The Tao Te Ching tells us
Let your roots go deep
Into the source.
With attitude build a firm foundation
Of peace in the Tao.
(Tao, Chapter 59)
Many conflicts occur when we're not living deeply enough. Dashing frantically from one commitment to another on the surface of life, we can lose touch with our deepest values.
I used to have conflicts between my work and my relationships. Over the years, people and situations changed but the painful pattern remained. The night before an exam, my college boyfriend would shout angrily, "You'd rather study than be with me." Years later, when I had papers to grade, another man in my life would complain, "You'd rather grade papers than be with me." Torn between competing polarities of love and work, I was not at peace with myself (Dreher, 2000).
Our lives are symphonies of many parts. Each day we have needs for food, sleep, exercise, love, work, inspiration, and renewal. It's not a question of either/or, discord and division. If we neglect any of our parts, we become imbalanced and unhealthy.
The Tao teaches that peace comes from transcending polarities with a vision of the larger whole. Beneath the surface differences, it is the One that includes us all. To live with the Tao as our guide means to reach beneath the surface to connect with our deeper reality.
These days, America is painfully polarized between two political factions: red and blue. We can get so carried away reacting to "the other side" that we forget the larger reality that connects us all. Yet as Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his first inaugural address:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln, 1861).
When we're anxious and confused, we can easily ignore those better angels. Falling into polarization, reducing our choices to two polarities, we can project our inner conflicts onto the world around us. Yet when we're at peace with ourselves, we can see more clearly, act more effectively, and create new patterns of peace within and around us.
Is there an area of conflict in your life—either personally or politically—that feels painfully polarized? Taking time for reflection may seem like self-indulgence when we're in the midst of crisis and conflict, yet it's one of the most responsible things we can do. The next time you find yourself in such a place, before doing anything, take time to reflect.
- If possible, go off by yourself where you won't be disturbed
- Take deep breath and release it.
- Then, focusing on your heart, breathe a little slower and deeper than usual.
- Ask yourself "Where is the larger reality in this?" "What is the Oneness that connects us?"
- Listen for the answer, which may come right away or later as you go about your daily routine.
"Let your roots go deep
Into the source."
I wish you joy in the process.
Some of this material appeared in an earlier version in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.
Lincoln, A. (1861). First Inaugural Address https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/resources/president-lincoln%C3%A2%E2%82%AC%E2%84%A2s-first-inaugural-address-1861