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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Look to the Light

Winter is the darkest season of the year. The days grow shorter from summer until the winter solstice, December 21, when the great wheel of time turns toward the light and the days gradually grow longer again.


This year, many of us have felt like we've been dwelling in darkness, still coping with losses from the Covid pandemic. According to a recent New York Times editorial, Americans have been experiencing a sense of gloom, feeling pessimistic about the economy and our future, despite an impressive recovery and strong economic performance. [1]


Darkness fills the daily news with reports of wars, fires, floods, and other natural disasters. Yet all news is biased—and I say this from my own work on a newspaper. News reports focus on crime, calamities, and chaos—only part of what is going on, ignoring the light that fills our world. The news rarely reports on the courage of health care workers and first responders, the dedication of teachers, the inspiration of the arts, the beauty of nature, the daily kindness of others, and the vital light within us.


Yet even now, the light of new seasons is emerging. As French novelist Albert Camus wrote, "In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." [2]  Signs of new life are appearing. As  winter darkens the skies, the first green shoots of daffodil bulbs are appearing in my garden. By acknowledging the small signs of beauty in our world, we can look to the light. And this light will enable us to see more clearly, become more mindful, find inspiration, and discover new solutions to the challenges we face.


If you'd like to join me in a brief meditation,

Take a deep mindful breath, focusing on your heart and slowly breathe out.

Breathe in and breathe out one more time.

Once again, slowly breathe in and breathe out.

Now recall one recent vision of light you recall—the stars sparkling above you, the flickering candlelight, the colorful holiday lights in your neighborhood, or the light in a loved one's eyes.

Take a deep heartfelt breath in as you focus on the light.

Feel the light surround you as you slowly breathe out.


This winter, as many of us light candles to celebrate holiday feasts, let's look to the light within and around us. For by looking to the light, each of us can become a beacon of hope, lighting the way to new paths of peace and possibility for ourselves and our world.


[1] Wallace-Wells, D. (2023, December 10). It's No Surprise that America is Pessimistic. The New York Times, Opinion section, p. 9.

[2] See discussion of this quote on https://www.google.com/search?q=camus+winter+quote&oq=camus+wintrr&gs_lcrp=EgZjaHJvbWUqCQgBEAAYDRiABDIGCAAQRRg5MgkIARAAGA0YgAQyCAgCEAAYDRgeMgoIAxAAGAUYDRgeMgoIBBAAGAUYDRgeMgoIBRAAGAgYDRgeMgoIBhAAGAgYDRgeMgoIBxAAGAgYDRgeMgoICBAAGAgYDRgeMgoICRAAGAUYDRgeMgoIChAAGAgYDRgeMg0ICxAAGIYDGIAEGIoFMg0IDBAAGIYDGIAEGIoFMg0IDRAAGIYDGIAEGIoF0gEKMjMzNDRqMGoxOagCALACAA&client=ms-android-att-us-rvc3&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8


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The Power of Your Attention

The wisdom of many spiritual traditions reminds us of the power of our attention. Buddhism calls us to become more aware in the present moment. The Tao Te Ching tells us to "Be present, observe the process/Stay centered and prevail,"[1] and in the Jewish tradition, the words negah (affliction) and oneg (joy) in the Torah are made up of the same Hebrew letters, in reverse order.[2]  What makes the difference?  Where we focus our attention. And we have a choice.


Years ago, in the deprivation of a Nazi concentration camp, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl realized that everything can be taken away from us, "but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."[3]


We have the power to choose where we place our attention—our precious invisible power that creates tangible, real world results.  And we must choose mindfully, for in this world there are many distractions.


  • As psychologists tell us, we have a "negativity bias," that makes us aware of potential threats to our survival.[4] So we notice the negative things more than the positive. This could save our lives when we're walking in the woods and hear a noise that could be a rattlesnake, so we notice this more than the beautiful landscape. But the negativity bias makes us disregard much of the daily beauty in our lives.
  • Among other distractions, people with a strong sense of responsibility often miss out on life's beauty because they see life as a long list of chores. I recall taking out the garbage after dinner one night and looking up to notice the beauty of countless stars sparkling overhead that I'd missed so many times before.
  • Our attention can also be drawn from the present moment by an internal dialog of worry about the future, regret about the past, or negative self-talk.
  • And if we're bored and restless, our attention can be hijacked by advertisers and social media, trying to capture our attention, using us to sell products and make a profit.


To a great extent, our attention creates our reality.  Pause for a moment to look around you. Where are you and where have you been focusing your attention—on your cell phone or in restlessness, impatience, worry, planning, regret, or self-criticism?


If you'd like to join me in a brief meditation, close your eyes, take a deep mindful breath and slowly release it.

Breathing in, notice the air filling your lungs.

Breathing out, notice the air releasing.

Breathing in, notice your body relaxing.

Breathing out, as your mind becomes more still.


Now gently open your eyes and look around. Focus your attention on something beautiful—the tree outside your window, a photo of a friend, your beloved dog or cat, the light that fills your room, or something else.

Breathing in gratitude, breathing out peace.


I wish you joy in the present moment.



[1] Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching. Chapter 33. Diane Dreher's translation.

[2] Robbins, D. J. (2022). Tazria: The Circle Keeps Turning. In M. Strassfeld (Ed.). Torah without End, pp. 54-55. Teaneck, NJ: Ben Yehuda Press.

[3] Frankl, V.E. (1984). Man's Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. Originally published in 1959. Quote on page 86.

[4] Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 296-320.


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