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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Dealing with Chaos: Tao Wisdom for Challenging Times

A photo from my aikido days by wonderful Mardeene Mitchell

As we emerge from over a year of Covid lockdown, many of us are facing multiple changes and challenges in our homes, workplaces, and personal lives.


When we're used to stability and control in our lives, these challenges can feel like a randori, a multiple attack in the martial arts. The word randori in Japanese literally means "taking chaos," combining tori (to take) with ran (chaos). The ultimate leadership test for us in our world of rapid transition is how well we can "take chaos," deal with a rush of unexpected forces. These forces can be demands and deadlines, changes, conflicts, and crises coming at us all at once.


How can we successfully take chaos?


I learned how years ago when training in aikido, the most Taoist of the martial arts. After successfully demonstrating a range of techniques, a candidate for an aikido black belt must face the final contest, the randori or multiple attack. This candidate faces a group of opponents, all experienced black belts. "Hajime!"—begin! The head sensei calls out, and the black belts rush at the lone contender from all directions.


How do you handle a randori? By not getting fixated on any one attacker or overwhelmed by the size of the group. Instead, you'd center down, watch for the energy patterns, keep moving forward, and flow with a natural rhythm while moving from center to deal with the challengers one at a time.


When we face a randori in our lives, we, too,  need to stay centered so we won't be overwhelmed. We need to take chaos one challenge at a time. Getting too caught up in any one of them would leave us unprepared for the rest. By practicing focus, flow, and follow through, we can remain centered and flexible, affirming the strength of bamboo, the wisdom of Tao. For as the Tao Te Ching reminds us:


Persevering on the path is strength.

To keep your center is to endure.

                                   Tao, chapter 33.


Are you facing multiple challenges in your life? If so, try this short meditative exercise.


Close your eyes and take a deep mindful breath.

As you breathe into your hara, your center of power just below your navel,

Feel your body relax, your mind clear.

See yourself standing in a centered position, your knees slightly bent,

Ready to respond.

Now visualize each of your challenges coming at you,

One from the left, one from the right.

As you begin to move forward,

Let your energy flow through your hands as you reach out,

deflecting and defusing the challenges.

See them tumbling away from you,

As you respond with your intuition, your inner strength,

Finding a natural rhythm,

Flowing with the wisdom of Tao.


In these challenging times, remember the lesson of randori. For when life brings us a randori and we pass the test, it will give us a new sense of mastery, the equivalent of a black belt. We can then move forward in life with greater wisdom and strength.



An earlier form of this post appeared in Dreher, D. (1996). The Tao of Personal Leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins.



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