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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Creating Connections and Community

With the COVID pandemic, many of us have been feeling lonely and isolated. The rates of loneliness and depression have increased exponentially during the past two years. [1] We've been cut off from our usual work and leisure activities, deprived of in-person interactions with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and loved ones.  No wonder so many people have adopted dogs during the pandemic.


Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness are hazardous to our health, associated with a weakened immune system, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, poor sleep quality, eating disorders, metabolic syndrome, and depression.[2]


The Tao Te Ching encourages us to find ways to reach out, to recognize our part in the larger whole, saying:


"The Tao person creates harmony

Reaching out

From the heart

To build community."[3]


My book, The Tao of Inner Peace offers steps to help people transcend their isolation to build greater community. Some of these are to:


  1. Pause for a moment to ask where you've found connection and community in the past—in your family, your neighborhood, at work, in a church, synagogue, mosque, or community group, or somewhere else?
  2. Think of something  you can do now to strengthen your community. Can you re-connect virtually with a text, email, or call? Join your group online? Something else?
  3. Consider your natural community, the plants and wildlife around you. How much do you know about them? Find out more about the local birds, animals, and plants, recognizing your part in the network of life.
  4. Take one action step to connect with your community this week. [4]


These connections are incredibly good for our health.  Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found this healing effect in what she calls "micromoments of connectivity," brief moments of connection with others. You can make these connections not only with close friends and family but a neighbor, the grocery store clerk or anyone you encounter in daily life. A simple smile, eye contact, presence, perhaps a kind word—that's all it takes. You can feel  the effect of these connections with a new surge of energy and positivity. And these connections benefit both people, dramatically improving our health, raising our mood, relieving stress, and reducing inflammation to promote greater physical and emotional well-being.[5]  


I've been making more of these connections lately on my daily walks and routine errands, connecting with words of appreciation for my neighbors working in the local hardware store and grocery store. While walking my dog Ginny around the neighborhood, I focus on reconnecting with nature—noticing the subtle changes in the trees, the first spring daffodils, and the birds flying overhead. I practice micromoments of connectivity—by saying "hi" to neighbors working in their yards or waving at them as they drive by. And more often now, they wave back, reinforcing our connection.


Now it's your turn.

  • Close your eyes,  take a deep mindful breath and release it, then another.
  • As you connect with the rhythm of your breathing, ask yourself "What is one way I can connect with my local community today?" It can be as simple as taking a walk outside, introducing yourself to a neighbor, or calling up an old friend.
  • What will you do?  Choose one simple action.
  • Visualize yourself doing this. What does it look like and feel like?
  • Now gently open your eyes and begin taking that one simple step to nurture your community.

[1] Ettman, C.K., Cohen, G.H., Abdalla, G.H., Sampson, L., Trinquart, L., Castrucci, B.C. et al. (2022). Persistent depressive symptoms during COVID-19: a national, population-representative, longitudinal study of U.S. adults. The Lancet, 5, 10091,Https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanam/article/PIIS2667-193X(21)00087-9/fulltext


[2] Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L.C., Crawford, E., Ernst, J.M., Burleson,M.H., Kowaleswski, R.B., Malarkey, W. B., Van Cauter, E., & Berntson, G.G. (2002). Loneliness and health: Potential mechanisms. Psychosomatic Medicine 64, 407-417.


[3] From the Tao Te Ching, 49. An earlier version of this article appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, now available as an ebook. A new audiobook edition was published by Penguin Random House in January 2022. 

[4] Dreher, 2000/2022.

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

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Tao Wisdom for Our Time

The Tao Te Ching can offer new insights about what we've been experiencing during these past two years of Covid restrictions. Ordinarily, American culture is extremely yang—active, busy, with nonstop commitments, noise,  and external stimulation. For many of us, rushing from one thing to the next had become a mindless habit. Then with Covid, we've been shocked out of our habitual yang activity. One friend of mine says we've been under "house arrest,"


We've had more yin time to ourselves, to reflect, to ask if what we've been doing makes sense. With the Great Resignation, many people have quit their jobs, gone back to school, seeking new professions, new directions in their lives.


The Tao reminds us that contemplative yin time brings awareness and yang is action. Without yin, yang is mindless action. Without yang, inaction leads to stagnation. We need balance.


As we emerge from these many months of enforced yin time, we can create more mindful action, asking if what we've been doing makes sense, fits our spirit, in our jobs, social activities, and relationships.


The Tao Te Ching tells us:


"The Tao person

Seeks inner wisdom,

Lets go of excess,

Affirms truth."

                   (Tao, chapter 12)


To live your truth, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What have I been missing? What activities and relationships do I really value?
  • What do I not miss at all? –activities and relationships that were only habits.


You can cultivate the balance of yin and yang in your life by:

  • Seeking out periods of silence each day, time to reflect on our lives
  • Spending some time in the natural world.


And when contemplating any new commitment, you can ask yourself:

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it healthy?
  • Will it bring greater joy and peace to my life and my world?

If it doesn't fit these criteria, then why do it? Living the Tao means living mindfully and creatively.


The Tao teaches the wisdom of the seasons. You can emerge from this long Covid winter ready to make more mindful choices, to plant seeds for personal renewal in a springtime of new beginnings.


I wish you joy on the path.

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