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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

From Reactive to Creative

We all have habitual patterns in our lives, patterns developed over time that tell us who we are and what we can expect from life. When we're not aware of them, we simply react. We can let these patterns control us, remaining defined by our past. 


Becoming aware of these old patterns gives us a choice. We can be reactive or creative, words with the same letters but opposite meanings. By using our power to choose, we can create new possibilities within and around us.  As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl realized, even in the darkness of a Nazi concentration camp, the one freedom  no one can take from us is our freedom to choose our response to any circumstance life brings us.[1]


As I write this blog, I'm wearing my UCLA T-shirt. I dreamed of going to UCLA when I was a high school student  in Germany, where my Air Force father was stationed, and was so excited when I received my acceptance letter. That summer, we moved to California for my father's next assignment at Norton Air Force Base near Riverside. In August, I was packing up to leave my parents' suburban house for UCLA when my mother came into my bedroom and announced, "Your father and I have transferred your acceptance to UC Riverside so you don't have to go away to college."


--"Have to?" I thought. I wanted  to go away to college, to begin living life on my own, and I wanted to go to UCLA.

--When I asked my mother why, she said, "We can't afford it," and left the room.


I was new in town, had no resources, no money and felt helpless, controlled, and trapped. So I commuted to UC Riverside, worried about my parents' finances.  In December, I realized my fears were unfounded  when my mother got a mink coat and a new Mercedes for Christmas. There was obviously something else going on.


Refusing to surrender to the old pattern of helplessness, I took action. That summer I started working at a temp agency and  saving my money. I was driving home from work one afternoon in my parents' old red Volkswagon when I passed the Press-Enterprise office on 14th Street. A thought suddenly filled my mind—"I'm a writer—I should work there." I was only a shy teenager, but I turned the car into the parking lot, walked inside, and said to a reporter, "I'm Diane Dreher. I'm a writer and I'd like to apply for a job." He ushered me upstairs to the personnel office. When I filled out the application form, they said their college intern had given notice that morning and asked  "Can  you begin work on Monday?"


As a Press-Enterprise editorial intern, I worked my way through the University of California, Riverside,   paying for campus housing, tuition, and books, and enjoying my newfound freedom. Writing reviews and entertainment copy, I flourished in the creative atmosphere of the newsroom, working alongside professional journalists who showed me what it means to be a writer. I majored  in English and Comparative Literature and graduated  summa cum laude with a graduate fellowship to the PhD program in English at UCLA.


When I got to UCLA, not only was graduate school one of the best times of my life, but, looking back, I realize that my response to initial disappointment built my resilience and opened up new possibilities.


Psychologist Mary Pipher says that she always asked her clients two questions: "What did you learn from your experience" and "When you look back on this event, is there anything that you can feel proud of?"[2] As I look back, I'm proud of that shy teenager who refused to give in to helplessness and reached out with courage to follow her dreams.


Now it's your turn


Take a long, deep mindful breath

And think of a time in your life when you overcame adversity or disappointment

How did you feel?

What did you do?

Did you release an old pattern to live more creatively?

Did you learn a valuable lesson?

And what do you feel proud of yourself for?


Remember that, as you face new challenges, you always have the power to choose.

And your choices create your future.


[1] Frankl, V.E. (1984). Man's Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. Originally published in 1959.

[2] Pipher, M. (2022). A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermance. NewYork, NY: Thorndike Press, p. 17.

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Be Kind to Yourself


Do you have an inner critic in your head that tells you you're "not enough"—"not good enough,"  "You haven't done enough," nagging you to do more of that endless to-do list, to finish that project, handle those household repairs, answer that email, pay those bills, answer that phone call, and more. There is always more to do, so much that we can become human doings, not human beings.


And it is never enough. Even though we're stressed and exhausted by it all, we're never enough.


Lately, I've realized that this can be a sign that our lives are out of balance. We are more than what we do. We are evolving souls, here to learn, grow, rejoice, and flourish, each in our own unique way. And we need to be kind to ourselves.


If you've been feeling overwhelmed lately, I invite you to join me in this version of the Loving Kindness Meditation.


Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.

Then say to yourself:


"May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be safe. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be guided by the light. May I be happy."


Next, think of someone you love—a dear friend, family member, or pet and say


"May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be safe. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be guided by the light. May you be happy."


Then let your meditation expand to include everyone you know, even everyone on this planet and say


"May we all be filled with loving kindness. May we be safe. May we be well. May we be peaceful and at ease. May we be guided by the light. May we be happy."


Wishing you loving kindness and peace of mind on the path.


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