Diane Dreher is the author of the book The Tao of Inner Peace, first published in 1990 and now available in a revised edition. Her other books include The Tao of Womanhood. Also a researcher and positive psychology coach, she lives in Northern California.
Q: Why did you decide to write this new edition of your book, and what are some of the changes you made since the 1990 edition?
A: I revised the 1990 edition of The Tao of Inner Peace to create new possibilities for our time. The book adds new material on leadership and conflict resolution.
Leaders who follow the Tao are more inclusive than in the old top-down model of leadership. The Tao leader is a facilitator who brings out the best in people, creating new possibilities that no one individual could find alone. And this approach raises morale.
As the Tao Te Ching says:
“With the best of leaders,
When the work is done,
The project completed,
The people all say,
‘We did it ourselves.’”
(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17)
The new edition also includes new material on the Tao approach to conflict resolution. With this approach, people in conflict are invited to become partners, listening and learning from each other, respecting their differences and discovering common ground to build new solutions together.
In our painfully polarized world, we need more Tao wisdom today applied to contemporary challenges. The new audiobook of The Tao of Inner Peace, which came out in January 2022, is a new format to reach a new audience, offering liberating insights to all who seek new patterns of peace within and around them.
Q: How did you first become interested in the Tao Te Ching, and what impact has it had on your life?
A: I’ve been inspired by the culture of the East since I was 10 years old. I moved with my father, an Air Force colonel, to Clark Field in the Philippines and he would bring back Asian art from his flights to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Inspired by the beauty of the East, I began painting pictures of bamboo, palm trees, and tropical sunsets.
When I was in college, I began meditating and studying Eastern philosophy, discovering the Tao Te Ching.
One quote that inspired me says:
“All life embodies yin
And embraces yang.
Through their union
(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42)
Seeking the harmony of yin and yang in my own life, I wrote my UCLA doctoral dissertation on spiritual development in Renaissance poetry and began practicing yoga.
I began teaching English at Santa Clara University and also taught yoga at the East-West Center for the Healing Arts. I trained in the martial art of aikido and began using Tao leadership at the university in my work as department chair and associate dean.
Recognizing the convergence of Tao principles with positive psychology, I returned to school for a master’s degree in counseling and became a positive psychology coach. The Tao Te Ching tells us that life is a journey and I’m still discovering more about Tao wisdom on this journey each day.
Q: You write, “A Tao person is someone who recognizes and works with the patterns of nature.” Can you say more about that?
A: The Tao Te Ching was written by Lao Tzu over 25 centuries ago during the warring states period in ancient China.
Finding consolation in nature, he saw how the energies of yin and yang are expressed as day and night, sunlight and shadow, and are part of an overarching Oneness of life.
He saw how the water in a mountain stream can be gentle and nurturing, and yet, with perseverance, can cut through solid rock. He recognized the resilient strength of bamboo, which bends with the wind and doesn’t break. He witnessed the dynamic cycles of life, the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives, learning essential lessons about timing.
A Tao person today can draw upon these same essential lessons by working with nature’s patterns: practicing perseverance, resilience, and timing, and discovering new possibilities by recognizing how life’s apparent opposites are part of the Oneness of Tao.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: In these challenging times, when so many of us are feeling a sense of hopelessness, The Tao of Inner Peace offers a new path of hope, combining the Tao’s qualities of yin and yang, awareness and action.
My intention is for readers to realize that as we become more aware of the Tao’s vision of life as process, we recognize that we are a vital part of the process. We learn that our actions can make a difference and create greater peace within and around us.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I coach, write, and offer workshops and webinars on Tao principles. I also blog for Psychology Today, and lecture for the Positive Psychology Guild in the UK. In addition, I enjoy meditating, gardening, taking long walks in nature with my husband, Bob, and my little dog, Ginny, and reading a range of fascinating books.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: In the past two years of the Covid pandemic, our lives have been turned upside down. Many of us have been in a state of chronic stress.
This can compromise not only our health but also undermine our ability to think clearly and sabotage our relationships with ourselves and one another. To create greater peace around us, we need to create greater peace within us.
I write in The Tao of Inner Peace that the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching can help us recognize when we’re triggered by stress and begin to restore our peace of mind by taking slow, deep breaths, focusing on peace, and spending more time in nature.
As the Tao Te Ching reminds us, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Chapter 64). It is up to each of us now to take that step. For by dealing with stress in our own lives, we can think more clearly, act more wisely, and create new possibilities for our time.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb