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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

When to Say Yes, When to Say No

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The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

Be careful with commitments.

Do not begin something

You may not want to finish.

                    (Tao, Chapter 63)

 

How many of us fill our lives with conflict by saying yes to too many people, too many commitments? This energy draining habit can cause stress overload, rushing, tension, anxiety, and, ultimately, exhaustion. The Tao reminds us of an important lesson: to balance the alternating energies of yin and yang, self and other. To do this, we need to watch our timing: knowing when to say yes, when to say no.

 

Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I developed a habit of mindlessly reacting to others, putting their seemingly "urgent" demands before my own needs. But after answering family members' demands and interruptions, I had very little time and energy left for what was really important to me. This made it especially hard while I was in college. After classes, daily chores, and cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, I'd go to my room to study, only to be told that I had to go to bed at 10 o'clock. To live my own priorities, I finally got a job at the local newspaper to support myself and moved out on my own to gain more control over my studies and my life.  

 

But even though I packed up and moved out of my parents' house, I took the old reactive habit with me. In many a new context, with jobs, friends, and relationships, I felt I had to get others' demands "out of the way" before I could do what I really wanted. And at the end of the day, I was left with little time and energy for what mattered to me.

 

If this sounds familiar, then it's time to develop a new personal pattern. Instead of automatically agreeing to a commitment whenever you're asked, remember to follow the Tao:  to pause and take time to look within in order to avoid energy drains and honor your own priorities.

 

To do this, think of a commitment or invitation you've received lately. Take a few moments to pause, take a deep mindful breath and ask yourself these questions:

 

  • How do I feel about this commitment?
  • What does it mean to me?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Do I feel personally called to do it?
  • Do I really want to do it?
  • Do I have the time?

 

Your answers should reveal whether you're making a meaningful commitment or not. If so, embrace it with heart. If not, then why do it?  The Tao reminds us to say no to energy drains in order to say yes to our lives.

 

I wish you joy in the process.  

 

Reference

 

Some of this post appeared in an earlier version in

Dreher,D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.

 

 

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Seeing Beyond Problems to Possibilities

In this new year, my wish for all of us is that we learn to see beyond current problems to discover new possibilities, new solutions to benefit us all. We can begin by looking for connections, by seeing the larger patterns, by recognizing the cycles of yin and yang that comprise our world. As the Tao Te Ching declared over 25 centuries ago:

 

The Tao person helps others

So no one is lost,

And uses things wisely

So nothing is wasted.

                   (Tao, Chapter 27)

 

Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how profoundly we are all connected. "We're all in this together," the saying goes. What affects one of us can affect all of us in our health care, supply chains, and communities.

 

Since we are all connected, research has shown that small acts of kindness can be healing for ourselves and those around us. With what psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013) calls "micro-moments of connectivity," we can connect not only with close friends and family but with the grocery store clerk or anyone else we encounter in daily life. A simple acknowledgement, eye contact, perhaps a kind word—that's all it takes. These connections benefit both people—to give is to receive. They can relieve stress, improve our health, raise our mood, and reduce inflammation to promote greater physical and emotional well-being. Research has also shown that these small acts of connection can create a positive ripple effect, spreading through entire communities.

 

Recognizing how everything is connected can help us find new solutions to the problems we face. The Tao teaches us that everything is part of a larger process in the cycles of life, that the byproducts of one thing can be valuable components of something else. By becoming more aware of these larger cycles, we can discover greater possibilities.

 

One of my favorite examples is the pneumatic pipeline system used in Swedish cities since 1969 to dispose of household trash. When many people were seeing trash as a problem to get rid of, the resourceful Swedes saw it as a possibility. In each unit of an apartment building they installed pneumatic tubes that carry the trash down to the cellar, where it is separated into waste and recyclable items. The waste is then burned in an incinerator, producing warm air which rises in another set of pipes to heat the building. As the Tao says, they "use things wisely so nothing is wasted."

 

In Taoist problem solving, the most important natural resource is our consciousness, our awareness of the natural cycles. By actively participating in these cycles, you can come up with new ideas, new insights. With this new awareness comes responsibility to take action and share your vision with others. And together, with our new visions of possibility, we can bring greater hope to our world.

 

Now it's your turn.

 

  • Take a few moments now to close your eyes and think of a current problem.
  • Focusing on your heart, take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.
  • Continue to breathe slowly and deeply as you visualize someone or something you appreciate.
  • Feel that sense of appreciation flow through your body.
  • Now ask yourself, "What is the larger cycle that includes this problem?" "How can this problem be part of a greater possibility?"
  • Then listen. The answer will come either now or later.
  • Smile as you slowly open your eyes.

 

References

 

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

 

Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.

 

The closing meditation was inspired in part by the work of the HeartMath Institute. For more information about their research and programs, see https://www.heartmath.org/

 

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