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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

The Power of Water

"Nothing on earth

Is more gentle and yielding than water

Yet nothing is stronger."


Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78 


Water nurtures all life on earth. Falling from the sky to the ground as precipitation—rain or snow—it flows as surface water through rivers into lakes and oceans, or percolates deep into the earth through layers of sediment, becoming aquifers, vast underground lakes. With the sun's heat, surface water evaporates, rising as vapor to form clouds, and the cycle begins again. There is always the same amount of water on earth. We drink the same water that the dinosaurs drank. The golden wheat fields of the American Midwest are irrigated by water from the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground lake that dates back to the Pleistocene era


Throughout its cycle, water takes many forms--from snowflakes, tiny lace mandallas from the sky, to shimmering icicles, to a summer's day heavy with humidity, to the rapids of a roaring river.


Water can be beautiful or destructive. Water is essential to life, yet climate change has brought fear and destruction, violent rain storms and floods to some parts of our world and drought to others. 


The water cycle includes us all, and there's a powerful parallel between water and the energies of our lives. Some energies are creative, life-sustaining; others, destructive streams of fear or greed. Each day, we contribute to the collective energy of the planet, the cycle of life within and around us.


Living creatively means becoming more mindful of our energies. Take a moment to ask yourself:


  • Am I adding to the currents of fear flooding our planet?
  • Or does my heart open in currents of compassion, loving kindness, to nurture and create?



Whatever challenges you are facing in your life,


Take a moment now to


Breathe out fear.


Breathe in love.


Connect with the eternal cycle of life




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Finding Hope in Dark Times

The flowering quince blossoms by my front gate bring their bright beauty to the darkness of winter.


Why do these small blossoms affect me so deeply, more than the abundant wildflowers, honeysuckle, and roses on long summer days?  Now when most of the trees and shrubs are bare, these tiny rose-colored blossoms are a rare exception, a harbinger of hope.


Reacting to the political turmoil around us, rushing from one task to another, moving mindlessly through our days, we can become habituated to the good and beautiful in our lives (Siegel, 2007). We focus instead on what's wrong with our world, in our politics, our jobs, our health and relationships, caught up in what Shakespeare called "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" (Hamlet, 3.1.64-65).


But a moment of unexpected beauty can wake us up. Winter blossoms, a shaft of sunlight through the clouds, or a rainbow arching overhead can fill us with a sense of awe (Keltner & Haidt, 2003) and gratitude (Emmons, 2016). These positive emotions can heal us, activate our immune systems, broaden and build our personal resources, and enable us to see new possibilities so we can take positive action to begin solving our problems, looking to the light (Fredrickson, 2001). As Emerson, Thoreau, and centuries of poets have realized, a moment of beauty can transform our whole world view.


So if you're experiencing a winter of discontent during these dark days, try connecting with the beauty of nature. Step outside, slow down for a mindful moment:

  • Look at the sky. Notice the shapes in the clouds.
  • Look closely at tree or perhaps a winter blossom.
  • If it's deep winter where you live, look at the patterns in the snow or sparkling icicles.
  • Or spend some time with a living creature—a dog or cat.

Take a long, deep breath. Breathe in the beauty around you and breathe out stress. And remember you are always free to connect with the healing power of beauty to help you find new hope beyond the darkness.



Emmons, R. A. (2016). The little book of gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks. New York, NY: Hachette.


Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.


Shakespeare, W. Hamlet, quote from Greenblatt, S. (Ed.). (1997). The Norton Shakespeare. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. 


Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.


Siegel, D. J. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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The Power of Respect

Vasona Creek reflects the dynamic life and presence of Tao

The Tao Te Ching tells us that "Those who would lead wisely must first respect life."

                                                       Tao, Chapter 75.


A major principle of the Tao is respect: for ourselves, for life, for one another. Moreover, since the Tao Te Ching affirms a philosophy of oneness, self and others are intimately connected. Respect transforms reality, turning fragmented interactions into living relationships, conflicts into creative communication, and lifeless, mechanical systems into dynamic learning organizations.


As philosopher Martin Buber realized, all of life is relationship. We can relate respectfully—"I-Thou"—or disrespectfully, treating another person as an object—"I-It."


Through our daily actions and attitudes, we develop cognitive frames through which we see the world. In one familiar cognitive frame, the mechanistic Theory X model of organizations, leaders perceive their people as objects, replaceable parts. Their "I-It" disrespect is clear in the ease with which they downsize or outsource, undermining many people's lives, in their failure to share information, to listen and learn, to see the people around them not as parts but partners in a creative process. And since our cognitive frames include ourselves, disrespectful leaders diminish everyone, including themselves.


The Tao reminds us to respect ourselves, the process, and the people around us.


What is one step you can take to bring more respect into your life today?


For even a small step makes a difference—like a ripple on a pond. As the Tao Te Ching reminds us,

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

                                                             Tao, Chapter 64.


You can begin that journey by taking that first step today.




Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou. Trans. W.Kaufman. New York, NY: Scribners, p. 53.


Theory X from McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise. NewYork, NY: McGraw-Hill.


Tao Te Ching quotes from Diane Dreher's translation.

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The Lesson of Living Systems

The ocean waves at Villa Maria Del Mar in Santa Cruz

In a period of great challenge and change, an innovative book on leadership appeared with lessons that can serve us well today.


The Tao Te Ching, written over 25 centuries ago during the warring states period in ancient China¸ affirms that we are all part of a living system, that nothing in the universe stands still. In this context, leadership is a creative process, a journey of discovery from what is to what may be.


The heart of this journey is your own personal development, which influences everything we do. Effective leaders operate on two levels simultaneously. In the language of the Tao, they combine yin and yang. Inner directed, yet aware of externals, they balance the Socratic wisdom of knowing themselves with the mindful awareness of the energies around them.


We live in a culture of extreme outer-directedness, barraged by advertisements, insults on the news, and 24/7 social media. Cultivating the inner life will restore our balance Being inner-directed makes us more aware of our values and the energies within and around us. Outer-directed people get too caught up in these energies to do anything but react, while inner-directed people have the strength of bamboo.


Like bamboo, they are open at the center, flexible, adapting to the winds of change without compromising themselves. Empowered by a deep sense of purpose, they become strong and flexible. Like water, they have the fluid power of perseverance, finding their way around or through apparent obstacles. Anyone who has seen the Grand Canyon in the American Southwest or watched the powerful ocean waves wash in to shore knows this power of flexibility and perseverance.



How can you use the lessons of living systems in your life today:

  • meeting a current challenge with flexibility, seeing new ways around, above, or through it?
  • affirming perseverance, not giving up, staying in touch with your dreams?


How can you live with the fluid power of water?




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Attitudes and Energies

The Tao Te Ching tells us:


The Tao is the one.

From the one come yin and yang,

Sunlight and shadow,

From these two creative energy,

From energy ten thousand things

The forms of all creation.


                            Tao, Chapter 42.


Unlike the old mechanistic model of organizations where leaders give orders and treat people like replaceable parts, leading with the Tao means focusing on underlying processes, recognizing the energies within and around us.


Much of this involves our attitudes, the subtle energies we communicate in personal interactions. An arrogant and ruthless leader can create a toxic atmosphere while inspirational leaders inspire and empower the people around them.


Research has revealed that interpersonal interactions are emotional energy transactions, producing measurable changes in our brain chemistry, blood pressure, hormone levels, cardiovascular function, and immune systems.[1]


A leader's moods can affect—or infect—an entire organization, influencing productivity, success, and overall corporate health, including the health of the people around them. Egotistical, defensive, and imbalanced leaders can bring chaos to our world.


Because they so powerfully influence the energies around them, leaders are profoundly responsible for balancing the energies within them. Today, more than ever, a commitment to ongoing personal growth is a vital leadership task.


As a leader in your own life, take a moment now to focus on your energies.


  • Are you feeling nervous, anxious, angry? Something else?
  • Where in your body do you feel this energy?
  • Take a deep breath and release it as you name your feelings.
  • Then take another deep breath and release it.
  • Realize that your feelings are energy
  • What energy do you want to feel?
  • Breathe in that energy, that feeling, into your heart.
  • Now imagine yourself expressing that energy in the world around you.
  • And go about your day, more mindful, more present, more aware of the energies within and around you.


I wish you joy on the path.




Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2001, December). Primal leadership: the hidden driver of great performance. Harvard Business Review, pp. 42-51.


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Presence and Process

The Tao Te Ching says, "Be present, observe the process. Stay centered and prevail."

Tao, Chapter 33


But sometimes the fast pace of contemporary life can undermine even the best  intentions.


Years ago, two psychologists held a classic experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary, asking ministerial students to prepare a short talk on a religious subject, then walk over to another building to present it. Some of the students were told to hurry because they were running late.


On the way, the students ran into a man slumped over in the alley, coughing and groaning, in apparent distress. While many of the other students stopped to talk to the man and offer help, 90 percent of the "late" students simply rushed right by without stopping, too concerned with giving their talks on time. Ironically, many of these students gave a talk about the Good Samaritan.[1]


What explains this apparent insensitivity? Rushing. Under stress—and rushing is a form of stress—we narrow our focus into "fight or flight," numbing ourselves to other people and the complexities of the world around us. Stressed-out people can become insensitive and act with poor judgment because they are not fully "present" to themselves and others.


Have you become caught up in rushing through your days? Too little time, too much to do. If so here is your leadership challenge: How can you be more present, more mindful, more aware of the people in your life today?


Research has shown that simply pausing to take a mindful breath can cut the stress reaction, bring us back to the present moment.


Take a few moments now to:

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.
  • Feel your shoulders relax, your feet on the ground, your body gradually relax.
  • As you breathe slowly and deeply, feeling more present, more mindful, more whole

And the next time you catch yourself rushing, stop to take a deep, mindful breath to bring yourself back to the present moment.



[1] Darley, J. M. & Batson, C.D. (1973). From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.


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Right Speech

The legendary peace rose

The Tao Te Ching tell us:


"Those who know do not speak.

Those who speak do not know."


How much of the speech we hear is truly meaningful today? The media is filled with invasive noise—misleading advertisements and corporate PR propaganda. Too much of what passes for news is celebrity gossip, one political crisis after another, and a president's emotional late night tweets.


Beneath all the surface noise, where can we find the truth?


For centuries, Buddhists have taught "Right Speech"—mindful, compassionate communication.

Wise Buddhist masters recommend pausing before speaking, asking ourselves:


Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?


If more of us asked these questions, we would have less dishonesty, less hurtful conflict, less noise. Practicing Right Speech could create greater understanding, compassion, and peace within and around us.


Take a moment now to focus on Right Speech.


Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly release it. As you breathe slowly and deeply, feel your body relax with each breath.


Now think of a recent interaction with someone you know. Ask yourself if your words were true, kind, and necessary.

If so, breathe in the warm glow of that memory.

If not, send compassion to yourself and the other person with this Loving Kindness meditation:


  • May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be free from suffering. May I be peaceful. May I be happy.
  • May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be free from suffering. May you be peaceful. May you be happy.

Breathe in loving kindness and breathe out peace.


And next time, before you speak, remember to ask yourself:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?


Practicing Right Speech will help heal the discord on this planet, one mindful interaction at a time.

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A Call to Action—Let’s Make a Difference Together

What can we do at a time like this, when we're experiencing a world out of balance— personally, politically, economically, and environmentally?  As we face the threat of hurricanes, fires, and violence in our communities, the storms of life can make us feel helpless and hopeless. Yet the creative work of New Orleans Habitat for Humanity has shown me that together we can make a difference.


During an earlier hurricane season, I was heartbroken when Katrina devastated New Orleans. I'd spent many happy summers there visiting my cousins while I was growing up. With its warm welcoming people, jazz, gumbo, and rich cultural history, New Orleans was for me a magical place, a city like no other. Then my beautiful city was flooded, people died, my relatives evacuated to Kentucky, and many more people were left homeless. I was angry at our government for not doing enough to help.


But my anger wasn't helping. Out where I live in California, I felt helpless and hopeless—until I realized what I could do: I'm a writer. So I began donating royalties from my book, Your Personal Renaissance, to Habitat New Orleans, beginning a creative partnership with the city I love. Since then I have felt personally connected, my own work a small part of the solution.


Habitat New Orleans has built houses, hope, and community, even created the Habitat Musicians' Village to support the city's rich musical tradition. I love how their work combines the energies of new homeowners, neighbors, and volunteers to build houses, hope, and a better future together.  


There are still many people in New Orleans suffering through the winter in dilapidated, unheated houses, concerned about their children's health and safety.  They're teachers, chefs, musicians, health care and hospitality workers, and stuggling single parents with young children.


So if you've been feeling overwhelmed by our collective problems, please click on this link to join me in partnership with New Orleans Habitat. A donation of any amount--$5, $10, $25 or more—will help. Thank you for your consideration.


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Your Heart is Your Inner Compass

The ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching tells us:


"Tao leaders live close to nature.

Their actions flow from the heart."


                               Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8


During the Renaissance, Ignacio Lopez, a young Spanish knight, discovered the wisdom of the heart. He had been defending the fortress of Pamplona from a French invasion. Struck in the leg by a cannonball, he was taken home to his family castle of Loyola, where he suffered repeated settings of his shattered leg.


Lying in bed for the long, painful months of recovery, he asked for books of chivalry but there were none in the house, only a life of Christ and a book of saints' lives. He read them, drifting off in his imagination, recalling his life at court—the duels, adventures, and deeds to impress the fair ladies. But these thoughts brought him only fleeting pleasure, then a sense of emptiness.


Practicing what he later called discernment, he listened to his heart for guidance. He continued reading about the saints, and when he imagined living like St. Francis or St. Dominic, he felt an enduring sense of joy.


Ignacio recovered, becoming a changed man. He gave up all the glory of his life at court to go on a spiritual pilgrimage. Leaving his sword and armor by the altar of the chapel at Montserrat, he gave his rich clothing to a poor beggar, put on sandals and a sackcloth tunic, and journeyed to Manresa, where he spent long hours in meditation. He traveled to Jerusalem and Paris, where he studied theology and shared his discernment practice with other men and women in what became the Ignatian Spiritual exercises.


Ignacio became St. Ignatius Loyola. Using discernment to guide his life, he founded the Jesuit order. The Spiritual Exercises are still used by men and women today to help them make important life decisions.


Setting Your Compass.


In discernment, your heart is your inner compass. The two settings on the compass are love and fear, joy and pain, what St. Ignatius called "consolation" and "desolation."


Consolation is a deep sense of communion with life, bringing feelings of love, joy, peace, inspiration, insight, authenticity, gratitude, altruism, trust, oneness with others, openness, creativity, spirituality, and expansive growth.


Desolation cuts us off from others, closing us in on ourselves, bringing dark feelings of fear, isolation, anxiety, defensiveness, despair, hopelessness, worry, hate, hostility, self-pity, turmoil, failure, guilt, self-hate, selfishness, compulsiveness, depression, and lack of meaning.


Discernment means looking not only at your feelings but also the direction in which they lead.
As Ignatius would say, "Do your feelings lead you toward or away from God," from grace, from fulfillment in life? Pleasant feelings can be shallow and fleeting, like the nostalgia he felt for his old life. Restlessness and dissatisfaction can be signals that you're going in the wrong direction, telling you to get back on the path.


Practicing Discernment


Do you have an important decision to make? Are you standing at a crossroads in your career or relationship?  Looking for a new direction in life?


Think of an area in your life where you could benefit from greater discernment and take some time to reflect.


Close your eyes, slow down, take a deep mindful breath, and release it. Take another deep breath, feeling your body relax. Then imagine yourself approaching your crossroads, reflecting on your choices.


Listen to your heart, noting how you feel.


  • Where do you find consolation?
  • Where do you find desolation?
  • What are your feelings telling you?
  • What direction do they point to?


If you get a clear sense of direction, open your eyes and prepare to take the next step. If the path is still unclear, keep listening to your heart for new insights in the days ahead.





An earlier version of this meditation appears in Dreher, D. (2008). Your Personal Renaissance: 12 steps to finding your life's true calling. New York, NY: Da Capo.


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Ripples of Hope to Heal Our World

With today's complex problems, it's easy to feel hopeless, wondering, "What can I do when the problem is so overwhelming?"


Yet the Tao Te Ching tells us that we can make a difference. Because everything is connected, our actions can ripple out to transform the world around us.  The Tao leader prevails "By small actions/Accomplishing great things" (Chapter 63).


Years ago, Bobby Kennedy identified this ripple effect, saying that:


"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

    Robert F. Kennedy, June 6, 1966 (quoted in Lopez, 2013, p. 216)


How can we do this? According to psychologist and hope researcher Shane J. Lopez "To spread hope, you have to get off the sidelines" (2013, p. 217). We have to begin taking action. We can begin creating our own ripples of hope with these three steps:

  1.  Convert wishing into active hope. If you've been thinking, "I wish this situation were different,"  "I wish someone would do something about this," turn that wish into a hope: Ask yourself, "How would I like it to be instead?"
  2. Connect with other people, one or more like-minded friends to create a positive synergy. Brainstorm together to come up with possible steps and solutions. Combine your resources and build your energies to create a positive momentum.
  3. Change the situation by taking one small step to address the problem. Your positive action will increase your hope, improve the situation, and inspire others, leading to more steps, more ripples of hope to heal and transform our world (Lopez, 2013)

As the Tao tells us:


Cultivated in your soul,

The Tao brings peace to your life.

Cultivated in your home,

It brings peace with those you love.

Spreading to friends and neighbors,

It brings peace to your community.

Spreading through your communities,

It brings peace to your nation.

Spreading through the nations,

The Tao brings peace throughout the world.

                                 Tao Te Ching, Chapter 54






Lopez, S. J. (2013). Making hope happen: Create the future you want for yourself and others. New York, NY: Atria Books.

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