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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

Finding the Path of Hope

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

Analyzing others is knowledge.

Knowing yourself is wisdom.

         (Tao, Chapter 33)

 

Today, this lesson is crucial. With all the chaos and uncertainty in our world, too many of us are stressed, confused, depressed, and exhausted. Research reveals alarming rates of depression and anxiety worldwide with 84% of American adults experiencing prolonged stress and 40% experiencing anxiety or depression (American Psychiatric Association, 2021; Nochaiwong, et al., 2021)Panchal, et al, 2021). What we need now is hope.

 

Recently, I participated in the new Hopeful Mindsets Program, which offers 5 powerful keys to hope: Stress Skills, Happiness Habits, Inspired Action, Building a Hope Network, and Overcoming Hope Challenges.

 

The first key-- Stress skills-- is essential because when we're stressed our bodies react with the survival mode—fight, flight, or freeze, that the Hopeful Mindsets Program calls the "downstairs brain." Focused on survival and cut off from our higher brain functions, we cannot think clearly to come up with solutions. We react defensively, feeling threatened, too often seeing people with different views as "the enemy," and falling into the painful polarization that divides this country.

 

But we can restore our higher brain function with stress skills that include: recognizing when we feel stressed and taking a 90-second pause, breathing slowly and deeply, exercising, connecting with nature, talking to a friend, or listening to calming music.

 

Restoring hope personally and politically begins with each one of us. We can practice one of the stress skills right now. If you'd like to join me in this,

  • Take a moment to put your hand on your heart,
  • Close your eyes if you wish, and
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply, focusing on your heart as you slowly breathe out.
  • Do this again, breathing in, then slowly breathing out, finding your own natural rhythm.
  • Feel your body relax, your mind clearing as you continue focusing on your breathing.
  • And when you're ready, gently open your eyes.

The Heartmath Institute calls this practice "Heart-focused breathing," which relieves stress and returns us to a more balanced, coherent state (Childre et al, 2016) where we can begin feeling more hopeful.

 

This first key to hope is as close to you as your next breath. You can breathe this way whenever you feel stressed and between activities during the day to begin cultivating a more hopeful mindset.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2021, February 2). U.S. adults report highest stress level since early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/02/adults-stress-pandemic

 

Childre, D., Martin, H., Rozman, D., & McCraty, R. (2016). Heart intelligence: Connecting with the intuitive guidance of the heart. Waterfront Press.

 

Nochaiwong, S., Ruengorn, C., Thavorn, K. et al. (2021). Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11, 10173. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89700-8

 

Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C. & Garfield, R. (2021, Feb 10). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use.KFF. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

 

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Expanding Our Vision: The Wisdom of Yin and Yang

The Tao Te Ching affirms the dynamic balance of yin and yang, telling us:

 

When some are called beautiful

The rest are seen as ugly.

When we prize one quality as good,

The rest becomes inferior.

Yet each extreme complements the other

Large and small,

Light and dark,

Short and tall,

Beginnings and endings

Bring balance to life.

 

(Tao, chapter 2)

 

Yet it's all too easy to forget this Tao wisdom these days when we're caught up in so much stress. Do we see balance, do we recognize the larger harmony of yin and yang? Probably not—when we see all the division and discord around us in areas from public health to politics.

 

We can forget the larger unity because when we're stressed, we see a challenging situation as a false dilemma with only two alternatives—either/or: right or wrong, all or nothing, win or lose.  Actually, we live in a multidimensional universe—we are all individuals with different points of view. Yet how often do you hear people say, even on the news, "let's look at both sides of the issue?" Are there only two sides? Really?

 

In my Tao workshops, I ask people to center down with slow deep breathing, then ask them to find the larger pattern for each pair of opposites.

 

Let's do this now. Take a long, deep breath and slowly release it, finding your own natural rhythm. You can place your hand on your heart if you wish. Relax, focusing on your breathing--breathing in and slowly breathing out.

 

Now for each of these pairs, think of a larger whole, a larger concept that includes them both.

  • Dark and light
  • Open and closed
  • Speaking and listening

 

What did you discover? Dark and light could be a black and white photograph, a zebra, the cycle of the day from dawn to dusk. Open and closed could be a door, a business, a mind, a heart. Speaking and listening could be a conversation, communication, or understanding. There are many possibilities.

 

The next time you find yourself caught up in an all or nothing false dilemma, take a deep breath, center down and remember the wisdom of yin and yang—not either/or but both and. Look for the larger pattern of meaning and you will find it—if not right away then later in a moment of intuitive insight.

 

I wish you joy in the process.

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