Have you ever heard the saying, “If you aren’t outraged, then you aren’t paying attention?” After all, with all the suffering in the world right now, is the choice to stay calm and centered or happy the right response? How can we stay alert and aware of what’s going on in the Ukraine, with COVID, the climate crisis, rising food prices, etc. etc. and not feel motivated to respond with outraged action? Actually, there is another way. And that way is called the Tao. I was recently given an excellent reminder of that possibility when asked to review the book, The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher Ph.D. While I’m not exactly a stranger to the Tao, this book offered me clear instruction and insight as to why our inner peace is so very primary. And the more chaotic the circumstances in the world and in our lives, the more we need to access that inner peace. For it is only there that we can ever truly make a difference for ourselves and others.
I get that it is bold to claim that the only way to truly make a difference is to first find inner peace. However, the Tao (pronounced Dow) makes other pretty bold but wise claims as well. Based upon an ancient text called the Tao Te Ching, it has been translated more than any other book besides the Bible. Believed to be written by a man named Lao Tzu, the Tao has provided timeless wisdom for over 2,400 years about how to live in harmony and peace. Within its pages are 81 short and simple but powerful lessons about how to live a harmonious, self-aware life with goodness and integrity.
The Tao of Inner Peace is Diane Dreher’s insights about the Tao Te Ching. Her book was first published back in 1990 but has recently been re-released with an audio book and updates. I did find her words a bit dated—maybe because I’ve become dated (ha, ha) or because I was already familiar with some of the real-world examples she uses. I’ve written about the Tao before, and Thom and I did a VLOG about it a while back, so I have some background. However, I am certain that people new to the Tao would find the book transformational. And even those very familiar with the teaching will resonate with the words found between the pages. Thom who has read numerous books related to the Tao and followed his form of Taoism for some time, highly recommends it.
Using dozens of stories and examples, Dreher explains many of the verses found in the original text as well as the concepts behind them. I think people would be surprised to learn how some powerful common phrases originated in the Tao. Things like, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” as well as:
“Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
Mastering yourself is true power.”
Or another favorite:
“Be content with what you have;
Rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
Something I think is deeply important for me to remember is the emphasis on wholeness that comes out loud and clear through Dreher’s book. Dreher’s continually reinforces the idea that everyone and everything are connected and “One.” She says, “Peace comes from transcending polarities with a vision of the larger whole.” Polarities give us the impression that we (and everything) are separate and distinct from one another as well as nature herself. Instead, the Tao teaches that “…beyond the surface differences, it is the One that includes us all.”
The Tao offers a symbol for those blended polarities (see photo) which reflect the interaction and interdependence of both the dark and the light. The Tao teaches that everything is a combination of both yin (represented by the dark) and yang (represented by the light.) This combination folds and dances together in an inseparable alliance. It applies to everything and everyone. I am very drawn to the idea that nothing is ever completely black and white. Nothing is ever either/or. The idea of both/and has always seemed true to me. Plus seeing beyond the lines that we draw between each other and around the world feels so obviously wrong—yet our culture and yes even me, does it habitually.
So how do we find peace in a life or a world in turmoil? Dreher, and the Tao, are very clear that it must start within. She says, “When we are confused and uncentered, we project inner conflicts into the world around us. When we are at peace with ourselves, we can see more clearly, act more effectively.” Of course, that sounds much easier than it is, but it is necessary. Through dozens of short practices and mediation ideas, Dreher continues to explain that finding that harmony and balance within us is a necessary step to finding peace.
I also appreciate her emphasis on self-awareness, self-acceptance and facing our shadow selves. When we accept that most of our anger, frustrations and insecurities are projections of the fears we hold within, we can usually dispel the shadow in the light of greater awareness. While the Tao never asks us to ignore our feelings, it advises us to never be triggered by them into acting in a way that isn’t in alignment with our values.
Because a big part of the Tao is Wholeness it is also deeply aligned with nature. In fact, Dreher says that Lao Tzu used much of his understanding of nature to create the 81 verses. That’s because nature is an incredible teacher. Think of bamboo as incredibly strong but also able to sway and flow with the breeze. Or how about water? She says, “water is the symbol of the Tao. It is fluid, nurturing, ministering to all, yet possesses great strength, able to cut through the hardest rocks.” Dreher recommends that whenever we find ourselves out of harmony, to take time to go into nature and realign ourselves. She is obviously an environmental activist that reminds us, “What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves.”
This book covers so much more about how to find that inner peace and then to share it with the world that I could add much more. But what I will say is that I found how much the thinking in the book aligned with the values I hold for myself and SMART Living 365. In case you are not aware, the acronym SMART stands for Sustainable, Meaningful, Aware, Responsible and Thankful. All those are part of this book in so many interesting and interconnected ways. I’m not sure how Dreher or her publicist found my blog and asked for my review, but there was no accident there.
If you are looking for a book or ideas that will either teach your about inner peace or remind you of how to find it, I recommend this book. It points out that we are microcosms of the macrocosm that is the world. As within, so without. Whether we read the book or not, I think it is SMART for all of us to first look within and find our inner peace as much and as often as we are able—our lives and our world depend on it.