In this new year, my wish for all of us is that we learn to see beyond current problems to discover new possibilities, new solutions to benefit us all. We can begin by looking for connections, by seeing the larger patterns, by recognizing the cycles of yin and yang that comprise our world. As the Tao Te Ching declared over 25 centuries ago:
The Tao person helps others
So no one is lost,
And uses things wisely
So nothing is wasted.
(Tao, Chapter 27)
Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how profoundly we are all connected. "We're all in this together," the saying goes. What affects one of us can affect all of us in our health care, supply chains, and communities.
Since we are all connected, research has shown that small acts of kindness can be healing for ourselves and those around us. With what psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013) calls "micro-moments of connectivity," we can connect not only with close friends and family but with the grocery store clerk or anyone else we encounter in daily life. A simple acknowledgement, eye contact, perhaps a kind word—that's all it takes. These connections benefit both people—to give is to receive. They can relieve stress, improve our health, raise our mood, and reduce inflammation to promote greater physical and emotional well-being. Research has also shown that these small acts of connection can create a positive ripple effect, spreading through entire communities.
Recognizing how everything is connected can help us find new solutions to the problems we face. The Tao teaches us that everything is part of a larger process in the cycles of life, that the byproducts of one thing can be valuable components of something else. By becoming more aware of these larger cycles, we can discover greater possibilities.
One of my favorite examples is the pneumatic pipeline system used in Swedish cities since 1969 to dispose of household trash. When many people were seeing trash as a problem to get rid of, the resourceful Swedes saw it as a possibility. In each unit of an apartment building they installed pneumatic tubes that carry the trash down to the cellar, where it is separated into waste and recyclable items. The waste is then burned in an incinerator, producing warm air which rises in another set of pipes to heat the building. As the Tao says, they "use things wisely so nothing is wasted."
In Taoist problem solving, the most important natural resource is our consciousness, our awareness of the natural cycles. By actively participating in these cycles, you can come up with new ideas, new insights. With this new awareness comes responsibility to take action and share your vision with others. And together, with our new visions of possibility, we can bring greater hope to our world.
Now it's your turn.
- Take a few moments now to close your eyes and think of a current problem.
- Focusing on your heart, take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.
- Continue to breathe slowly and deeply as you visualize someone or something you appreciate.
- Feel that sense of appreciation flow through your body.
- Now ask yourself, "What is the larger cycle that includes this problem?" "How can this problem be part of a greater possibility?"
- Then listen. The answer will come either now or later.
- Smile as you slowly open your eyes.
Some of this material appeared in an earlier form in Dreher,D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.
Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.
The closing meditation was inspired in part by the work of the HeartMath Institute. For more information about their research and programs, see https://www.heartmath.org/