or rice.  The liquid will turn slightly cloudy and greyish pink.   
  5. If you are using pandan leaves, add this and simmer for around 5-10 minutes.  Remove the pandan leaves at the end as overcooking will give the water a slightly bitter taste.
  6. Strain barley from liquid and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  7. Once cooled to room temperature, add in your basil stalks and rose petals.
  8. Bless them.  Ask for softness, insight, cooling of an issue that feels really inflammatory, a more tender heart if you wish.
  9. Refrigerate immediately for at least four hours.
  10. The best way to enjoy this tonic is gently warmed in a bowl or mug.  
  11. Drink throughout the day, as feels good.  Share with a friend or lover if you desire.  Keeps in the refrigerator for about three days, so drink up.



Gather a journal and a pen (if you feel called to write), your warmed tonic, and find a safe and quiet space for contemplation.

Find a comfortable seat. 

Light a candle or some incense if you feel called to do so.  If placing a special stone in front of you feels good, do that.

Breathe in the fragrance of the mixture.  Notice.

Consider the word "empathy."  You can mentally meditate on it, or free form write about whatever pops up for you surrounding the term.  

Notice how your body feels during this time.  Tight?  Loose?  Comfortable?  Tense?  Soft?  Open?  Afraid?  Write down (or mentally contemplate) whatever pops up.

Consider empathy towards yourself.  How's that going?

This is a simple practice of inviting in a specific quality.  

Drink your tonic.  Invite in the wisdom.

Blessings to you.


*This doesn't translate to - one should be without boundaries - because that's not my point either.  Boundaries = yes.  You can have empathy working within your boundaries too - they are not mutually exclusive.