Peace: The Path with Heart
by Diane Dreher, Ph.D.
did the ancients cherish the Tao?
Because through it
We may find a world of peace,
Leaving behind a world of cares,
And hold the greatest treasure under heaven."
(Tao Te Ching 62)
For centuries people
have found inner peace by following the Tao Te Ching.
Translated more than any book but the Bible, Lao Tzu's
volume of five thousand words has helped men and women
live through turbulent times by revealing the deep
source of peace within. As we face the challenges and
rapid changes of our time, the enduring wisdom of Tao
has become more relevant than ever.
Lao Tzu wrote the Tao
Te Ching over twenty-five centuries ago as a
handbook for leaders. In ancient China, to lead wisely
meant to live wisely, to seek personal balance and
integration with the cycles of nature. Lao Tzu's
teachings assume special importance to us today as we
seek peace of mind for ourselves and new patterns of
peace for our world. While searching for harmony in
everything from holistic health, psychology, and physics
to ecology, politics, the workplace, our homes,
relationships, and the patterns of our lives, many of us
are discovering valuable insights in the ancient way of Tao.
Peace, Lao Tzu
realized, is an inside job. Only when we find peace
within ourselves can we see more clearly, act more
effectively, cooperating with the energies within and
around us to build a more peaceful world. The Tao Te
Ching teaches that our actions have far-reaching
consequences, underscoring the importance of balance and
the intimate relationship between ourselves and our
Peace Begins Within
We can begin to
transform our world by first transforming ourselves.
This cannot be accomplished by merely reading or
thinking about peace. Living the Tao is more than an
intellectual exercise. It is the path with heart.
The Chinese character x_
n means both mind and heart, the source of all
thought, feeling, and motivation. Following the Tao,
there is no inner split, no agonizing struggle between
head and heart, no discord or division in spirit. For,
quite simply, when we are divided within ourselves, we
cannot be at peace.
Instead of waiting for
the right guru or political leader to bring us the peace
we seek, the Tao asks us to take responsibility
for our lives, to follow its mindful blend of action and
contemplation. Through a shift of attitude, we can begin
to experience greater peace right now.
Let's begin by
identifying any areas of our lives where we're not at
peace. Do you feel out of harmony in any of these areas:
- your health?
- your career?
- your relationships?
- your family?
- your finances?
- your world?
The Path with Heart
The next step is
responding compassionately. If discord and division have
brought you pain in any area of your life, compassion
for yourself initiates a healing process. This means
accepting your feelings, even "negative"
feelings, acknowledging what you feel right now, not
smiling and pretending things are OK if they're not.
Denying our feelings only divides us from ourselves.
Emotional honesty brings greater insight.
Focus on Your Feelings
As strange as it
seems, many of us get so busy, we lose touch with our
feelings. Or we try to force ourselves to feel what we
"should" feel, our hearts and minds going off
in different directions. This builds up tremendous
internal tension and undermines our peace.
- Take a moment to ask
yourself, "Where am I not at peace?" Focus on
- Whatever situation or
feelings come up, acknowledge them. Take another deep
breath and focus on what you feel.
- Then breathe in
compassion for yourself. Love yourself whatever you're
feeling whether it is pain, frustration, exhaustion,
anger, or disappointment. Breathe into your feelings and
slowly surround yourself with the warm, healing light of
- Say to yourself
silently, "I love and accept myself right
where you are not at peace, gently shift your
attention to what peace feels like. The simplest way is
to breathe out tension and breathe in peace.
Breathe in Peace
- Relax, take a deep
breath, and say to yourself as you breathe in, "Breathe
in Peace." Remember the last time you felt a deep
sense of peace and oneness. Let that feeling flow
through your body.
- Breathe out any fear,
confusion, insecurity, or whatever is troubling you.
- When you feel
relaxed, affirm, "I choose to live in Peace."
Your conscious choice
opens up new possibilities for a more peaceful life. As
you draw upon the infinite source of peace within, new
insights will come to you, perhaps now, perhaps later.
But know that with these simple steps you have already
begun a powerful process of renewal.
The Tao of
Many of us are not at
peace because at some deep level, we do not accept
ourselves. While trying to fit someone else's
expectations, we go against the grain, defying our own
nature. The natural wisdom of Tao calls us back
to ourselves. In the natural world everything is
valuable, everything has its place. Only human beings
suffer from low self-esteem. A rose, a daisy, a lark, a
squirrel--each manifests its potential differently, yet
beautifully. Each form has its own expression, each
flower its own fragrance, each bird its own song.
Too often we feel
inferior because we don't fit some stereotype. Greater
peace comes when we embrace our own uniqueness.
Ask yourself: what
makes me different from other people I know? What is my
special contribution to this life?
- Are you happier
taking a quiet walk by yourself or joining a bustling
- Do you express
yourself with pencils, paints, words, or colorful yarns?
- Are you a practical
person, proud of your home repairs and building
- Are you musical?
Mathematical? An athlete? A gourmet cook?
- What is your special
We each have some
talent that makes us unique. What is yours? Acknowledge
and nurture that part of yourself with a special
activity this week.
The Tao of Personal
We can bring greater
peace to our lives by maintaining our own personal
balance. Each day we meet our physical needs: eating and
sleeping at regular intervals. People who follow the Tao
also make time for spiritual renewal. If we neglect our
bodies, they become imbalanced and break down. If we
neglect our spiritual needs, we become emotionally
imbalanced and our world breaks down in continual
There are many ways to
nurture our spirits from traditional religious practice
to regular meditation, devotional reading, or quiet
walks in nature. Some people find spiritual renewal
weaving tapestries, singing, or working in their
gardens. What nourishes you? Remember to nurture
your spirit this way on a regular basis.
practice takes us away from the noisy, busy outside
world, returning us to the center of peace deep within
us. Moments of reflection enable our roots to go deep to
the source, drawing upon the infinite power and wisdom
of Tao. This month, remember to give yourself the gift
of peace by following your favorite spiritual practice,
cultivating periods of contemplation, and taking short
"inner peace breaks," to breathe in peace and
listen to your heart.
Seeking the Silence
Taking time for
contemplation may seem like self-indulgence when we're
caught up in a busy rush of activities. Yet it's one of
the most responsible things we can do. When we're
confused and uncentered, we make foolish choices, over
commit ourselves, and project inner conflicts into the
world around us. When we're at peace with ourselves, we
can see more clearly, act more effectively, bring
greater harmony to our relationships and greater peace
to our world.
The early Taoists
revered tortoises because they know when to withdraw
unto themselves, when to restore their energy. Thus,
they live to an advanced age. Believed to have
mysterious powers, tortoise shells were used in
divination, inspiring the hexagram patterns of the I
Ching. We can cultivate inner peace by following the
lesson of the tortoise, setting aside brief periods for
peace and renewal.
For most of us this
means seeking out times of silence. Gandhi kept a day of
silence once a week. No matter what happened or who came
to visit, he would spend that day quietly, communicating
to others only in writing. Most of us are unable to
maintain an entire day of silence, but we can establish
regular periods of meditation.
There are many forms
of meditation from zazen to raja yoga, vipassana insight
meditation, the relaxation response, and the Catholic
tradition of centering prayer. Some forms are described
in my book, The Tao of Inner Peace; others are
explored on this web site. In every form of meditation
I've practiced, slow, conscious breathing focuses our
energy. The mind slows down and channels deep beneath
the noise and surface clutter of our lives. After
meditation, we emerge renewed and refreshed, our tension
released, our hearts and minds at peace.
You can begin by
choosing a meditative practice and setting aside as
little as fifteen minutes a day, extending that time to
suit your needs. Many people meditate the first thing
each morning, others do it at the end of the day. Give
yourself a daily gift of peace by beginning a regular
practice of meditation. You'll notice a subtle
difference in your life as you gradually become more
balanced, more at peace with yourself and your world
Inner Peace Breaks
When you're stuck in
traffic, caught up in commitments, or when frantic
people in your midst take out their impatience on you,
you usually can't stop what you're doing and go off to
meditate. But you can give yourself an inner peace
- Take a deep breath,
breathing into your hara or center, the part of
your body just below your navel.
- Then let it out,
releasing all the tension you've collected.
- Take another deep
breath and say to yourself, "Breathe in
- Gently exhale,
feeling more at peace with yourself and your world.
Listening to Your
Heart: Making Mindful Choices
In the way of Tao,
"less is more." Following the Tao means making
choices mindfully and following them with heart rather
than cluttering up our lives with overcrowded schedules
and mindless routines. One pathway to greater
mindfulness is to ask yourself these questions before
making another commitment:
- How do I feel about
- Is it necessary?
- Is it healthy?
- Will it bring greater
peace to my life or the planet?
During this busy
season, remember that "less is more." Let your
heart guide you to choices you can embrace with joy and
My wish for you during
the holidays and throughout the new year is the gift of
greater mindfulness and renewal as together we discover
new levels of peace to bless our lives, our loved ones,
and this beautiful planet we call home.
Adapted from The
Tao of Inner Peace © Diane Dreher. 1990, 2000. New
York: Penguin Putnam Inc. 2000. Used by permission.
Dr. Diane Dreher is a writer, educator, and
consultant specializing in new paradigms of peace,
balance, and personal empowerment. She is the author of The
Tao of Personal Leadership (HarperCollins, 1996), The
Tao of Womanhood (William Morrow, 1998), and The
Tao of Inner Peace, which has just been released by
Penguin/Putnam in a new 21st century edition. Diane
lived in the Far East in early childhood and has studied
Eastern philosophy most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in
English from UCLA, credentials in spiritual counseling
and holistic health, and trains in aikido. Her newest
book, Inner Gardening, coming out in May 2001
from HarperCollins, focuses on the tradition of
gardening as spiritual practice.
Diane has received fellowships from the Mellon,
Graves, and Danforth Foundations and the National
Endowment for the Humanities. A popular speaker and
workshop leader, she gives talks and workshops on
leadership, balance, and personal growth to business and
community groups throughout North America. Diane teaches
literature and creative writing at Santa Clara
University and makes her home in the San Francisco Bay
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