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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Harvest and Gratitude

In the golden days of autumn, the great wheel of time turns from summer to fall. For centuries, our agrarian ancestors measured time by the seasons as the agricultural year took them on a spiritual journey through the annual cycles of life. Each month brought new lessons, as alternating seasons of darkness and light prompted them to seek deeper meaning beneath the busy surface of their days.


In this season of autumn, our ancestors brought in their last harvests, put away food for the coming winter, and joined together in rituals of thanksgiving. The ritual of giving thanks for the harvest has long been celebrated in cultures around the world. The American holiday of Thanksgiving is one example, and one of the few traditions that still unites our often painfully divided country.    


At a time when the US surgeon general has declared a loneliness epidemic in our country, now, more than ever we can benefit from practicing gratitude. According to psychologist Robert Emmons, PhD, practicing gratitude can help us overcome loneliness and isolation by making us feel closer and more connected to others. Beginning a new habit of practicing gratitude can restore our connection to nature and one another, and bring a deeper sense of meaning to our lives. Throughout many decades of research, Emmons has found that gratitude can help relieve depression and anxiety, improve our relationships, bring us greater joy and meaning, and restore our hope in challenging times.[i]


Today, amid the brightly colored autumn leaves, golden pumpkins, and seasonal celebrations, we can to take time from our busy lives to reflect on the gifts of the past seasons and participate in this ritual of giving thanks.


Here are some simple ways to practice gratitude:

  • Begin each day with gratitude. When you wake up in the morning, think of one thing you're looking forward to that day.
  • Give thanks before meals. You can do this silently or make it a practice to give thanks with family and friends as you share a meal together.
  • Pause during the day to appreciate the beauty of the world around you.
  • Make it a point to thank people.
  • Send a gratitude letter or thank you card to someone who has helped you or brought joy into your life.
  • Keep a gratitude journal—write down three things you're grateful for at the end of each day.


I wish you joy, gratitude, and peace in this golden season of autumn.

[i] Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Emmons cites decades of research and offers a wealth of insights on the positive effects of gratitude.

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Heart Centered Meditation

The HeartMath Institute in Northern California has found that meditation promotes greater peace of mind by creating coherence—more harmonious heart rhythms and greater balance in our nervous systems. They've developed various forms of heart coherence meditation, which can reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and lead to better health. [1] Recent research has shown that people who practiced heart coherence meditation daily for four weeks experienced positive changes in their brains.[2]


Demonstrating how we are all interconnected, HeartMath researchers have found that when we achieve greater heart coherence, our energies can promote greater peace of mind in those around us. [3]


Heart coherence meditations combine mindful breathing with an added focus on the heart. Here is a short way to practice this today:


  • Focus your attention on the center of your chest, in the area of your heart. You can place your hand on your heart to help you focus.
  • Breathe slowly and mindfully, imagining that your breath is flowing in and out of your heart.  Don't force your breathing. Just let it flow smoothly and easily in a rhythm that feels good to you.
  • As you continue heart-focused breathing, recall a time when you felt joy, appreciation, or care for a special person, pet, or place that you enjoy. Keep this feeling in mind as you continue breathing slowly and mindfully, focusing on your heart.
  • When you catch your mind wandering, return your focus to your heart.[4]


You can practice heart coherence meditation for ten minutes or more as a regular meditation practice. When you're feeling stressed, you can also use this as a "quick coherence" technique for a minute or two to gain greater peace of mind. 


I wish you joy on the path.


[1] Childre, D., Martin, H., Rozman, D., & McCraty, R. (2016). Heart intelligence: Connecting with the intuitive wisdom of the heart. Waterfront Press, p. 31.

[2] Min, J., Rouanet, J., Cadete Martini, A., Nashiro, K., Yoo, H. J., Porat,S., et al. (2023). Modulating heart rate oscillation affects plasma amyloid beta and tau levels in younger and older adults. Scientific Reports, 13, 3967.

[3] Childre, D., Martin, H., Rozman, D., & McCraty, R. (2016). Heart intelligence: Connecting with the intuitive wisdom of the heart. Waterfront Press, p. 127.

[4] Childre, D., & Rozman, D. (2005). Transforming Stress: The HeartMath Solution for Relieving Worry, Fatigue, and Tension. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. Description of this heart coherence meditation on pages 44-45.


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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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A Time for Compost


Our gardens offer enduring lessons of growth and renewal. A compost pile can turn weeds, fallen leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste into rich new soil. The same principle holds true for our lives-- we can compost old patterns into new possibilities.[1]


In an examined life, everything can be compost. Cherished memories empower us and enrich our lives. But so can painful memories from the past, old habits we'd like to break, patterns we've outgrown. Instead of dwelling on negative experiences, which can often attract more of them, we can compost them.  Becoming more mindful, asking "What can I learn from this?" and then moving on can turn a negative experience into a new cycle of wisdom and growth.


If you'd like to try this personal form of composting, please join me in this meditative exercise:


Close your eyes, take a deep mindful breath and slowly release it

Then, as you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, think of something in your life you'd like to compost:

  • An old habit you'd like to break.
  • A negative experience that keeps nagging at you.
  • Ongoing guilt or resentment about a past experience.
  • Something you did that you regret.

Say to yourself, "I am ready to compost this."

And take another deep breath and release it.


When you open your eyes, write your compost plan on a piece of paper or index card. "I compost___[name what you've chosen to compost]." Then sign and date the card.


For the rest of this month, look at the card each morning and say to yourself, "I compost ­­­­___," stating what you've chosen to compost.

It takes time to break old habits, so don't be discouraged. Whenever you find yourself falling back into the old pattern, stop and tell yourself, "I've composted that."


At the end of the month, tear up the card and bury the pieces in the ground, adding your compost to the soil.

Connecting us to the ongoing cycles of nature, composting can bring us new beginnings and renew our faith in life.



[1] An earlier form of this exercise appears on pages 30-31 of my book, Inner Gardening: A Seasonal Path to Inner Peace. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

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Take a Mindful Moment

Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, "is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."[i] So much of life can pass us by when we are disconnected from the present moment. Becoming mindfully present is simple, but not easy, especially in our Western world that puts so much emphasis on external accomplishment. And because our minds wander, we spend much of our time thinking about the past or future when we could be more present to life, right here and right now.


The present moment embodies the Taoist concept of wu-wei—being, not doing. When we're in a state of being, we are present, in touch with our feelings. We're not distracted, not emotionally numb, not driven by stress or feeling disconnected and alone, but present in the flow of life.


I invite you to join me in a mindful moment.


Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed, sit comfortably with your eyes looking down or gently closed, and focus on your breathing, the natural rhythm that connects you with all of life.


Take a slow, deep mindful breath. Feel the breath flow slowly through your body.


Then gradually release it, letting go of any tension with each outbreath.

Breathing in.

Breathing out.

Only here, only now.


When your mind starts wandering—and it will—bring your attention back to your breath

Breathing in.

Breathing out.


Feel the deep comforting presence, the gift of this moment, this life


You can practice this short breathing exercise with your eyes open when you're waiting in line, stuck in traffic, or whenever you need to return to the present moment. Then you can use it to return to a more calm and centered space whenever you're feeling stressed.



[i] Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. Quote on page 1.


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The Tao of Teamwork

Do you enjoy teamwork? When I was growing up I used to love playing touch football with my friends. My neighbor Jim was the quarterback, preparing our plays by drawing strategies in the dirt as we huddled around him. Then we took our positions. Everyone had different skills. Some could block, some could throw, and some could run like the wind. Together, we could make a touchdown. And we had fun.


I enjoyed teamwork in my projects at the university. When I was department chair, I became the quarterback, recognizing my colleagues' different strengths and skills. Some of us were creative idea people, some good at details, some had strong interpersonal skills, and others could think strategically. Working together, we were a great team. It was energizing and it was fun.


Today, I enjoy being part of a team in my volunteer work. Instead of complaining about the way things are, it's more energizing to work together to  make a positive difference.


The humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers brought out the best in his clients by listening to them and helping them recognize their strengths. Then he used his strategies in the Carl Rogers Peace Project. Affirming the Tao leadership of empowerment, he carried in his wallet this quote from the Tao Te Ching:


With the best of leaders

When the work is done,

The project completed,

The people all say,

"We did it ourselves."

                                 (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17)


You can cultivate teamwork in your career, in your family, or in your neighborhood by first recognizing your own strengths. What are you especially good at and what do you love to do? Then look for the strengths in the people around you.  Encourage everyone to use their strengths to reach a common goal. Feel the exhilarating energy of teamwork.


Now take a moment of meditation to visualize yourself as a Tao leader

Close your eyes,

Take a long, deep mindful breath and release it.

Think of a goal that you care about.

Now see yourself using your personal strengths

Combining them with those of the people around you,

Bringing out the best in them.

Achieving the goal you care about

Making a positive difference.

Feel the energy of teamwork


Now open your eyes

And take the next step

To make it happen.


Enjoy the process




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The Lesson of Trust

The Tao Te Ching says, "The wisest person trusts the process"

                                                                 (Tao chapter 2).



that's been a difficult lesson for me.


When I was growing up, The world was constantly shifting beneath my feet.

My father was in the Air Force and we moved all the time, leaving familiar places and all my friends behind.

My mother was beautiful, charming--and unreliable, making promises, then changing her mind. I was never sure of her affection and approval.


So I learned to be defensively independent.

I learned to care and help others but afraid to ask for help and then be disappointed.


Today I am learning to trust the process

One small step at a time.


Asking for what I need has become a spiritual exercise

In a process of giving and receiving, a cycle of yin and yang.


If you've been struggling with trust in your own life, then join me in this brief meditation.


Take a long, deep mindful breath and release it.

Continuing to breathe slowly and deeply

Ask yourself, "Is there an area of my life where I've been stuck?" "Where I've been afraid to trust?"

Then ask, "What would it look like to trust the process?"


What is one small step you can take--just one?


Taking another slow deep breath, and slowly releasing it

See yourself taking that step.


If that step is successful, how does it feel? Smile and embrace that feeling

If that step doesn't work out, how do you feel and what can you learn from it?


What can you do next?  How can you take the next step?


It's a process

Moving forward

Just one small step at a time.


For as the Tao Te Ching tells us,

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

                                                                (Tao, chapter 64)


I wish you courage, trust, and joy on the path.

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Frustration and Inspiration

Steps on the path

When I begin a new project, I'm filled with excitement, energized by new visions of possibility. But then somewhere in the midst of the process, inspiration gives way to frustration. I find myself in unknown territory. I'm confused. I've never been here before or done this before and I don't know where I'm going.


Part of me wants a map to this new territory or a step-by-step set of instructions. I want certainty for this project when what I feel is uncertainty wandering in uncharted territory all alone.


And yet, when I muster the courage to take even one small step, I discover a new flash of inspiration, new insight to light my way. As frustration turns to inspiration, the path ahead seems possible once more.


Frustration and inspiration are part of moving forward in any creative process that takes us into the great unknown. We don't know where we're going because we've never been there before. In any creative endeavor, we're explorers like Lewis and Clark, like Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, like Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, on a journey to discover something new.


The message for all of us is to trust the process, to be present with each step, to listen for the lessons and look for the light to lead us forward.


For as the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching tells us: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."


What is your next step on the creative journey of your life?


I wish you joy as you follow the light.


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From Drama to Dharma

It's easy to get caught up in the daily drama of our lives. As the Buddhists say, attachment causes suffering. When we're attached to a sense of stability, we can experience unpleasant changes and challenges with intense emotional reactions. As Shakespeare said, we "strut and fret our hour upon the stage," the suffering hero of our own dramatic universe. Feeling sorry for ourselves, we ask "Why is this happening to me? Reacting in fear, isolated in our egos, we can fall into misery, blaming and shaming ourselves and others.


This is drama.


Then there is the Buddhist concept of dharma. With Dharma, we transcend our egos to see more clearly, realizing that we are connected to an infinite and meaningful universe. We can see beyond the current dilemma to learn vital spiritual lessons, discovering a greater sense of purpose.


To connect with dharma, we need to be present with what is happening, stay centered, and listen for guidance. As we deal with the challenges one small step at a time, unexpected blessings can blossom in our lives.


Last week, I discovered this process for myself. When I was pulling into the parking lot to meet two friends for lunch, a warning light came on in my car—"emission system problem/ cooling system problem." Before lunch, I called my local car repair service and left a voice mail for them to call me back. This led to a series of steps.  When I finished my meal, my friends encouraged me to take my car in and said they'd pay the bill when it came. The local service manager helped me make an appointment with the dealer since this was a complex repair. I got a ride the next morning with a friendly AAA driver who towed my car in to the dealer, where I got a free loaner car to use.  Two days later, my car was repaired at no charge because the state pays for emissions systems repairs. I drove my car home, grateful for supportive friends, pleasant surprises, and kind professionals, realizing how my problem was solved with a series of gifts, one small step at a time.


Have you experienced a shift from drama to dharma in your life?

If so, what did you learn?

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