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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Dealing with Problems

When dealing with problems,

the Tao Te Ching tells us that


"Wise people seek solutions; The ignorant only cast blame."      


(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 79)


As I write in The Tao of Inner Peace, by studying nature, we discover the principles of Tao. And by cooperating with these principles, we can learn to solve problems more effectively. Taoist problem solving helps us see our place in the larger pattern and not let fear and ego demands narrow our perspective.


All around us, we see people reacting from fear: blaming others, playing the victim, having tantrums, making demands, or seeking revenge—doing everything but solving the problem. Neuroscience research tells us why—When we experience problems as a threat, we get swept up into the primal fear reaction of fight or flight. This makes us defensive, falling into shaming and blaming instead of focusing on solving our problems.


The first step in Taoist problem solving is to recognize when we're stressed, PAUSE, and take slow deep breaths to break the stress reaction. Then we can look to the larger patterns, perceiving the Taoist vision of Oneness, the common ground we share.


When I was in graduate school at UCLA, I lived in Santa Monica, a few blocks from the beach. As a first generation college student in the PhD program, when I felt stressed by my studies, I'd walk down to a hill overlooking the beach, breathe in the salt sea air, and realize that I was part of a source beyond my ego, a source of infinite inspiration. Then I'd walk back to my apartment, with an expansive sense of possibility and new answers, new solutions would come to me.


If you'd like to begin this practice now, please join me in this brief meditation:


Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing—

Breathing in peace, breathing out tension.

Breathing in.

Breathing out.

In your mind's eye, visualize yourself standing by the ocean,

Looking out to the sea and sky,

Breathing in the salt sea air,

Feeling one with the ocean,

One with the sky,

One with the infinite creative energies of nature.


As you breathe in that awareness, one with the source.

Hold out your hand and offer your current question or problem to that source,

Releasing it to the shining waves of the ocean as you slowly breathe out.

Now smile as you take a long deep breath and release it.

When you are ready, gently open your eyes.


The answer to your question, the solution to your problem will come.

Either now or later

As the tide turns and the ocean waves flow on to shore.


I wish you joy in the process.

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Discovering New Possibilities with Yin and Yang

Our Western minds too often see conflict as a choice between two opposites—either/or: all or nothing, win or lose. This happens especially when we're stressed. But the Tao Te Ching draws upon the wisdom of nature, describing life as a dynamic balance of both yin AND yang, day and night, mountain and valley, BOTH/AND, not either/or.


The Tao tells us:


"All life embodies yin

And embraces yang.

Through their union

Achieving harmony."

              (Tao, Chapter 42)


The holistic wisdom of Tao offers a range of possibilities instead of reducing all our choices to the false dilemma of either one extreme or the other—your way or my way, win or lose, all or nothing. .


By expanding our perspective, the Tao liberates us from either/or thinking. We see the larger patterns in nature. Recognizing how mountains and valleys are part of the landscape, we can respond to conflicts more creatively. Seeing how yin and yang are part of the larger whole, we can combine apparent opposites into a new vision of possibility.


Have you been stuck in a false dilemma, feeling like you have to choose between one extreme and the other in your personal or professional life? While stress limits our thinking, the Tao expands it. To experience this, you can join me now in a brief meditation.


  • Close your eyes, and take a long, slow breath, slowly releasing it. Breathing in and breathing out.
  • Feel your body and mind gradually relax as you continue to take each mindful breath. Breathing in and breathing out.
  • Now ask yourself what you need from this situation.
  • Not what you expect, demand, or fear but go deeper.
  • What do you really need?
  • As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, think of a larger whole, a both/and pattern that includes your need as well as the other person or situation.
  • Continue to breathe slowly and deeply as you embrace your need and trust that it will be met.
  • You will receive a new insight on how to do this either now or later as you go about your daily activities.
  • Now gently open your eyes, and feel a deeper sense of peace within and around you.


I wish you joy on the path.






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The Way to Greater Light

Night Sky Stars Forest Trees "ForestWander Nature Photography http://www.forestwander.com/

For so many of us, the past two years have been dark times. Many of us have lost loved ones, jobs, relationships, familiar routines, our sense of security and peace of mind. Yet as the Tao Te Ching tells us:


"The way to greater light leads through the darkness.

Going ahead feels like falling back.

The even path seems rugged and hilly,

The highest power, a yielding valley."[1]


The Tao tells us not to hide from this reality in denial with distractions but to look within, to listen to our hearts, to recognize what we're feeling—"the way to greater light leads through the darkness." Relating the wisdom of Tao to times like these means spending time in nature, taking time to listen to ourselves, and being kind to ourselves.


Connecting with nature helps restore our hope as we realize we're part of something larger than ourselves. Researchers have discovered how nature can fill us with a sense of awe, a flow of inspiration that restores our hope, broadens our perspective, and builds our capacity to deal with challenges.[2]


How can you connect with nature today?


You can pause throughout the day to listen to yourself, to ask:

--What am I feeling?

--What do I need?

--What can I do?

Then wait for the answer to the last question. By listening to your heart, you can begin creating greater harmony within and around you.


Finally, you can be kind to yourself in this challenging time, giving yourself daily gifts that bring bright moments of joy to your days. Research has shown that responding to hard times with "mixed feelings"—times of joy amid the suffering—can bring us a deeper sense of meaning and build our resilience.[3]


What are some gifts you can give yourself in this time?  You can share your concerns with a wise counselor or therapist. You can also begin spending more time in nature, meditating, connecting with friends, playing with your cat or dog, listening to your favorite music, engaging in a hobby you enjoy, or something else that lifts your spirits. Like the stars shining in a dark winter sky, these bright moments can help you find your way.


[1] This quote is from the Tao Te Ching, chapter 41. An earlier version of this passage appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, now available as an ebook and a new audiobook edition, published by Penguin Random House in 2022.

[2] Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M, & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 883-899.

[3] Berrios, R., Totterdell, P., and Kellett, S. (2018). When feeling mixed can be meaningful: The relation between mixed emotions and eudaimonic well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(3), 841-861.


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