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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

The Lesson of Ma-Ai

There's a Japanese word, ma-ai, the distance in time and space between two people, two events, two energies. The martial art of aikido relies on the interval between action and response, between one person's energies and another's.


In our lives, as in the martial arts, ma-ai is key. Moving too soon is just as unproductive as waiting too long. We can use the wisdom of ma-ai to look for the larger patterns, recognizing when to pause, when to move, when to blend our energies with those around us.


As the Tao Te Ching reminds us:


The wise leader knows
When enough is enough


Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9


There are intervals of ma-ai in all areas of life: the rhythms of yin and yang, action and contemplation, figure and ground, society and solitude. In our gardens, ma-ai is the space plants need to grow at their best. Different plant species each have their own ma-ai. And so it is with difference individuals. In my life, after a busy day at work, I find pleasure in a quiet evening at home. After a day working alone at my desk, I enjoy the exhilaration of a good workout.


Ma-ai keeps us from polarization and going to extremes. Committee meetings are essential for communication and shared governance, but too many meetings can wear us down. Self-care is essential, but so is compassion for others. A Tao leader remembers the importance of balance.


Is there an area of your life that could benefit from the lesson of ma-ai?





An earlier version of this lesson appeared in Dreher, D. (1996). The Tao of Personal Leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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