How did you begin your search for peace? I began mine with political activism in the sixties. My college friends and I marched, protested, and worked for social change. For a while, I felt personally empowered by the protests. We saw ourselves on the evening news and felt we were making a difference. In time our country even pulled out of Vietnam. But by the mid-seventies, most of us were exhausted and disillusioned. Placing all our hopes in some distant cause, we had ignored our personal needs. Many of us even wondered who we were.
So we plunged into the human potential movement, seeking solace in encounter groups, hot tubs, bodywork, and a colorful procession of gurus. The Maharishi, Maharaji, Bhagwan, and Werner Erhard all sold their own brands of inner peace. Blocking out the conflict around me, I went from Gestalt groups to gurus to physical therapies. Hundreds of classes, workshops, and self-help books later, I was a certified massage practitioner, teaching yoga at a holistic health center in northern California. I got my Ph.D. in English and began my career in college teaching. My friends and I tried very hard to be peaceful. But something was missing. The conflict remained.
Most people are still at war with themselves and one another. We run through days of competition, confrontation, and mounting frustration, driven by the fear that we’re “not good enough.” At home and on the job, our lives are filled with stress. Our economy is troubled, our future uncertain, and the divorce rate has never been higher. Caught in a struggle between our ideals and grim necessity, we wrestle with the contradiction between what we are and what we “should” be. We live in the richest nation in the world, yet we are chronically insecure and defensive. Every day assaults us with new crises and conflicts on the evening news.
My personal search led to the Tao Te Ching, which offers a simple yet comprehensive vision of personal and planetary peace. In the Tao inner and outer peace are intrinsically related, as we are related to everything in our world.
Instead of waiting for the right guru or political leader to bring us the answer, the Tao asks us to take responsibility for our lives, to follow its path of action and contemplation. Through a shift of attitude, we can begin to experience greater peace right now. By seeing the larger patterns, we can take effective action, moving beyond competition to cooperation, harmonizing with the natural principles underlying all existence from the smallest cell to the largest social organism.
Let’s begin by identifying any areas of our lives where we’re not at peace. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
I’m not at peace in my body. It breaks down, knots up in tension, keeps me awake at night, aches, limps, gets into accidents, develops false growths, overeats, craves drugs or alcohol, feels awkward, fat, thin, old, weak, or powerless.
I’m not at peace in my career. It’s filled with stress, tension, disappointment, problems, obnoxious people, impossible deadlines. I feel nervous, insecure, angry, closed in, held down, trapped, fearful, unhappy.
I’m not at peace in my relationships. I feel angry, resentful, jealous, fearful, anxious, insecure, bored, trapped, limited, manipulated, dominated, misunderstood, unable to communicate honestly with people I care about.
I’m not at peace in my family. I feel guilty, resentful, angry, bored, restless, exhausted, trapped, sabotaged, manipulated, overburdened with obligations. I cannot be myself with them.
I’m not at peace in my finances. I feel poor, anxious, resentful, limited, overwhelmed by bills and obligations. There’s never enough to do what I want. I’m fearful of not having enough or guilty about what I have.
I’m not at peace with myself. I feel frustrated, guilty, confused. My life is filled with conflict. I never do what I want. I’m afraid to try. I procrastinate. I spend all my time pleasing others. I never accomplish anything. I’m often depressed. My life is filled with compulsive working, eating, shopping, drinking, or drugs. I’m not good enough.
I’m not at peace with my world. I feel nervous, anxious, guilty, depressed when I think about the future. I’m afraid of criminals, fascists, or communists. I have nightmares about war. I’m afraid of tomorrow because we’re killing ourselves with pollution. There’s nothing I can do. I hide behind cynicism or numbness. I feel powerless to change my world or my life.
Becoming a Tao Person
Whatever the conflict in our lives, the first step on the path of peace is to shift our attitudes. According to the Tao, what matters is not the situation, but the way we perceive it.
A Tao person is someone who recognizes and works with the patterns of nature. Whatever our religious background or national origin, we become Tao people when we learn to think holistically, seeing our part in the unity of life, respecting the natural cycles within and around us.
Tao people are natural problem solvers. While others often fear conflict and change, a Tao person realizes that conflict is natural, that life constantly evolves through cycles of change. Non-Tao people perceive the world through a reductive dualism that makes them cling to the status quo. Tao people realize life has many options. Creative and resourceful, they flow with change, seeing beyond problems to solutions. One with Tao, they promote greater peace in their world.
From THE TAO OF INNER PEACE by Diane Dreher, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2000 by Diane Dreher.