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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

How Hope Can Blossom in Troubled Times

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

The Earth is everlasting

Because it does not live for self alone

But exists as one with life.

The people of Tao transcend self

Through loving compassion

And find themselves

In a higher sense.

                            Tao, Chapter 7

 

 

The Tao reminds us to look for the lessons in the natural world around us. This week, wild roses are blooming in my back yard. Unlike hybrid tea roses, these roses bloom only once a year. And this year, their bright blossoms are all the more precious.

 

Like the wild rose, life brings us surprises, some welcome, some not. For the past few weeks, people all over the world have been suffering from fear and uncertainty, experiencing the challenge of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The virus has brought much suffering and loss, as well as mental health challenges since lockdowns and closures have narrowed our lives. Schools, workplaces, restaurants, theatres, and local shops have closed, familiar routines have been disrupted by lockdowns and social distancing, and each day's news brings frightening statistics as we worry about how to stay safe.

 

Cut off from our normal routines, family and friends, there is so much we cannot do. Yet although we cannot go out as we used to, what we can do is go within. In this period of enforced monasticism, we can take the time to read, reflect, and get to know ourselves on a deeper level. Here are four simple but powerful practices to support your inner journey.

 

Nonviolent Communication. We can find greater peace of mind by applying psychologist Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication (2005) to ourselves.  My friend Juan Velasco and I have been showing people how to do this in our retreats and workshops, now offered online. To begin this practice, Pause and take a slow mindful breath, then slowly exhale as you ask yourself these three questions:

  1. "How do I feel?""Am I calm, relaxed, anxious, confused, worried, tired, hurt, disappointed, sad, lonely, excited, happy"—or something else? Whatever you feel, just recognize and label the feeling without judging yourself.
  2. "What do I need?"  Our needs can range from food, rest, and security to emotional needs for love, acceptance, understanding, joy, play, creativity, inspiration, and meaning. What do you need right now?
  3. "What are my options?"  As you become more mindful, instead of merely reacting, you will notice more options, more possibilities. Consider your options and choose the one that feels right for you now.

 

Self-Compassion. The next time you're feeling stressed or anxious, instead of spiraling into incessant worry and self-criticism, you can find greater peace of mind with this simple practice:

  • Put your hand on your heart.
  • Recognize how you're feeling and label the feeling.
  • Then treat yourself with compassion as you would a dear friend.
  • Reassure yourself with words like "Poor dear, I know you're scared and worried (or whatever you're feeling). I love you. I'm here for you. You're not alone." (Neff, 2003; 2004; Shapiro, 2020)

 

Gratitude. Spend a little time at the end of each day to count your blessings, to focus on what you're grateful for. Research has shown that this practice can improve your physical and emotional health (Emmons, 2008; Hill et al, 2013; Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian, 2016).

  • At the end of each day, think of three things you're thankful for. You may choose to record these reflections in a gratitude journal.
  • Pause for a moment in the midst of the day to focus on something you're grateful for. For example, you might smile at someone you love, enjoy the playful antics of a puppy, or appreciate nature's artistry in  the songs of birds, the beauty of a Spring sunset, or the fragrance of roses in your garden (Emmons, 2008; Carroll, 2017).


Sharing Compassion. Even with social distancing, there are still ways to reach out to friends, family, and the larger community in your heart and your actions. You might:

  • Connect by phone with a friend, neighbor, or family member. Ask how they're feeling and what they need. Even if you cannot give them what they need, knowing that you care will make a positive difference to them.
  • Express compassion and gratitude for frontline health care workers and essential employees. You might send them gratitude by making a sign, sending a card, or joining your neighbors in collecting masks for essential workers.
  • Instead of thinking of all you cannot do, focus on what you can. Each time you wash your hands, you could practice the Loving Kindness Meditation, saying: "May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be safe, May I be well, May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy" and then "May you—thinking of someone you know—be filled with loving kindness. May you be safe. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy."

 

In this time of challenge and change, may new hope blossom in your heart like the wild rose.

 

 

References

 

Carroll, K. (2017). A moment's pause for gratitude. Carlsbad, CA: Balboa Press.

 

Emmons, R. A. (2008). Thanks: How practicing gratitude can make you happier. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin;

 

Hill, P. L., Allemand, M., & Roberts, B. W. (2013). Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood. Personality and individual differences, 54(1), 92-96.

 

Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-10.

 

Neff, K. D. (2004). Self-compassion and psychological well-being. Constructivism in the Human Sciences, 9(2), 27-37. For more about Dr. Neff's research and self-compassion exercises, see https://self-compassion.org/about/.

 

Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A. (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15(2), 191-205.

 

Rosenberg, M. B. (2005). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. Encinitas, CA: Puddle Dancer Press.

 

Shapiro. S. (2020). Good morning, I love you. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

 

 

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Finding Peace in the Cycles of Nature

With all the confusion, anxiety, and fear in response to the Coronavirus, we can find consolation and peace of mind in the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, which tells us:

 

Empty your mind of clutter,

Maintain an inner peace.

 

Ten thousand things move around you.

In detachment, perceive the cycles.

Watch each return to the source.

Returning to the source is harmony

With the way of nature.

 

Knowing the cycles brings wisdom.

Not knowing brings confusion.

                                                 (Tao, Chapter 16)

 

This month, as spring returns, bringing new buds and blossoms, and new life, take a moment to step outside to look at your garden. Or simply look out your window at the green world outside or the shifting patterns of clouds in the sky. Then breathe in that vision of nature into your heart with appreciation and gratitude, feeling a sense of oneness.

 

And in the days ahead, whenever you're feeling out of sorts, remember this simple practice to find harmony with the cycles of nature.

 

 

 

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One Step at a Time

The Tao Te Ching tells us that "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.And that's how we will get through this Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis.

 

Not so long ago, we had busy schedules with plans, work projects, deadlines, appointments, meetings with friends, and familiar routines. Then everything changed.

 

A fearful invisible threat entered our lives. Now we are told to stay home, shelter in place, work remotely, and go out only for essential activities. Schools, restaurants, theaters, gyms, and local shops are closed. Sporting events are cancelled and all our plans are gone. What was predictable and familiar is no more.

 

We've entered an empty space of waiting and uncertainty, frightening statistics on the news, and rumors on social media. Many of us feel lost and alone.

 

We venture out to the grocery store to find that shelves are bare, looted by people desperately hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, and essential food supplies. Overcome with fear, some of our neighbors have become compulsive hoarders.  

 

Those of us who've become successful by setting goals, planning, and persevering need to learn new skills of patience, flexibility, and self-compassion.

 

Setting our intention, we can learn to live more mindfully, taking each day one step at a time, living in the present moment.  Aware of what is happening around us, we can listen to our hearts, our inner guidance to reveal the next step, taking one step at a time.

 

To be present with the process, take a moment now to:

 

  • Take a long, deep breath and slowly release it.
  • Close your eyes as you focus on your heart, slowly breathing in and out,
  • Recognizing how you feel,
  • Asking, "How am I feeling?" and naming that feeling. Is it fear, worry, frustration, restlessness, loneliness, or something else?
  • Then ask yourself, "What do I need?"
  • Put your hand on your heart, focusing on your breathing as you see yourself taking one small step to meet your need.
  • Then gently open your eyes.

 

As you practice this process, taking one step at a time, the path before you will open up. And together we will get through this challenging time. For as the Tao Te Ching says,

 

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Water

"Nothing on earth

Is more gentle and yielding than water

Yet nothing is stronger."

 

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78 

 

Water nurtures all life on earth. Falling from the sky to the ground as precipitation—rain or snow—it flows as surface water through rivers into lakes and oceans, or percolates deep into the earth through layers of sediment, becoming aquifers, vast underground lakes. With the sun's heat, surface water evaporates, rising as vapor to form clouds, and the cycle begins again. There is always the same amount of water on earth. We drink the same water that the dinosaurs drank. The golden wheat fields of the American Midwest are irrigated by water from the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground lake that dates back to the Pleistocene era

 

Throughout its cycle, water takes many forms--from snowflakes, tiny lace mandallas from the sky, to shimmering icicles, to a summer's day heavy with humidity, to the rapids of a roaring river.

 

Water can be beautiful or destructive. Water is essential to life, yet climate change has brought fear and destruction, violent rain storms and floods to some parts of our world and drought to others. 

 

The water cycle includes us all, and there's a powerful parallel between water and the energies of our lives. Some energies are creative, life-sustaining; others, destructive streams of fear or greed. Each day, we contribute to the collective energy of the planet, the cycle of life within and around us.

 

Living creatively means becoming more mindful of our energies. Take a moment to ask yourself:

 

  • Am I adding to the currents of fear flooding our planet?
  • Or does my heart open in currents of compassion, loving kindness, to nurture and create?

 

 

Whatever challenges you are facing in your life,

 

Take a moment now to

 

Breathe out fear.

 

Breathe in love.

 

Connect with the eternal cycle of life

 

 

 

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Finding Hope in Dark Times

The flowering quince blossoms by my front gate bring their bright beauty to the darkness of winter.

 

Why do these small blossoms affect me so deeply, more than the abundant wildflowers, honeysuckle, and roses on long summer days?  Now when most of the trees and shrubs are bare, these tiny rose-colored blossoms are a rare exception, a harbinger of hope.

 

Reacting to the political turmoil around us, rushing from one task to another, moving mindlessly through our days, we can become habituated to the good and beautiful in our lives (Siegel, 2007). We focus instead on what's wrong with our world, in our politics, our jobs, our health and relationships, caught up in what Shakespeare called "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" (Hamlet, 3.1.64-65).

 

But a moment of unexpected beauty can wake us up. Winter blossoms, a shaft of sunlight through the clouds, or a rainbow arching overhead can fill us with a sense of awe (Keltner & Haidt, 2003) and gratitude (Emmons, 2016). These positive emotions can heal us, activate our immune systems, broaden and build our personal resources, and enable us to see new possibilities so we can take positive action to begin solving our problems, looking to the light (Fredrickson, 2001). As Emerson, Thoreau, and centuries of poets have realized, a moment of beauty can transform our whole world view.

 

So if you're experiencing a winter of discontent during these dark days, try connecting with the beauty of nature. Step outside, slow down for a mindful moment:

  • Look at the sky. Notice the shapes in the clouds.
  • Look closely at tree or perhaps a winter blossom.
  • If it's deep winter where you live, look at the patterns in the snow or sparkling icicles.
  • Or spend some time with a living creature—a dog or cat.

Take a long, deep breath. Breathe in the beauty around you and breathe out stress. And remember you are always free to connect with the healing power of beauty to help you find new hope beyond the darkness.

 

References

Emmons, R. A. (2016). The little book of gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks. New York, NY: Hachette.

 

Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

 

Shakespeare, W. Hamlet, quote from Greenblatt, S. (Ed.). (1997). The Norton Shakespeare. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. 

 

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.

 

Siegel, D. J. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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The Power of Respect

Vasona Creek reflects the dynamic life and presence of Tao

The Tao Te Ching tells us that "Those who would lead wisely must first respect life."

                                                       Tao, Chapter 75.

 

A major principle of the Tao is respect: for ourselves, for life, for one another. Moreover, since the Tao Te Ching affirms a philosophy of oneness, self and others are intimately connected. Respect transforms reality, turning fragmented interactions into living relationships, conflicts into creative communication, and lifeless, mechanical systems into dynamic learning organizations.

 

As philosopher Martin Buber realized, all of life is relationship. We can relate respectfully—"I-Thou"—or disrespectfully, treating another person as an object—"I-It."

 

Through our daily actions and attitudes, we develop cognitive frames through which we see the world. In one familiar cognitive frame, the mechanistic Theory X model of organizations, leaders perceive their people as objects, replaceable parts. Their "I-It" disrespect is clear in the ease with which they downsize or outsource, undermining many people's lives, in their failure to share information, to listen and learn, to see the people around them not as parts but partners in a creative process. And since our cognitive frames include ourselves, disrespectful leaders diminish everyone, including themselves.

 

The Tao reminds us to respect ourselves, the process, and the people around us.

 

What is one step you can take to bring more respect into your life today?

 

For even a small step makes a difference—like a ripple on a pond. As the Tao Te Ching reminds us,

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"

                                                             Tao, Chapter 64.

 

You can begin that journey by taking that first step today.

 

References

 

Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou. Trans. W.Kaufman. New York, NY: Scribners, p. 53.

 

Theory X from McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise. NewYork, NY: McGraw-Hill.

 

Tao Te Ching quotes from Diane Dreher's translation.

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The Lesson of Living Systems

The ocean waves at Villa Maria Del Mar in Santa Cruz

In a period of great challenge and change, an innovative book on leadership appeared with lessons that can serve us well today.

 

The Tao Te Ching, written over 25 centuries ago during the warring states period in ancient China¸ affirms that we are all part of a living system, that nothing in the universe stands still. In this context, leadership is a creative process, a journey of discovery from what is to what may be.

 

The heart of this journey is your own personal development, which influences everything we do. Effective leaders operate on two levels simultaneously. In the language of the Tao, they combine yin and yang. Inner directed, yet aware of externals, they balance the Socratic wisdom of knowing themselves with the mindful awareness of the energies around them.

 

We live in a culture of extreme outer-directedness, barraged by advertisements, insults on the news, and 24/7 social media. Cultivating the inner life will restore our balance Being inner-directed makes us more aware of our values and the energies within and around us. Outer-directed people get too caught up in these energies to do anything but react, while inner-directed people have the strength of bamboo.

 

Like bamboo, they are open at the center, flexible, adapting to the winds of change without compromising themselves. Empowered by a deep sense of purpose, they become strong and flexible. Like water, they have the fluid power of perseverance, finding their way around or through apparent obstacles. Anyone who has seen the Grand Canyon in the American Southwest or watched the powerful ocean waves wash in to shore knows this power of flexibility and perseverance.

 

 

How can you use the lessons of living systems in your life today:

  • meeting a current challenge with flexibility, seeing new ways around, above, or through it?
  • affirming perseverance, not giving up, staying in touch with your dreams?

 

How can you live with the fluid power of water?

 

 

 

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Attitudes and Energies

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

The Tao is the one.

From the one come yin and yang,

Sunlight and shadow,

From these two creative energy,

From energy ten thousand things

The forms of all creation.

                      

                            Tao, Chapter 42.

 

Unlike the old mechanistic model of organizations where leaders give orders and treat people like replaceable parts, leading with the Tao means focusing on underlying processes, recognizing the energies within and around us.

 

Much of this involves our attitudes, the subtle energies we communicate in personal interactions. An arrogant and ruthless leader can create a toxic atmosphere while inspirational leaders inspire and empower the people around them.

 

Research has revealed that interpersonal interactions are emotional energy transactions, producing measurable changes in our brain chemistry, blood pressure, hormone levels, cardiovascular function, and immune systems.[1]

 

A leader's moods can affect—or infect—an entire organization, influencing productivity, success, and overall corporate health, including the health of the people around them. Egotistical, defensive, and imbalanced leaders can bring chaos to our world.

 

Because they so powerfully influence the energies around them, leaders are profoundly responsible for balancing the energies within them. Today, more than ever, a commitment to ongoing personal growth is a vital leadership task.

 

As a leader in your own life, take a moment now to focus on your energies.

 

  • Are you feeling nervous, anxious, angry? Something else?
  • Where in your body do you feel this energy?
  • Take a deep breath and release it as you name your feelings.
  • Then take another deep breath and release it.
  • Realize that your feelings are energy
  • What energy do you want to feel?
  • Breathe in that energy, that feeling, into your heart.
  • Now imagine yourself expressing that energy in the world around you.
  • And go about your day, more mindful, more present, more aware of the energies within and around you.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

_______________________

Reference

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2001, December). Primal leadership: the hidden driver of great performance. Harvard Business Review, pp. 42-51.

 

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Presence and Process

The Tao Te Ching says, "Be present, observe the process. Stay centered and prevail."

Tao, Chapter 33

 

But sometimes the fast pace of contemporary life can undermine even the best  intentions.

 

Years ago, two psychologists held a classic experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary, asking ministerial students to prepare a short talk on a religious subject, then walk over to another building to present it. Some of the students were told to hurry because they were running late.

 

On the way, the students ran into a man slumped over in the alley, coughing and groaning, in apparent distress. While many of the other students stopped to talk to the man and offer help, 90 percent of the "late" students simply rushed right by without stopping, too concerned with giving their talks on time. Ironically, many of these students gave a talk about the Good Samaritan.[1]

 

What explains this apparent insensitivity? Rushing. Under stress—and rushing is a form of stress—we narrow our focus into "fight or flight," numbing ourselves to other people and the complexities of the world around us. Stressed-out people can become insensitive and act with poor judgment because they are not fully "present" to themselves and others.

 

Have you become caught up in rushing through your days? Too little time, too much to do. If so here is your leadership challenge: How can you be more present, more mindful, more aware of the people in your life today?

 

Research has shown that simply pausing to take a mindful breath can cut the stress reaction, bring us back to the present moment.

 

Take a few moments now to:

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.
  • Feel your shoulders relax, your feet on the ground, your body gradually relax.
  • As you breathe slowly and deeply, feeling more present, more mindful, more whole

And the next time you catch yourself rushing, stop to take a deep, mindful breath to bring yourself back to the present moment.

 

 ____________________

 
[1] Darley, J. M. & Batson, C.D. (1973). From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.

 

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Right Speech

The legendary peace rose

The Tao Te Ching tell us:

 

"Those who know do not speak.

Those who speak do not know."

 

How much of the speech we hear is truly meaningful today? The media is filled with invasive noise—misleading advertisements and corporate PR propaganda. Too much of what passes for news is celebrity gossip, one political crisis after another, and a president's emotional late night tweets.

 

Beneath all the surface noise, where can we find the truth?

 

For centuries, Buddhists have taught "Right Speech"—mindful, compassionate communication.

Wise Buddhist masters recommend pausing before speaking, asking ourselves:

 

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

 

If more of us asked these questions, we would have less dishonesty, less hurtful conflict, less noise. Practicing Right Speech could create greater understanding, compassion, and peace within and around us.

 

Take a moment now to focus on Right Speech.

 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly release it. As you breathe slowly and deeply, feel your body relax with each breath.

 

Now think of a recent interaction with someone you know. Ask yourself if your words were true, kind, and necessary.

If so, breathe in the warm glow of that memory.

If not, send compassion to yourself and the other person with this Loving Kindness meditation:

 

  • May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be free from suffering. May I be peaceful. May I be happy.
  • May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be free from suffering. May you be peaceful. May you be happy.

Breathe in loving kindness and breathe out peace.

 

And next time, before you speak, remember to ask yourself:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

 

Practicing Right Speech will help heal the discord on this planet, one mindful interaction at a time.

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