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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

Cultivating Inner Strength

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

Analyzing others is knowledge,
Knowing yourself is wisdom.
Managing others requires skill.
Mastering yourself takes inner strength.

 

                       (Tao, chapter 33)

 

Descriptions of leadership usually refer to the leader as manager, strategist, commander-in-chief, emphasizing instrumental skills of communication, planning and problem solving.

 

But beyond these skills, beyond externals, there is the one essential strength we need to cultivate: knowing ourselves. "Know thyself," Socrates taught in ancient Greece. The Tao Te Ching reminds us that effective leadership requires us to recognize our own strengths and weaknesses, and strive to become more balanced, more centered more whole.

 

Only then can we meet our challenges without being reactive, without falling into excesses of ego—fear, anger, and defensiveness. Only then can we see more clearly, act more wisely, responding to the energies around us from a center of balance within us.

 

How do we develop the knowledge that will provide our center of balance? The answers come from sources as old as the Tao Te Ching, as new as research in neuroscience: from a commitment to contemplative practice.

 

Contemplative practice is now more vital than ever. Chronic stress from the COVID-19 pandemic to racial injustice and economic insecurity can put us on constant alert, blocking our vision and our compassion for ourselves and others. Unable to focus or be fully present, we can become frantic and defensive, making hasty decisions that only increase the suffering within and around us.

 

Neuroscience research has shown how contemplative practice cultivates mindfulness, enhancing our cognitive function, strengthening those areas of the brain that regulate emotion, bringing us greater clarity and compassion for ourselves and those around us (Condon et al, 2013; Hölzel et al, 2011; see also Goleman,  & Davidson, 2017).

 

Do you have a contemplative practice? Whether you do or not, you can join me for a few moments to center down:

 

  • Sit down in a comfortable place where you won't be disturbed.
  • Take a deep breath,
  • Then slowly release it.
  • Continue to breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Close your eyes and feel your body relax
  • As you focus on your breathing,
  • Saying silently to yourself, "Breathing in, I smile,"
  • "Breathing out I am at peace."
  • Feel your body relax more with each breath.
  • When your mind wanders, note the thought--"worry," "anxious," "planning."
  • Then go back to focus on your breathing.
  • After a few minutes, gently open your eyes.

 

 

Take this practice with you for a few moments each day and notice the difference it makes in your life. 

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

References:

 

Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B., & DeSteno, D. (2013). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24, 2125-2127.

 

Goleman, D. & Davidson, R. J. (2017). Altered Traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain, and body. New York, NY: Avery.

 

Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago., D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 537-559.

 

Some information in this post appeared earlier in Dreher, D. (1996). The Tao of Personal Leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins and  Dreher, D. E. (2015). Leading with compassion: A Moral compass for our time. In T. G. Plante (Ed.). The psychology of compassion and cruelty: Understanding the emotional, spiritual, and religious influences (pp. 73-87). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

 

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What Does Peace Look Like?

The Peace rose

What does peace look like?

 

How can we find peace in the midst of a global pandemic while dealing with centuries of racial injustice? Our problems seem overwhelming. At times, there is so much darkness that it's hard to see the light.

 

Focusing on our problems, we can become obsessed by the drama on the daily news, which makes us even more stressed, anxious, and despondent. In a democracy, journalists perform a vital public service, pointing out problems we need to address. Yet, if we remain fixated on our problems, it's hard to find solutions. To create a more just and peaceful world, we need not only to acknowledge the darkness but to look towards the light, creating a vision of hope and aspiration.  What does peace look like? Sometimes we need a symbol to remind us.

 

In the late 1930s, a French botanist developed a new hybrid tea rose with petals of golden ivory tinged with pink. As World War II began, samples of this rose were sent to growers in Europe and America. Robert Pyle, a Quaker in Philadelphia, grew the American sample. Under his care, the rose bloomed and flourished. He named it "Peace" and introduced it at the Pacific Rose Society Exhibition in Pasadena, California on April 29th, 1945.  That same day, the war in Europe ended and Peace became one of the best-loved roses of all time.

 

Peace. Like my friend Judy Nadler, I've been growing peace roses in my garden as symbols of hope. These beautiful roses appeared at the end of a war that had brought Nazi death camps, devastation, pain, and suffering to millions. Their radiant blossoms are a daily reminder for me to pause and look for peace within and around me.  

 

If you've been saddened, anxious, and distressed by all the pain and suffering from Covid-19, racist oppression, and economic deprivation, you're not alone. These problems are real. And yet, by summoning up a vision of hope, we can look toward the light, asking ourselves: What would peace look like in this situation? What do I want to see in its place? What kind of world can we create with greater compassion and understanding? What small step can I take to create more peace in our world today?

 

Your vision of peace can become a guiding star to light your way. Taking one step at a time, you can follow the light, sharing your vision with others, cultivating greater peace in our time, creating new hope and possibilities for our world.

 

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