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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Restoring Our Hope by Reconnecting with Nature

In the past two years, research at the National Institutes of Health has reported a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety.[1] During the Covid pandemic, millions of us have lost our sense of stability and personal security. Struggling with confusion and hopelessness, we've been searching for greater peace of mind.


In  my book, The Tao of Inner Peace, I write about another time of stress and upheaval, 25 centuries ago during the warring states period in ancient China, when Lao Tzu found peace of mind by connecting with nature. Now, research has shown how connecting with nature can heal us in so many ways.


Researchers in a Philadelphia hospital found that abdominal surgery patients with a view of trees outside their windows suffered from fewer complications, needed less pain medication, and were discharged sooner than patients with the same surgery whose rooms looked out at only bare brick walls.[2] Research has shown that connecting with nature can help relieve anxiety and depression, renewing our hope by expanding our vision beyond ourselves.[3]


As we become more aware of the natural world, we develop a more expansive vision of life. We see that we are a vital part of nature's growth process. We can gain greater hope by realizing that our choices can positively shape our future, creating greater peace within and around us.


How can you renew your hope by connecting with nature today?


  • This can be as simple as standing up and looking out your window at the green world outside.
  • Or step outside, look up at the sky, take a long, deep breath and release it. Breathe out stress. Breathe in peace.
  • Spend some time in your garden or take a walk in a nearby park.
  • Play with your dog or cat
  • Or look up at the stars at night. As they sparkle overhead, become more aware that you're part of this magnificent cosmos we call home.


I invite you to take one step to reconnect with the natural world today. That step naturally leads to another for as the Tao Te Ching tells us:


"A tree that grows beyond your reach

Springs from a tiny seed.

A building over nine stories high

Begins with a handful of earth.

A journey of a thousand miles

Begins with a single step."

                           (Tao, chapter 64)


I wish you joy on the path.



[1] Recent anxiety disorders statistics from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA): http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety and the National Institute of Mental Health,  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml. Information on depression and suicide rates in the United States from the National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/index.shtml

[2] Ulrich, R. S. et al. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421.

[3] Berman, M.G., Kross, E., Krpan, K.M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlip, I. H., Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140, 300-305; Howell, A. J., Dopko, R. L., Passmore, H.A., & Buro, K. (2011). Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 166-171; Martyn, P., & Brymer, E. (2016). The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology, 21 (7), 1436-1445; Ulrich, R. S.,Simons,R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M.A., 7 Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 2-10-230; Zhang, J. W., Howell, R. T., & Iyer, R. (2014). Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 55-63.



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Take a Meditative Moment

The Tao Te Ching asks us:


"Can you go through your days

Holding fast to the Tao?

Releasing your tension

As you focus your breathing,

Can you relax like a child?

Can you clear your vision

And open yourself to life?"

                   (Tao Te Ching, chapter 10)


The harmony of Tao restores and renews us. Yet how rare it is to give our full attention to anything. Many of us spend our days in internal monologues of worry, anxiety, future plans, and self-criticism.


Positive psychology research has shown that that pausing to focus, even briefly, on the beauty of nature or the blessings in our lives can help dispel anxiety, enabling us to think more clearly, gain greater peace of mind and find greater meaning in our lives.[i] The Tao Te Ching reminds us to "release our tension" by "focusing on our breathing," to renew our energy through meditation. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation, taking slow, deep breaths can help relieve stress and restore our peace of mind.[ii]


There are many forms of meditation including mindfulness, walking meditation, focusing on our breathing, and reciting a mantram or a sacred text.


You can join me now to release tension and stress in one meditative moment:


  • Breathe in slowly and deeply, focusing on your heart.
  • Exhale slowly and deeply, releasing the tension in your body.
  • As you feel your body relax, smile as you say to yourself, "I am peace."


You can practice this brief meditative moment in the midst of your busy days. Whenever you feel stressed, just breathe in peace, breathe out tension, and say to yourself, "I am peace."


I wish you joy on the path.




[i] Hurley, D. B., & Kwon, P. (2013). Savoring helps most when you have little: Interaction between savoring the moment and uplifts on positive affect and satisfaction with life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1261-1271; Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrated framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182.

[ii] Shapiro, S. L. & Carlson. (2009). The art and science of mindfulness. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association;Vago, D. R. & Silbersweig, D. A. (2012). Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-Art): a framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1-30.

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Finding Renewal in Nature

We've all been through a lot lately. These times of challenge and change can bring doubt and uncertainty, casting dark shadows across our lives. Yet summer is a season of light when we can begin cultivating greater hope.


Hope, like the plants in our gardens, doesn't just happen. It must be cultivated. It takes care and conscious effort to bring greater joy and hope to our lives, especially in dark times.


Research in psychology tells us why, reminding us that we have a "negativity bias."[1] As a natural protective behavior, we pay more attention to the problems and potential threats in our lives, while taking the good things for granted. To cultivate greater hope, we need to make an effort, to pay conscious attention to the good. Positive psychologists call this "savoring," intentionally focusing on and enjoying the moments of beauty in our lives. This practice of savoring has been shown to relieve depression and increase our happiness, optimism, and hope.[2] And decades of research have shown how savoring the beauty of nature can heal us in body, mind, and spirit. [3]


This summer you can pause to notice the small miracles in the natural world around you. Some examples in my garden are:

  • Sun-ripened tomatoes, fresh off the vine, filled with the warm taste of summer,
  • Pumpkin vines, planted from seeds from a friend, demonstrating the power of seeds to generate new life,
  • Green beans climbing up the stakes in the ground, reaching up, connecting, and climbing with their remarkable inner intelligence. 
  • And sunflowers blooming, turning their golden heads toward the sun in a process called phototropism. Sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine and an international symbol of hope.[4]  


The natural life around us offers subtle invitations. Can we bask in the beauty of summer, experiencing the renewing power of nature? Can we climb like the green beans, reaching up to new heights? Can we turn toward the light like sunflowers?


Please join me in this short meditation. Go to the window or step outside to connect with the renewing power of nature.


  • Take a long, deep breath and release it.
  • Then focus on one part of the natural world around you—a tree, a flowering plant, vegetables growing in the garden, or the sky above.
  • As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, focus on nature's beauty, the colors and patterns of sunlight and shadows.
  • Feel the connection, as you breathe in peace, breathing out tension.
  • Listen for any lessons this connection brings.
  • Pause for a moment of gratitude.


When you are ready, return to your regular activities.


I wish you joy in the process.

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

[2] Hurley, D. B., & Kwon, P. (2013). Savoring helps most when you have little: Interaction between savoring the moment and uplifts on positive affect and satisfaction with life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1261-1271; the national Hopeful Mindsets project includes "Happiness Habits," encouraging people to savor the good in their lives to build greater hope. See https://hopefulmindsets.com/


[3] Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrated framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182; Ryan, R. M., Weinstein, N., Bernstein, J., Brown, K. W., Mistretta, L., & Gagne, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 159-16; Zhang, J. W., Howell, R. T., & Iyer, R. (2014). Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 55-63; Ulrich, R. S. et al. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421.

[4] For descriptions of the sunflower as the symbol of hope, see https://hopefulcities.org/art/


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The Power of Silence

Photo Gail Hampshire (2014, Jan 6). Milkweed or Monarch. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Milkweed_or_Monarch._Danaus_plexippus._January_-_Flickr_-_gailhampshire.jpg

To follow the Tao

In wisdom and stillness

Brings order to the world.

    (Tao, Chapter 45)


Our days are filled with news, noise, and endless commotion. Yet the most profound messages often come to us in silence. Just now I glanced outside my window to see a monarch butterfly land on the wisteria branch outside, its glorious orange wings fluttering in a silent greeting, reminding me of my connection with nature.


Silence can bring us guidance and inspiration. Each morning I have a ritual: to meditate before I write, listening for the still, small voice of inspiration. As I open up to inner guidance, new insights come from a realm beyond my personal awareness.


These days, while it's important to be informed citizens, we can become overwhelmed by nonstop negative news and frantic activity. Doc Childre of California's HeartMath Institute points out the profound difference between care and overcare. Overcare is feeling excessively responsible, overwhelmed by the problems around us, so much so that we lose heart and burn out. [i] As the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching reminds us, "Stretching ourselves too far, we lose our balance"(Tao, Chapter 24).


Have you stretched yourself too far? Are you caught up in overcare with too many tasks, too much responsibility, too much news and noise in your life? The Tao describes the dynamic balance of nature— yang and yin, day and night, action and repose, sound and silence . If there's too much yang in your life, where can you find the wisdom of yin, the balancing power of calm, reflection, and silence? For with silence comes new inspiration and guidance on the path.


To connect with the wisdom of yin, I invite you to join me in this brief meditation.


Take a moment by yourself where you won't be disturbed. Close your door, turn off your phone, or step outside to a quiet corner of your yard.

  • Sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.
  • Breathing in, feel yourself becoming more comforted and calm.
  • Breathing out, release any tension
  • Breathing in,
  • Breathing out.
  • Ask yourself, "What is it that I need to know?"
  • Listen in the silence, as you slowly breathe in and breathe out.
  • The answer will come, either now or later as you go about your day.
  • Now gently open your eyes.


I wish you joy and peace on the path. 


[i]Childre, D. (2016). Care vs overcare. In D. Childre, H. Martin, D. Rozman, & R. McCraty (Eds.). Heart intelligence: Connecting with the intuitive wisdom of the heart (pp. 213-222). Waterfront Press.

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The Power of Laughter

Basil Morin, Laughing boy at golden hour, in Don Det (Si Phan Don), Laos
Wikimedia Commons

As far back as Aristotle, people in the western world realized that laughter releases tension. It can even heal "incurable" diseases, as Norman Cousins demonstrated in An Anatomy of an Illness. Most of us know how he activated his body's healing energies by watching old comedy movies in the hospital, taking vitamin C, eating healthy foods, and affirming positive emotions.


His example has given hope to millions and led him from the world of publishing into the healing profession. For years he was a professor at the UCLA medical school, where he shared his good humor and positive approach with students, patients, and colleagues.


Like Norman Cousins, Tao people retain their sense of humor even while facing serious problems. Is this a contradiction? No, it is the way of Tao. Tao people don't  agonize over problems but greet life with courage, joy, and good humor. Laughter brings greater detachment, helps us see life's ironies and recognize the larger whole.


For non-Tao people, life is a constant struggle because they take/themselves too seriously. Tao people can laugh at themselves. The Tao itself elicits laughter because it defies convention. As Lao Tzu tells us:


"When a conventional person hears about Tao

He breaks into loud laughter.

If there were no laughter,      

It would not be Tao."

                        (Tao Te Ching,Chapter 41)


To connect with the power of laughter for yourself, take a moment to close your eyes

Take a long deep breath and slowly release it.

  • Continue breathing slowly and deeply as you ask yourself: "What makes me laugh?  Is it comedy movies, YouTube videos, joking with friends, playing with a kitten or puppy? Something else?"
  • Now recall a time when you were filled with the joy of laughter.
  • Feel that joy now as you smile and let the feeling flow through your being.

And as you gently open your eyes, ask yourself how you can connect with more joy and laughter in your life.


Enjoy the process and the path.


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Dealing with Problems

When dealing with problems,

the Tao Te Ching tells us that


"Wise people seek solutions; The ignorant only cast blame."      


(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 79)


As I write in The Tao of Inner Peace, by studying nature, we discover the principles of Tao. And by cooperating with these principles, we can learn to solve problems more effectively. Taoist problem solving helps us see our place in the larger pattern and not let fear and ego demands narrow our perspective.


All around us, we see people reacting from fear: blaming others, playing the victim, having tantrums, making demands, or seeking revenge—doing everything but solving the problem. Neuroscience research tells us why—When we experience problems as a threat, we get swept up into the primal fear reaction of fight or flight. This makes us defensive, falling into shaming and blaming instead of focusing on solving our problems.


The first step in Taoist problem solving is to recognize when we're stressed, PAUSE, and take slow deep breaths to break the stress reaction. Then we can look to the larger patterns, perceiving the Taoist vision of Oneness, the common ground we share.


When I was in graduate school at UCLA, I lived in Santa Monica, a few blocks from the beach. As a first generation college student in the PhD program, when I felt stressed by my studies, I'd walk down to a hill overlooking the beach, breathe in the salt sea air, and realize that I was part of a source beyond my ego, a source of infinite inspiration. Then I'd walk back to my apartment, with an expansive sense of possibility and new answers, new solutions would come to me.


If you'd like to begin this practice now, please join me in this brief meditation:


Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing—

Breathing in peace, breathing out tension.

Breathing in.

Breathing out.

In your mind's eye, visualize yourself standing by the ocean,

Looking out to the sea and sky,

Breathing in the salt sea air,

Feeling one with the ocean,

One with the sky,

One with the infinite creative energies of nature.


As you breathe in that awareness, one with the source.

Hold out your hand and offer your current question or problem to that source,

Releasing it to the shining waves of the ocean as you slowly breathe out.

Now smile as you take a long deep breath and release it.

When you are ready, gently open your eyes.


The answer to your question, the solution to your problem will come.

Either now or later

As the tide turns and the ocean waves flow on to shore.


I wish you joy in the process.

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Discovering New Possibilities with Yin and Yang

Our Western minds too often see conflict as a choice between two opposites—either/or: all or nothing, win or lose. This happens especially when we're stressed. But the Tao Te Ching draws upon the wisdom of nature, describing life as a dynamic balance of both yin AND yang, day and night, mountain and valley, BOTH/AND, not either/or.


The Tao tells us:


"All life embodies yin

And embraces yang.

Through their union

Achieving harmony."

              (Tao, Chapter 42)


The holistic wisdom of Tao offers a range of possibilities instead of reducing all our choices to the false dilemma of either one extreme or the other—your way or my way, win or lose, all or nothing. .


By expanding our perspective, the Tao liberates us from either/or thinking. We see the larger patterns in nature. Recognizing how mountains and valleys are part of the landscape, we can respond to conflicts more creatively. Seeing how yin and yang are part of the larger whole, we can combine apparent opposites into a new vision of possibility.


Have you been stuck in a false dilemma, feeling like you have to choose between one extreme and the other in your personal or professional life? While stress limits our thinking, the Tao expands it. To experience this, you can join me now in a brief meditation.


  • Close your eyes, and take a long, slow breath, slowly releasing it. Breathing in and breathing out.
  • Feel your body and mind gradually relax as you continue to take each mindful breath. Breathing in and breathing out.
  • Now ask yourself what you need from this situation.
  • Not what you expect, demand, or fear but go deeper.
  • What do you really need?
  • As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, think of a larger whole, a both/and pattern that includes your need as well as the other person or situation.
  • Continue to breathe slowly and deeply as you embrace your need and trust that it will be met.
  • You will receive a new insight on how to do this either now or later as you go about your daily activities.
  • Now gently open your eyes, and feel a deeper sense of peace within and around you.


I wish you joy on the path.






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The Way to Greater Light

Night Sky Stars Forest Trees "ForestWander Nature Photography http://www.forestwander.com/

For so many of us, the past two years have been dark times. Many of us have lost loved ones, jobs, relationships, familiar routines, our sense of security and peace of mind. Yet as the Tao Te Ching tells us:


"The way to greater light leads through the darkness.

Going ahead feels like falling back.

The even path seems rugged and hilly,

The highest power, a yielding valley."[1]


The Tao tells us not to hide from this reality in denial with distractions but to look within, to listen to our hearts, to recognize what we're feeling—"the way to greater light leads through the darkness." Relating the wisdom of Tao to times like these means spending time in nature, taking time to listen to ourselves, and being kind to ourselves.


Connecting with nature helps restore our hope as we realize we're part of something larger than ourselves. Researchers have discovered how nature can fill us with a sense of awe, a flow of inspiration that restores our hope, broadens our perspective, and builds our capacity to deal with challenges.[2]


How can you connect with nature today?


You can pause throughout the day to listen to yourself, to ask:

--What am I feeling?

--What do I need?

--What can I do?

Then wait for the answer to the last question. By listening to your heart, you can begin creating greater harmony within and around you.


Finally, you can be kind to yourself in this challenging time, giving yourself daily gifts that bring bright moments of joy to your days. Research has shown that responding to hard times with "mixed feelings"—times of joy amid the suffering—can bring us a deeper sense of meaning and build our resilience.[3]


What are some gifts you can give yourself in this time?  You can share your concerns with a wise counselor or therapist. You can also begin spending more time in nature, meditating, connecting with friends, playing with your cat or dog, listening to your favorite music, engaging in a hobby you enjoy, or something else that lifts your spirits. Like the stars shining in a dark winter sky, these bright moments can help you find your way.


[1] This quote is from the Tao Te Ching, chapter 41. An earlier version of this passage appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, now available as an ebook and a new audiobook edition, published by Penguin Random House in 2022.

[2] Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M, & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 883-899.

[3] Berrios, R., Totterdell, P., and Kellett, S. (2018). When feeling mixed can be meaningful: The relation between mixed emotions and eudaimonic well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(3), 841-861.


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The Healing Power of Nature

During the Covid pandemic, many of us have been spending more time outdoors—taking walks with friends, spending time in parks or in our own yards, and gardening. Renewing our relationship with nature can bring us important lessons.


The Tao Te Ching affirms nature's dynamic balance of the energies of yin and yang.

"The Tao is the one.

From the one come yin and yang,

Sunlight and shadow,

The forms of all creation."

(Tao, 42)


We can develop greater peace within and around us by recognizing that we are all part of nature's pattern of growth which renews itself in cycles. Moving from day to night, spring to winter, active yang is inevitably followed by quiet yin, which gives birth to new yang.


So it is for us. My book, The Tao of Inner Peace, shows us how to find our balance. Too much yin  and we experience stagnation. Our lives become dull and monotonous. Too much yang, rushing from one task to the next, and we become confused, drained, and exhausted. We need to recognize our inner rhythms to cultivate our own dynamic balance.


As we recognize our inner rhythms, Tao principles also lead to greater self-acceptance As each plant has its own cycles, so do we. Judging ourselves in comparison to others is unnatural. Daffodils bloom in early spring while chrysanthemums blossom in autumn. A wildflower blooms for only one season, an oak tree may live for hundreds of years, and California's giant sequoias have endured for thousands. Like the trees and flowers, we each have our own personal cycles.


To experience the wisdom of your own cycles, take a moment now to close your eyes.

Take a deep mindful breath, slowly release it as you feel your body relax.


Now think of one area of your life—your personal life, professional life, or creative life—as you breathe slowly and deeply.


Focusing on that area, ask yourself, "What cycle am I in now?"

Is it a quiet contemplative time of yin?

Or a springtime of emerging yang?


See and feel yourself embracing the wisdom of this current energy cycle.

What is it telling you?

Breathe slowly and listen.


The answer will come, either now or later

As you follow the natural wisdom of Tao in your life.


I wish you joy on the path.


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Tao Leaders for Today

Lately, we've seen too many people who lead with ego. These are shadow leaders, who try to impose their will upon others which can have  disastrous results. 


As I write in The Tao of Inner Peace, the Tao Te Ching offers a holistic and creative vision of leadership. Instead of exercising top-down power, Tao leaders work with the cycles of nature, respecting the energies within and around them.


They include, inspire, and empower people. As the Tao Te Ching tells us:


"With the best of leaders,

When the work is done,

The project completed,

The people all say,

"We did it ourselves."  

                           (Tao Te Ching, 17)[1]


Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers carried this quote in his wallet. In his person-centered therapy and peace negotiation, he saw his own role in the Taoist tradition of leader as facilitator.


Tao leaders bring out the best in people. They cultivate a culture of inclusiveness, trust, and empowerment where people can flourish and think more creatively. This is especially important as we face the complex problems of today's world. With Tao leadership, everyone's perspectives become part of the process, leading to more effective solutions than any one person—no matter how well meaning—could come up with alone.


If we look beyond the shadow leaders who often fill up the news, Tao leaders are all around us. Think of someone in your life—a teacher, family member, coach, minister, or mentor who brought out the best in you. This person is a Tao leader.


Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching as a handbook for leaders, inviting us all to be leaders. So when you take on leadership roles at home and at work—as a committed employee, professional, manager, parent, community leader, or engaged citizen—ask yourself:

  • How can I help create an atmosphere of greater trust and commitment?
  • How can I help others do their best?
  • How can I work with the natural energy cycles within and around me to create greater harmony?

Our world needs your leadership now more than ever.


I wish you joy on the path.

[1] From the Tao Te Ching, 17. An earlier version of this passage appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, now available as an ebook and a new audiobook edition, published by Penguin Random House in January 2022. 


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