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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

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.




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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