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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

Returning to Our Roots

The Tao Te Ching tells us

 

Let your roots go deep

Into the source.

With attitude build a firm foundation

Of peace in the Tao.

 

                     (Tao, Chapter 59)

 

Many conflicts occur when we're not living deeply enough. Dashing frantically from one commitment to another on the surface of life, we can lose touch with our deepest values.

 

I used to have conflicts between my work and my relationships. Over the years, people and situations changed but the painful pattern remained. The night before an exam, my college boyfriend would shout angrily, "You'd rather study than be with me." Years later, when I had papers to grade, another man in my life would complain, "You'd rather grade papers than be with me." Torn between competing polarities of love and work, I was not at peace with myself (Dreher, 2000).

 

Our lives are symphonies of many parts. Each day we have needs for food, sleep, exercise, love, work, inspiration, and renewal. It's not a question of either/or, discord and division. If we neglect any of our parts, we become imbalanced and unhealthy.

 

The Tao teaches that peace comes from transcending polarities with a vision of the larger whole. Beneath the surface differences, it is the One that includes us all. To live with the Tao as our guide means to reach beneath the surface to connect with our deeper reality.

 

These days, America is painfully polarized between two political factions: red and blue. We can get so carried away reacting to "the other side" that we forget the larger reality that connects us all. Yet as Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his first inaugural address:

 

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln, 1861).

 

When we're anxious and confused, we can easily ignore those better angels. Falling into polarization, reducing our choices to two polarities, we can project our inner conflicts onto the world around us. Yet when we're at peace with ourselves, we can see more clearly, act more effectively, and create new patterns of peace within and around us.

 

Is there an area of conflict in your life—either personally or politically—that feels painfully polarized? Taking time for reflection may seem like self-indulgence when we're in the midst of crisis and conflict, yet it's one of the most responsible things we can do. The next time you find yourself in such a place, before doing anything, take time to reflect.

 

  • If possible, go off by yourself where you won't be disturbed
  • Take deep breath and release it.
  • Then, focusing on your heart, breathe a little slower and deeper than usual.
  • Ask yourself "Where is the larger reality in this?" "What is the Oneness that connects us?"
  • Listen for the answer, which may come right away or later as you go about your daily routine.

 

"Let your roots go deep

Into the source."

 

I wish you joy in the process.

 

 

References

 

Some of this material appeared in an earlier version in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.

 

Lincoln, A. (1861). First Inaugural Address https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/resources/president-lincoln%C3%A2%E2%82%AC%E2%84%A2s-first-inaugural-address-1861

 

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Solving Problems with the Tao

The Tao Te Ching says that:

 

Wise people seek solutions.

The ignorant only cast blame.

 

Tao, Chapter 79

 

If we confront problems when we're not centered, we can become defensive, turning problems into blaming games.

 

When I was in graduate school, I worked for a year as a medical receptionist. One day while the office was filled with patients, workers were laying carpets in the examining rooms.

 

The phone rang incessantly, patients came and went, when suddenly I smelled smoke. The workers had gone to lunch, leaving a hot iron plugged in that was beginning to burn down into the floorboard. I went into the room, pulled the plug, set the iron upright, and returned to my desk.

 

Then the commotion began. The doctor smelled smoke and began shouting at the nurses, who shouted at the office administrative assistants. Their faces grew red, their voices strident and defensive. "Whose fault was it?" they shrieked. "Who should have checked the examining rooms?"

 

I wondered to myself, what difference does it make whose fault it was. The point was to solve the problem.

 

In far too many conflicts, both interpersonal and international, people become so busy blaming others and defending their egos that they forget to solve the problem, which in this case was as simple as pulling the plug.

 

The next time you face a problem,

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Center down to look beyond blaming and shaming.
  • Then follow the Tao to seek an effective solution, drawing upon the wisdom within and around you.

 

I wish you peace on the path.

 

Reference

 

An earlier version of this story appeared in

Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of inner peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, page 6.

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The Power of Presence

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

The path of Tao is simple,
Yet people take many detours.

                      Tao, Chapter 53

 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we've all been experiencing increased stress. Whether we're working remotely or essential workers struggling to keep our healthcare system and economy running, many of us have been feeling overwhelmed. We've been multitasking, trying to do two or three things at once. But research has shown that our brains lose vital information when we shift back and forth between tasks, that multitasking actually makes us less efficient.

 

This is true in our work and especially true in our relationships. Have you ever caught yourself checking your email when talking to someone on the phone? Do you recall seeing a couple at a restaurant staring down at their cell phones, not present to the meal or to each other ? Or have you tried to talk to someone whose attention was divided, distracted by some electronic device?

 

It takes intention to be present. Like a Zen archer, we must be focused. Our intention, like the arrow, must be aimed at one target, one task at a time. When our minds aren't focused, we will miss the mark.

 

Each day we are confronted by external demands. Friends and family members, employers, newscasters, politicians, and advertisers are telling us what to buy, what to think, and what to do. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a longtime student of Eastern philosophy, realized how such outside influences threaten to reduce us to reactive subservience. "You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it," he warned.

 

Yet as citizens in a democracy, we cannot surrender to outside influences. We must think for ourselves and be present to those around us. This means coming back to center, knowing where to focus, where to aim our intention.

 

What about you? How do you stay on the path, navigating through the demands around you? How do you remember who you are and why you are here?

 

Wherever you are, take a moment now to return to center.

 

  • If it's convenient for you, close your eyes.
  • Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.
  • Breathing slowly and deeply, feel your body relax,
  • Feel the rhythm of your heartbeat.
  • As you focus your attention
  • And intention
  • To be right here
  • Right now.

Then slowly breathe out as you return to the present moment. By becoming more present and balanced, you will be doing your part to create a more balanced and peaceful world.

 

References:

 

Some information in this lesson appeared earlier in Dreher, D. (1996). The Tao of Personal Leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

 

The Emerson quote from "Self-Reliance" in Emerson's Essays (1926). New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, p, 38. Originally published 1841.

 

For insight into how multitasking affects our brains and makes us less efficient, see Foerde, K., Knowlton, B. J., & Poldrack, R. A. (2006). Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 11778-11783.

 

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Cultivating Compassion

The Dalai Lama says that

 

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.

Without them humanity cannot survive."

 

Have you been rushing around, too busy to feel compassion for the people around you? These days, when dealing with the Covid pandemic, divisive politics, and economic uncertainty, our capacity for compassion can be sabotaged by stress.

 

How does this happen? Let's go back to a classic experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary. Years ago, on a cold day in December, a group of ministerial students was assigned to give an impromptu speech. The students met individually with the researcher, who gave them their speech topics: either their future career or the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Then they were told to go to the lab next door to record their talk. For some students, the researcher added another factor: telling them to hurry because they were already running late.

 

One by one, the ministerial students went to the lab on this cold December day, walking through an alley to the next building, where a young man was slumped in a doorway, coughing and groaning. Some students stopped to ask if he needed help; some even took him inside and tried to get medical help. Others ignored him and walked on by.

 

What made the difference? Not whether the students were going to talk about their future careers or the Good Samaritan, but whether they were in a hurry--rushing because they were running late. The researchers even found that "on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way" (Darley & Batson, 1973, p. 107). These well-meaning ministerial students had been hijacked by the stress reaction.

 

Chronic stress undermines our compassion, our health, and our relationships, but we can transcend it by adding brief compassion breaks to our days. Taking a few moments to release all the toxic stress opens our hearts to a deep source of peace and renewal.

 

For your own good and the greater good of our world, you can begin taking compassion breaks. Here's how. For the next few moments, turn off your phone or computer, and take time to just BE.

 

  • Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly release it, breathing more slowly and deeply than usual.
  • Focus on your heart as you breathe in, saying silently to yourself: "breathe in calm."
  • As you breathe out, say silently, "breathe out peace."
  • Feel your shoulders relax and tension slowly melting away as you focus on your breathing.

 

After a few moments, open your eyes as you open your heart to greater peace and compassion.

 

 

References

 

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Quote from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/dalai_lama.html

 

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

 

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