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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Do You Have the Worry Sickness?

How we begin our days can make a major difference in our lives. Lately, I've been waking up thinking of all the things I need to do that day. With thoughts racing through my head, incessant planning, and worrying about all the things that could go wrong.


This is not inner peace.


Do you find yourself incessantly planning, with thoughts racing through your head? Being prepared is one thing. Obsessive planning is something else. It not only makes us feel bad but it's counterproductive, putting us in a stressed-out fight or flight mode, narrowing our perspective, keeping us from thinking clearly and making wise decisions.


If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Research reports escalating levels of anxiety and depression in the United States and around the world.[1]


But we can shift out of this state and begin reclaiming our peace of mind with this simple practice.


When you feel your mind racing, STOP


  • Focusing on your heart, slowly breathe in
  • Then slowly breathe out in a longer exhale, feeling the stress leave your body flowing out through your toes.
  • Take another slow deep breath, breathing into your heart
  • Then exhale slowly, releasing any tension.
  • Take a third slow deep breath, breathing into your heart
  • Then exhale slowly, releasing any more tension.
  • Now ask yourself, "What am I feeling?"
  • Pause and focus on what you've been feeling, offering yourself care and compassion.
  • Then ask, "What do I need?" (physically, emotionally, or spiritually)
  • And finally, ask, "What can I do?" (This can be anything from taking a break to step outside, have a meal, exercise, check in with a wise friend or counselor, or something else).


Remember that you have the power to shift from stress to greater peace of mind.


I wish you joy in the process.




[1] World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide


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Are You Feeling Disconnected?

Little Free Library

This week on Next Door a man in the next town posted a message about not feeling a sense of neighborhood. He had lived in the same town for decades but over the years the neighborhood had changed. People moved away. New people had moved in and he now felt surrounded by strangers.


Dozens of people replied, saying they felt the same way—disconnected from community. Some blamed TV, social media, back yards instead of front porches, long commutes. But whatever the cause, many of us are feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation.[1]


We need community. Psychologists have found that even brief moments of connecting ---"micromoments of connectivity," can dramatically raise our mood, relieve stress, reduce inflammation, relieve loneliness, and build physical and emotional well-being.These connections can be shared not only with close friends and family members but the grocery store clerk or anyone else you encounter in daily life. A simple smile, eye contact, presence, perhaps a kind word—that's all it takes.[2]


To renew our neighborhoods and our lives, we need to cultivate community.  We all need a circle of support and "nourishing network" is one of the five key steps to rebuilding our capacity to hope [3].


We can cultivate community in many ways. One of my neighbors has set up a "Little Free Library" in front of her house. This little library has become a regular part of my daily walks with my little dog Ginny. I often leave some of my books in there, then check to see if anyone has taken them, and sometimes take out an intriguing book to read myself. This simple act of giving and receiving is building community, one book at a time.


There are other small steps we can take— Sharing a friendly greeting with people you see, waving at a neighbor driving by, stopping to admire a neighbor's garden and introducing yourself. Sending a thoughtful card. Calling up a friend to meet at a local coffee shop.


By cultivating community, you not only build your own circle of support, but help to create a more cooperative, connected world.



What is one way you can cultivate community today?




[1]  Winerman, L. (2022, May 9). COVID-19 pandemic led to increase in loneliness around the world. American Psychological Association.https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2022/05/covid-19-increase-loneliness; Ernst, M. et al. (2022). Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A systematic review with meta-analysis. American Psychologist, 77(5), 660-677. 

[2] Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press

[3] Goetzke, K. (2022). The biggest little book about hope. (2nd edition). New York, NY: Morgan James Publishing. For more about her work, see https://kathryngoetzke.com/




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One Person Who Cares

Growing up, children are often confused about who they are and what they can become. They don't need more information. Information comes at us from all directions—from parents, peers, teachers, and ever present social media. But recent research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown that  young people are suffering from record levels of depression and hopelessness and one in three teenage girls has considered suicide.[1]  


What young people need today is not more information but inspiration. They need hope. Research has revealed that it takes only one caring adult to make a difference in how young people see themselves and their future. Researchers Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith's classic longitudinal study has shown that knowing one supportive adult enables at-risk youth to overcome negative circumstances and lead successful, meaningful lives.


For over three decades, these researchers studied the lives of over five hundred young people on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Many came from dysfunctional families, compromised by chronic poverty and unstable home environments with divorce, discord, abuse, alcoholism, and mental illness. Yet some managed to flourish, overcoming their obstacles because of one person in their lives—an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, teacher, minister, coach, or neighbor who saw them, encouraged them, and helped them see beyond their current circumstances to believe in themselves and their future.[2]  


As research has shown, it only takes one caring adult to help a young person develop resilience. To experience this, please join me in this brief meditation.


  • Close your eyes and take a deep mindful breath and release it.
  • As you slowly breathe in and breathe out, can you recall the first adult who really saw you, who brought new hope to your life?
  • Who was this person--a teacher, coach, aunt or uncle, a helpful neighbor, scout leader, or someone else?
  • What did they do or say—a kind word, a meaningful conversation, a gesture of respect and understanding? Something else?


Pause and experience this for a moment. How do you feel?


Now ask yourself, "How can I be that one caring adult for a young person in my life today?"


I wish you joy on the path.



[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, February13). U.S. teen girls experiencing increased sadness and violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Newsroom. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2023/p0213-yrbs.html

[2] Werner, E. E. & Smith, R. S. (1992). Overcoming the odds; High risk children from birth to adulthood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


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Moving from Reactive to Creative

Early blossoms of flowering quince

According to psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, "our future is now closely tied to human creativity"[1]  I'd like to share the vital difference between being creative and being reactive.


Being Reactive

We react a perceived threat with fight, flight or freeze.

In emergencies this reaction serves us well. We jump out of the way of a speeding car.

But when stress becomes chronic, we get stuck in being reactive. Our attention narrows, our immune systems and digestive systems shut down, cortisol flows through our bodies, leading to increased inflammation and the risk of serious disease. Chronic stress shuts down our higher brain centers—blocking our ability to create, to see new possibilities.[2] We become anxious and defensive. We worry, we ruminate, but we do not create.


Being Creative—means moving from surviving to thriving.

Research in positive psychology shows us that positive emotions such as love, joy, and awe can broaden and build our personal resources, helping us live more creatively.


University of North Carolina researcher Barbara Fredrickson has found that positive emotions and personal connections strengthen our immune systems, broaden our perspective, and build our personal resources.[3] New York University researcher Jonathan Haidt has found that experiencing a sense of elevation in response to someone we admire connects us to our deepest values and inspires us to moral action.[4]

University of California researcher Dacher Keltner has found that experiencing the sense of awe—amazement and wonder at the beauty and grandeur of nature or a work of art—fills us with inspiration, widening our perspective, building our hope.[5]


We can experience positive emotions in nature, with the people around us, in great works of art, and reflecting on them with gratitude. The point is to have these experiences regularly. Like spiritual vitamins, positive emotions can help us become healthier, happier, and more creative.


So please join me in this brief meditation.


  • Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and slowly release it.
  • Again breathing in, and slowly breathing out.
  • Once more breathing in, and slowly breathing out.
  • Now take a moment to think of one thing you do that fills you with joy, that moves you from surviving to thriving.
  • Just one experience that comes to mind.
  • Is it connecting with someone you love? Feeling inspired by someone you admire? Feeling a sense of awe experiencing the beauty of nature?
  • Take a long deep breath as you recall that experience now.

Then gently open your eyes.


I invite you to focus on that experience often

Whether actually enjoying it or reflecting on it with gratitude, this experience can inspire you to be even more creative in the days to come.


I wish you joy on the path.


[1] Csikszentmihaly, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: Harper & Row, p. 6.

[2] LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

[3]Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press; Fredrickson, B. & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13, 172-175. 


[4] Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.). Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived (pp. 275-289). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association; Keltner, D. & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.

[5] Keltner, D. (2023). Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. NewYork, NY: Penguin Press.


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The Transforming Power of Beauty

Cutting through today's chronic stress, moments of beauty can bring us into the present moment, healing our minds and bodies, restoring our hope.


Among the many studies of beauty and healing, University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson found that a high appreciation of beauty helps people recover from anxiety and depression.[1] University of California, Berkeley, psychologist Dacher Keltner found that people who experience awe in response to nature's beauty have significantly lower levels of inflammation, reducing the risk of depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses. In fact, he found that the more often we experience awe, the lower our inflammation levels.[2]


Psychologist Rhett Diessner's research has shown that engaging with beauty can increase our hope. Diessner and his colleagues at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho asked students to keep weekly beauty logs, writing brief descriptions of the beauty they observed in nature, art, and moral action. At the end of the semester, these students had gained significantly higher hope. [3]


Now it's your turn. Please join me for a brief meditation on these three forms of beauty.

  • Close your eyes and take a deep mindful breath
  • Feel your body gently relax as you slowly breathe in and breathe out.
  • Now think of something beautiful you've experienced in nature—a radiant sunset, a walk in the woods, the scent of pines, a view of the ocean, a playful moment with your dog or cat, new life emerging in your garden, or another beautiful encounter with the natural world. Pause to re-experience that moment of beauty as you slowly breathe in and breathe out.
  • Next think of something beautiful you've experienced in the arts—your favorite music, an inspiring choral concert, a live theater performance, a memorable film, a visit to an art gallery, gazing at classic sculptures or architecture, or another beautiful encounter with the arts. Pause to re-experience that moment of beauty as you slowly breathe in and breathe out.
  • Now think of something beautiful you've experienced in the moral action of kindness—seeing one person reach out to help another, doing a favor, holding the door open for someone carrying packages, helping a child learn to read, rescuing a lost dog, calling a friend, a time you gave, received, or witnessed  a caring action. Pause to re-experience that moment of beauty as you slowly breathe in and breathe out.


Pause for a moment to breathe in as you experience the feelings these memories bring up. Then gently open your eyes.


As you go through your days, make it a point to notice the natural, artistic, and moral beauty around you, for as research reveals, gaining greater hope is possible by simply observing and appreciating such beauty.Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "Each moment of the year has its own beauty."[4]


Each season, each day of our lives, has its own beauty as well. It is up to us to find it.


I wish you joy on the path.




[1] Peterson,C. Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Great strengths of character and recovery from illness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 17-26.

[2] Stellar, J. E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C. L., Gordon, A. M., McNeil, G. D., & Keltner, D. (2015).Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion, 15, 129-133.

[3] Diessner, T., Rust, T., Solom, R. C., Frost, N., & Parsons, L. (2006). Beauty and hope: A moral beauty intervention. Journal of Moral Education, 35, 301-317.

[4] Emerson, R. W. (1903).Nature. In Nature: Addresses, and lectures, (pp. 3-77). Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Originally published 1876. Quote from p. 18.


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The Tao of Oneness

We become one with Tao when we study nature and look within. These two practices are intrinsically linked, for our inner world reflects the world around us. We are one with nature. Its laws are our laws.


The Chinese character for nature or heaven adds two parallel lines to the character for person. In Chinese thought, we are part of nature, intimately connected to the sky over our heads and the earth beneath our feet. To ignore this bond or defile nature is to injure ourselves.


The basic building blocks of existence are not infinitesimal bits of matter as once was thought, but probabilities, dynamic patterns of energy, neither particles nor waves but something in between. By focusing on interdependent energy patterns, quantum physics offers a lesson for human interactions. Each of us is more than our ego-bound limits. We know this the moment we enter a room and sense its subtle vibrations. We breathe the same air, share the same energy with others around us. Their energy and attitudes inevitably touch our own. Life does not occur in isolation. We are all one in Tao.


Please join me in a brief meditation on oneness


  • Take a deep breath and as you release it, close your eyes.
  • Breathing in and Breathing out slowly and mindfully
  • Breathing in
  • Breathing out
  • Realizing that as you breathe out carbon dioxide, this is what the trees breathe in
  • As they breathe out oxygen, this is what you breathe in.
  • Breathing in and Breathing out
  • In dynamic oneness
  • In harmony
  • With nature
  • Feel that sense of oneness

Then when you are ready, gently open your eyes.


I wish you the joy of oneness and connection with all that is.





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Cyclical Growth

The Tao Te Ching  tells us:


The Tao is infinite, expansive,

Always returning

In endless cycles,

Creating the Great Harmony.

                  (Tao, Chapter 65)


We are part of a universal pattern of growth which renews itself in cycles. Moving from day to night, spring to winter, active yang is inevitably followed by dormant yin, which gives birth to new yang.


The walls around you and the roof overhead—may appear solid, but are actually composed of billions of tiny particles whirling in cycles of incessant energy, tiny universes unto themselves, continuously evolving. Similarly, every cell in our bodies is constantly changing. We are not the same people we once were. Each year much of our body is renewed through metabolic change. The dance of life goes on within and around us. Nothing in the universe stands still.


The Tao teaches us to conquer our impatience, to work with the cycles. Our projects, like the seeds we plant, have different seasons. Some spring up quickly. Others take longer to germinate, even longer to bear fruit. All of the impatience in the world will not change the process.


You are a unique expression of  life. Your patterns are like no other's.

You can  explore your own patterns in this brief meditation


Close your eyes

Take a long deep breath and slowly release it

As you continue breathing slowly and deeply,

Breathing in

Breathing out

Let you mind flow freely

To explore the patterns of yang and yin—day and night, speaking and listening, action and rest in your own life.


Now think of one area in your work or personal life.


Ask yourself what you can do now to honor the natural rhythms of yin and yang in this area to create greater harmony in your life.


When you are ready, open your eyes


I wish you joy on the path. 



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The Power of Wu

The Tao Te Ching tells us


"The Tao that has been charted is not the eternal Way.

A word we can define is not the eternal Word.

Wu, the eternal, existed before heaven and earth.

We know it as yu, the source of ten thousand things."

                                                 (Tao Te Ching, 1)


The Tao cannot be reduced to names and formulas. It is wu ming, without a name, because it's the source of all existence. In its infinite creative potential the Tao is wu, eternal non-being. In its created existence it is yu, eternal being. Eternally changing and evolving, it is neither one nor the other: always both. As quantum physics has revealed, all of creation is both existence and potential, particle and wave.


Like the Tao, we cannot be reduced to categories. Each of us exists in our current state of life and our infinite potential. We are both what we are and what we might be. Herein lies the strength of wu: our unlimited capacity for growth and change. Knowing at any moment we may begin a new cycle of creation, we can draw upon the power of wu in our lives. (26)


Take a few moments now to connect with the power of wu in your life.


Is there an area of your life where you have felt static or stuck?

Silently name it to yourself now.


Then join me in this brief meditation.

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a deep mindful breath and slowly release it.
  • As you slowly breathe in and breathe out,
  • Visualize yourself standing by the ocean
  • Watching the rhythm of the waves.
  • Breathe in the salt sea air. Feel the ocean breeze upon your face.
  • Now look up at the sky
  • Watching the clouds overhead slowly changing shape.
  • Feel nature's dynamic movement of creation.
  • Now turn back to that area in your life you thought of earlier
  • Feeling the power of the sea and sky
  • Embracing the power of wu to begin a new creative cycle in your life.
  • Then open your eyes,
  • Ready to find the next step forward  as you move through your day.


I wish you joy on the path.


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Self and Soul

We live life on two parallel levels. First there's the Self or ego, our ordinary level of consciousness that can often feel insecure and strives for approval:


As the Tao Te Ching tells us:


"The more we succeed

In pleasing,

The more we fear

Not pleasing.

The more we're ensnared

In ego."


Then there's the Soul that transcends the confines of ego. As the Tao reminds us:


"When we value ourselves

As part of nature

And value nature

As ourselves,

We're at home

In the oneness

Of Tao."

                     ( Tao Te Ching, Chapter  13)


Life's two parallel levels are Self and Soul.

  • On one level, our Self or ego often feels separate, anxious, threatened, sees life as competitive, spends lots of time planning,  worrying, and seeking approval.
  • Yet on another level, our Soul feels connection, comfort, and cooperation, recognizes our oneness with God, nature, the universe, and sees other people as neighbors and potential allies. The Soul opens us up to inspiration and a new creative vision of life.


I invite you to take a few meditative moments now to reflect on this message.


Close your eyes and take three deep mindful breaths.

  • Breathing in, Breathing out.
  • Breathing in, Breathing out.
  • Breathing in, Breathing out.

As you continue breathing slowly and deeply,

  • Feel your shoulders relax, as you breathe out tension, breathe in peace.
  • Then ask yourself, "Where and when have I felt a sense of oneness?" "A sense of Soul?"
  • Was it responding to the beauty of nature, an inspiring work of art, someone you love, the comfort of home, or something else?

Embrace that memory now—breathing in the sights, sounds, and feelings.


Now ask yourself, "How I connect more with the level of Soul in my life?"


I wish you joy on the path.


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Finding Peace by Connecting with Nature

The Tao Te Ching tells us:


When you feel yourself part of nature,

You will live in harmony.

                                 (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 13)



Over 25 centuries ago, during the warring states period in ancient China, Lao Tzu found peace and renewed hope by connecting with nature. Walking in the woods and breathing the fresh mountain air, he gained greater peace of mind. Nature brought him lessons of resilience, perseverance, and hope. He learned about the strength of bamboo that bends with the wind so it doesn't break. In the sparkling waters of a mountain stream, he saw how water is gentle and nurturing yet with perseverance can cut through solid rock. In the changing seasons, he discovered the cycles of yin and yang, seeing how the darkness of winter leads to the light of another spring.


Research has confirmed what Lao-Tzu discovered so long ago: that connecting with nature can restore our peace of mind. Studies have shown that walking in a natural setting can relieve stress, anxiety and depression,  help us gain a more positive mood, worry less often, and think more clearly.[1]


Connecting with nature makes a major difference in my life. After dealing with a day of stressful demands and deadlines, I find relief just stepping outside. Walking through my neighborhood with my little dog Ginny or hiking in a local park, I feel part of the greater harmony of life. I find consolation in the garden, planting seeds, watching the new plants grow, and enjoying home grown tomatoes, green beans, roses, and gardenias. And at night, gazing up at the stars, I feel a sense of awe at the beauty and grandeur of the cosmos.


Take a moment now to strengthen your own connection with nature.


  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a deep breath and slowly release it.
  • Now recall a time in your life when you felt a deep sense of peace and renewal in nature.
  • Were you looking out at the ocean, walking in the park, gardening, noticing a tree along the street, looking up at the clouds in the sky, or gazing at the stars at night? Something else?
  • What is one small step you can take this week to renew your connection with the natural world?
  • Keep that step in mind as you expand your awareness and open your heart to greater peace in the days ahead.  


 I wish you joy on the path.


[1] Martyn, P., & Brymer, E. (2016). The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology, 21 (7), 1436-1445; 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; Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R.F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E, Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-230; Bratman, G. N. , Hamilton, J. P., & Daily, G.C. (2012). The impacts of  nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1249, 118-136.


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