Diane Dreher is the writer of The Tao of Inner Peace as well as other nonfiction books, and her work has been translated into ten languages. She is an award-winning positive psychology researcher and her work blends wisdom from the past with contemporary psychology and neuroscience. Her work combines knowledge of the western world with traditions of the eastern world including many insights from the Tao Te Ching. Her work helps teach people to live with the pains of life without also suffering.
In this interview, Diane joins me to discuss how to better understand and cultivate your unique strengths, how to understand and cultivate a relationship to your intuition, and the power of stillness. We also discuss the four stages of discovering your purpose or calling, recognizing, and resolving false dilemmas, and finding paths through either / or situations that seem unwinnable. Another interesting thing we talk about is the wisdom of bamboo, what we can learn from it about strength, flexibility, and resilience; How we can use our differences to help us work together to find solutions.
“There are times when to be strong is to be flexible.”
This week on the School for Good Living Podcast:
- Being aware of and using our strengths
- Combining eastern and western philosophy
- The false dilemma and Seeing through “either / or” situations
- The wisdom of bamboo, learning to be flexible
- Allowing our differences to help us work together to find solutions
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Brilliant Miller [00:00:16] Diane, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Diane Dreher [00:00:19] I am delighted to be here. Thank you.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:22] I’m glad you’re here. Will you tell me, please? What is life about?
Diane Dreher [00:00:30] Oh. Okay. Well, life is a journey of discovery. The way I see it, we’re all here. And this goes way back to my studies in the Renaissance. We’re all here with a certain set of gifts or strengths. Some people say it’s our genes. Some people say God gave them to us. Some people say we developed them, but we all have certain gifts. And it’s our our duty and our destiny to discover them and use them to enrich our lives and make a positive difference in the world. So it’s a constant process of discovery.
Brilliant Miller [00:01:09] Yeah. Well, tell me, how do you go about that?
Diane Dreher [00:01:14] How do I go about that? Well, and one of the things that I do, I’m a positive psychology coach. So I ask all my clients to take something called the VIA Character Survey. www.viacharacter.org. It’s values in action. Rather a character strength survey that was developed by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson and a whole group of passive psychologists who studied all of the cultures in the world going back in time to the first recorded stories, religions, etc. And they came up with 24 character strengths that are common to all humanity, despite all the differences we have on the surface. We all seem to agree that we value courage, compassion, creativity, spirituality, perseverance, curiosity, and all those other 24 strengths. So take the survey, which I’ve done repeatedly and I ask all my clients to do it, and point out their top strengths. And studies have shown that when we use our what they called our signature strengths, our particular heart strengths on a regular basis, we’re healthier, happier and more successful. So I as a college professor, I would ask all my student advisees to take the survey and to connect their strengths with their interests so that they could then chart their course to their futures. And I do this myself, and I am aware that one of my top strengths is curiosity. It’s wonderful. Our top strengths can be really an advantage, but they can also be at a disadvantage if we use them too much. For example, when I’m doing research on the Internet, my curiosity can send me way off on a tangent. I don’t watch out or. Because, you know, it’s a strength. So to be aware of our strengths, I think it’s very helpful for me personally and also professionally.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:38] Awesome. Well, thank you for for sharing that. That’s not anything I had heard of before. But I see the men in his work and the father, actually, of positive psychology movement. But I never heard of viacharacter.org. I look into that. I’ve done the strength finder assessment and recommended that for friends and family and clients. But. But not this one. So thanks for introducing me to that.
Diane Dreher [00:04:02] Oh, yeah. Oh, you’re very welcome. Actually, it’s also on the authentic happiness University of Pennsylvania site that Martin Seligman has together with a whole lot of other surveys. And it’s free, you know, because when we take the survey, we become part of their research. And I think that’s great. I mean, you know, our names are not mentioned or anything, just demographic data so that they can continue learning, which I think that’s our greatest strength as human beings, you know, is our ability to learn and grow. We can’t we can’t run as fast as horses. We can’t fly by our own power. There are a lot of things we can’t do. We aren’t as strong as some some of the other animals. We can’t swim as far as whales. And yet we can modify, we can make major changes in our lives, in our world by continuing to learn. That’s our greatest strength.
Brilliant Miller [00:05:00] Yeah, absolutely. So you have written a few books. You written five, as I understand. And this might not actually be accurate. That is your most recent book. It might be your most recently republished book. You can clarify that for me. But the Tao of Inner Peace.
Diane Dreher [00:05:19] Yeah, the Tao of Inner Peace. I wrote it in 1990 when the world was going through a lot of perestroika and glasnost and changes in terms of politics. Then I revised it in 2000 to incorporate many changes. Okay. And what happened is because the Tao of Inner Peace talks about how to find inner peace, to find greater peace within us so that we can create greater peace around us. My publisher put it out as a new audio book this year, 2022. So there it is. And the principles of Tao, which are quite old 25 centuries ago, written by Lao Tzu during the warring states period in ancient China, when people were really seeking solutions to all that confusion and insecurity they found. My publisher figured that there was a lot of confusion and insecurity during the COVID pandemic and a lot of the upheaval in our world. And so that these principles are still just as relevant today.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:34] Yeah, absolutely. I remember reading something from an Eastern teacher, an Indian teacher, who he was speaking to, a group, I believe, and he said something about the problems we’re solving here. The questions were addressing here are timeless. They’re the same questions people were asking 10,000 years ago and that the same questions people will be asking in 10,000 years. And that’s ultimately this about human suffering and the relief from suffering in this kind of thing. And I love to see some of the different traditions around the world and the texts and the questions and the teachings that come from those that can continue to guide us, because they’re not specific to any geography or any specific circumstance, but they are truly timeless. And as I understand from your work, I didn’t know this before that the Tao teaching is the most translated text of any in the world other than the Bible. Is that right?
Diane Dreher [00:07:33] Right, exactly.
Brilliant Miller [00:07:34] And you’ve done a translation of this yourself as well?
Diane Dreher [00:07:40] I have done a poetic translation, yeah. You know, it’s not it’s not exact word for word, but the Chinese characters are multifaceted, so that one Chinese character can mean many things. So, yes, I have done that. What struck me when you were just talking about, you know, these the same problem of human suffering. What’s interesting is that there are many people and organizations now that that are connecting very ancient practices with the latest science. Right. The Dalai Lama, for example, is working with neuroscientists, studying how meditation can help us create greater compassion for ourselves and others. Jim Doty, who’s a wonderful neurosurgeon at Stanford that I met and interviewed, started a center for compassion at Stanford University, and they’re practicing some very old techniques based on mindfulness. He’s been working with the Dalai Lama, actually, and they’re testing them with the latest scientific methods. And of course, Jon Kabat-Zinn with mindfulness-based stress reduction, started that quite a while ago. And the BSR research has been shown to relieve all kinds of illnesses because a lot of illnesses began with stress. And of course, he took an old Buddhist practice, brought it into the 20th and 21st centuries, and it’s helping us today. So we’re reaching back for wisdom and reaching ahead to connect it to evidence in lots of different ways.
Brilliant Miller [00:09:28] Yeah, it gives me hope, right? Because not only are we dealing with some really big and complex issues in our world today in a variety of areas, whether it’s from the environment to social justice, you know, to our political discourse, all these things. But they’re big and they’re complicated. And no one of us, it seems, is able to solve it. But it’s a collective thing. And the solutions we have previously employed, it seems like, well, that’s what got us here in a way. So maybe you’re going to take another kind of thinking and. And hopefully it’s this. What I wonder is from from your journey, you know, I know any one of our lives can be both an example and an inspiration so we can, you know, what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but sometimes it does, or sometimes it can provide the inspiration to help us find our way forward in our lives. And I’m curious, how did the Tao come into your life? How did the daodejing how did this book make its way into your life? And and this kind of a two part question, but how did it come into your life and how has your life been different since?
Diane Dreher [00:10:36] Oh, my gosh, that’s almost a universal question. Okay. How did it come into my life? Gradually, I began to discover Eastern philosophy when I was ten years old. My father was an Air Force colonel. We were transferred to the Philippine Islands from the continental United States, and all of a sudden I found myself in this whole different world. We lived in a house on Clark Air Force Base with windows made out of seashells and mango and papaya trees grew in our yard. And we had all these people who came to work in our house, including one incredible chef and a person who cleaned the house. The person who cleaned our house danced on a coconut husk across the floor to polish the floor. And I thought that was so cool. I decided I was going to help him. So I started dancing across the coconut husk. This was a different world. My father brought back all kinds of art from Hong Kong and Tokyo. He was a pilot, so we flew there and I thought wow and I loved the calligraphy. So here I was, this ten year old trying to do a Chinese brush painting and Chinese calligraphy because it spoke to me . It was like it reminded me of something that I personally had never known, but somehow felt that I was a part of and would draw palm trees and started getting into painting because art became my practice. I didn’t know meditation per se. Nobody could teach me that when I was a ten year old living on an Air Force base. But when we came back to the States. I lived in Grandview, Missouri, and was painting trees during an art class in the sixth grade, and all the other kids laughed at me and they said, Diane doesn’t know how to draw a tree. She has all the branches coming out from the top. It’s nice. I said, Yeah, they have trees like that. And the teacher said, They do have trees like that somewhere, but not here. And I thought, there is no one way to be a tree. You know, there’s east and west. And I kept looking at the convergence of east and west and trying to reconcile east and west in my own life. So in high school and college, I started reading Eastern philosophy, meditating, discovered the daodejing, and it changed the way I looked at the world. I saw it ways to bring yin and yang together instead of either or only half the equation. I think that’s the the problem of so many people in our very busy, active Western world is that we’re very, very young. You know, busy, busy, busy all the time. And not enough time to reflect. In Japanese and Chinese paintings, there’s all this open space. The Japanese call it your haiku. You know, they have flowers or a vision of a mountain, Mt. Fuji. But there’s there’s a lot of empty space in their art because they believe that’s important. We need empty space. We need margins in our lives so that we can breathe, so that we can reflect, so that we know what we’re doing. So our action becomes mindful action instead of mindless action. SS So it’s changed my life. It’s made me aware that. I can fall into either or, you know, right or wrong. Win or lose, all or nothing. The logical fallacy of the false dilemma. When I was threatened and stressed and I see a lot of that happening in our country right now with political polarization, which I see is very sad because ultimately we have more in common, according to the Via Character Strength Survey and according to the fact that we all have common ground, we live on it. It’s our home. It’s called Planet Earth.
Brilliant Miller [00:14:46] Yeah.
Diane Dreher [00:14:46] Yeah. So both and not either or.
Brilliant Miller [00:14:51] Yeah. I thank you for that. Well, tell me, why did you decide to write a book about it? I know that is not it’s not a casual endeavor to write and publish a book. And I still happen to think that it is at least as significant as many of the other milestones in our lives that we can be proud of, like earning a college degree or even starting a business in some ways. And a book is or can be like a business. But why did you decide to write this book? Who did you write it for? What did you hope it would do for them? One of the big questions.
Diane Dreher [00:15:26] Yeah, you ask really great cosmic questions of why did I decide to write that piece? And then I wrote a book called The Personal Leadership and the Womanhood because Daoism inspires me. I experienced sometimes. Being rubber size being reduced to one specific kind of person by other people projecting on me to be specific. When I was in college, before I wrote this book and it’s wonderful the kinds of books I write, I write about principles, practices and personal experience. So there are little anecdotes about my life woven in there with some of the names changed to protect some of the people who did things that are wonderful examples but would be embarrassing if I used their real names. So when I was a junior in college and I worked my way, I was working my way through the University of California, Riverside, and at the newspaper office, the Riverside Press-Enterprise. And it was just full of excitement and discovery. I loved everything I was learning in college. I loved working at the newspaper. I wanted to be a writer. And my boyfriend was one year ahead of me in the spring of my junior year. One night under the stars. It was very romantic. He proposed to me, and of course I said yes. He was the love of my life. And he said, Good. Now that we’ve gotten that settled, you’ll drop out of school and work so that I can go to grad school.
Brilliant Miller [00:17:01] Wow.
Diane Dreher [00:17:03] And I said, what? Why can’t we both go to grad school? I wanted to go to grad school and get a degree and become a college professor, and so did he. And he said, well, you know, you’re being selfish. And he broke up with me that night. So I got a marriage proposal and a breakup, you know, within 5 minutes. What a shock. You didn’t see the fact that it wasn’t an either or. It wasn’t his graduate school and my being the, you know, the resource person who was going to have some kind of a job so that he could get his degree. We could have both worked and gotten graduate degrees. He could have worked for a year, saved us money, and then gone to grad school so we could have gone to grad school together. As it happened, he went to grad school in Texas. I got a full graduate fellowship the following year or two at UCLA and did not have to, you know, have a job, whatever. And we both became college professors, but our lives went off in separate directions because we could not see beyond the false dilemma. Or at least he could not see beyond the faults to my asking him, why can’t we both go to graduate school? He’s considered selfish and Abraham Maslow would consider that self-actualization, you know, and that if when we love people, we want the best, of course, for ourselves, but we also want the best for them. And it shouldn’t be a choice of either or all or nothing. Win or lose.
Brilliant Miller [00:18:37] Yeah. This false dichotomy.
Diane Dreher [00:18:40] Yeah, but how often does that happen? So I decided, okay, these old principles of the daodejing about dynamic balance of yin and yang are so important that we can learn from them today and they can help us solve our problems. You know, they can help us create solutions together that are neither my way or your way, but something that is shared. You know, something new that’s created from multiple perspectives. And there are different kinds of leadership, as we’ve noticed in the news. There is the old top down tradition of leadership in which the leader gives the orders and everybody else follows. Having grown up in a military family, I observed that firsthand. And then, you know, there are other ways.
Brilliant Miller [00:19:39] Yeah, absolutely. And as you’re sharing this, I’m reminded. The literal translation of Tao is the way. Which sounds very Star Wars. And I’m sure Lucas has drawn inspiration from Asian cultures. But there’s something to me that is beautiful about that, that whether it’s balancing extremes, finding the middle way, you know, reconciling paradox. I had a teacher suggest that, it was this teacher’s opinion, at least, that all spiritual work involves paradox. And I thought that was an interesting perspective to have. But it’s easy to see and this was something is before we began recording, we were just talking about someone we both know, Jack Canfield. And I was in a training with Jack that he suggested to me that there’s only two causes of disease. Too much of something, or not enough of something. Right. At that extremes of anything.
Diane Dreher [00:20:42] And that goes back to the Aristotelian golden mean, you know. These ancient people, as you said to begin with, you know, they’re looking at the same human problem of suffering. And we suffer from when we have not enough and we suffer from having too much indigestion of one kind or another. Absolutely fascinating. Leadership, though, in the daodejing, here’s this really old book, right? And yet there’s a wonderful passage in it that says, with the best of leaders, when the work is done, the project completed, and people all say, we did it ourselves. That’s a, you know, an amazing sense of team leadership and empowerment. And Carl Rogers, the humanistic psychologist who obviously did a lot of interpersonal therapy, but also had the Karl Rogers Peace Project, where he’d go to international conflict sites and bring two groups together to listen to each other, because he felt like they could discover the truth together and that a leader was a facilitator. He carried that quote in his wallet throughout his life, you know, because that was a reminder that no one person, no matter how well-meaning or how educated, can see everything I can’t see behind me, I can only see to some degree to each side with a little peripheral vision. And yet when we get a group of people, a circle of support together, we have multiple perspectives on any issue, and we can come up with more creative solutions. And that’s with our complex problems today. That’s the kind of leadership we need.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:35] Yeah, I agree with you. And I’m curious, too, on your take of this next question I’ll ask, because obviously this is something you’ve made a study of and devoted a lot of your life to. But it’s about the what I think. So you can correct me on this, but what I would say, the pragmatic nature of the daodejing, because I understand Lao Tzu lived around the time of Confucius. And they both were teachers, but of a different sort. And as we sit here today, we talk about the Tao is kind of I don’t want to say mystical necessarily, but a conceptual or philosophical text. But the daodejing but my understanding is it it actually is intended as a pragmatic, as a guide to life, not some abstract thing that’s disconnected from the realities of our even our daily problems. So I know there’s not maybe a clear question here, but I am interested, if you will, if you’ll speak to Confucian teachings versus, you know, maybe the Daoist sort of teachings. And then also about a connection of the doubt, if you see there is one to the problems of daily living.
Diane Dreher [00:23:42] Oh, wow. Okay, so we’ve got Confucius, Lao Tzu, The Tao and Daily Living. Both of these Chinese philosophers lived during the warring states period in ancient China. And like many people today, Confucius saw security in family values and traditional social norms, in essence maintaining the status quo, being respectful of elders, being kind to each other. And Lao Tzu was more like the Henry David Thoreau of ancient China. He found his answers out in nature and looked like contemporary environmentalists, recognizing that there are principles and patterns in nature that we can learn from. We can learn to cooperate with nature and not trash the planet. That’s one thing. But we can also learn really important lessons from observing nature because we’re part of nature. In fact, the Chinese character for nature includes a Chinese character for a human being. The Chinese character for a human being is like an upside down v. And the Chinese character for large is a parallel line that goes out from that. V like a person saying big, you know. And then nature adds another parallel line at the top of that v so that the human being is part of nature. The natural principles are our own principles. We too have cycles of energy within us as there are cycles of energy around us. We have circadian rhythms. Some people are really alert early morning, some people are night people. To be aware of our own inner rhythms is wisdom, to be aware of the rhythms of nature and not plant spring vegetables at this time of year. This is wisdom. I at one point figured, Oh, I live in California, I can plant tomatoes now, you know, doesn’t work because the nights are longer, the days are shorter, the sun disappears and you know, everything has its own time and season. So personally, we can develop greater wisdom and self-awareness and knowledge. We can also make better decisions by being aware of the principles of Tao. There are times when we need to be flexible in order to be resilient. And in the west, we have this definition of being strong as being tough. In the daodejing. There is a passage in there about the importance, the wisdom of bamboo. When some stock, a plant is just strong like this. The wind could blow it over. If it can bend with the wind, it doesn’t break. It’s hollow at the center. It has that inner kind of sense of source of strength and the strength of flexibility. There are times when to be strong, is to be flexible, not to just be tough and, you know, refuse to bend. So in conflict, for example, to be flexible, to recognize that there’s more than one solution perhaps to any problem, and to listen and to look for possibilities. So I think that the daodejing gives us personal wisdom, but it also gives us guidelines or principles for dealing with with conflict around us that we can combine yin and yang. We can listen to the people around us. We can do what a group now that’s forming in this country called the Braver Angels is doing by bringing red and blue political people together to deal with a particular issue. I went to a Braver Angels meeting last weekend and we were talking about elections, trustworthy elections, because in a democracy, since that’s how we run things in a democracy is by voting and electing our leaders, we need to be able to trust our elections. So how how can we create trustworthy elections? So the reds and the blues listen to each other in large groups and then in pairs and shared their concerns and came up with solutions that involve both sides thesis antithesis synthesis, the Hegelian dialectic and recommendations to make our elections more trustworthy and to help people understand why what goes on behind elections? Who is able to register to vote, how we are sure that every citizen can be registered to vote and the people who are not citizens and do that because that doesn’t work in our country, you know? So how can we bring differences together? Not not politically, but sometimes professionally. Just looking for solutions together really helps. When I was a department chair, I had. My administrative assistant was all upset and one of the faculty members was upset and they were all right with each other. And I thought, What’s going on here? And decided that, well. That faculty member needed a certain number of photocopies made for her class so that she could hand them out, you know, by her class time. And the administrative assistant didn’t know when when the faculty member needed them or even what faculty member needed them. There was just a note put on the desk saying, please make 20 photocopies. So they were both upset. They said, What do you need? You know, well, what they needed was administrative assistant needed to know specifically what was required of her, and the faculty member needed to know that this stuff would be done on time. So that together they kind of came up with this little. You know, that they could, you know, people could fill out saying what needs to be done for whom? By when? How many copies? It’s simple, right?
Brilliant Miller [00:30:24] It is always so simple. After the fact.
Diane Dreher [00:30:27] They came up with a solution together and then they became friends. Okay, so what does that mean? We can let our differences divide us. Or we can become partners in finding solutions that, you know, that prevented a lot of other consternation and confusion in the department. Well, simple thing.
Brilliant Miller [00:30:47] Yeah. And as I hear you share that, both that specific example and what you’re talking about more broadly, I’m reminded of that French proverb about to understand all is to forgive. All right. And once we understand. Okay, I got it. Your needs, your desires. I wasn’t clear, you know. And the power that has.
Diane Dreher [00:31:09] Yeah. Now, most conflicts that I’ve witnessed have been, you know, breakdowns in communication, just confusion. And there are some individuals who seem to enjoy creating conflict. And, you know, they’re they’re in a they’re in a minority, thank goodness. But most of the time, we can simply pause. Take a deep breath center down because the Tao tells us that we cannot. We cannot come up with good solutions when we’re stressed out aloud to know that 25 centuries ago. And yet he has a passage that says, can you go through your days holding, embracing the door, releasing your attention as you focus your breathing, clearing your vision and opening yourself to life? Hmm. And that’s the process of centering down which we need to do before we listen to somebody else that disagrees with us, because otherwise we won’t hear them clearly. We’ll just be defensive.
Brilliant Miller [00:32:16] Yeah, no doubt. Well, in hearing you read that passage and just reflecting a bit on some of the passages from the Daodejing in your book, I am thinking that it is more wisdom than prescriptive instruction for sure. Right. Like that. What you just read there was a question and kind of a philosophical one. But what that leads me to then is this whole idea, right? I don’t know that I have this exactly right, but I have a memory of a famous passage from this about that that the Tao cannot be named. Right. Or whatever is saved, as the Tao is not the Tao and and so forth. But what I like. How do you take that? I get that’s antithetical to a lot of our Western thinking. Like, I want to understand it, I want to dissect it, I want to classify it, you know. But there’s this whole thing we’re talking about, the Tao, like, what the heck is it? And how do we deal with that thought and language that it’s beyond all that?
Diane Dreher [00:33:12] Yeah. Yeah. Our Western minds want to categorize things, so we have labels. I mean, I have a label or a tree. Now that’s a tree. And if I say that’s a tree, I can walk by and I don’t have to. I have an intimate, communicate communion experience with that individual tree. I mean, we don’t have time in our lives. We’ve got to categorize things. But once we start categorizing things, we destroy their uniqueness and their authenticity. We put them in a catalog of our range and we reduce them to a to a label. And we can’t do that with the Tao. And we can’t do that with, I think, with any one person. Because we are more than the labels that that are easily put upon us. Labels are reductive. So I think that, you know, the Tao is sacred and life is sacred. And we can’t we have to use words in order to communicate. All right. But but to reduce it to a definition and say that’s what it is, you know, our Western scientific, rational minds want to do that. But there’s so much more to life than the labels we put on it. You know, that’s that’s part of it. There’s another quote from the Tao that says those who know. Do not speak. Those who speak. Do not know. So here I am trying to speak about the Tao. There is no one answer that it’s this dynamic, evolving, living reality that changes. It’s like quantum mechanics changes as we witness it and because we’re part of the process.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:19] Yeah. There’s something here that I think is really not only profound, but also potentially profoundly useful. And this maybe isn’t very well-formed here, but it is something that I’ll sometimes introduce into some of the conversations with some of my coaching clients about. What about language? It often starts with language in it about experiences that we nominalize that we turn into nouns like relationships as though it’s a thing somehow static or frozen in time or of a certain quality. But when we can both unfreeze it and relate to it as the verb with the process that it is right? Like a marriage. We’ll talk about a marriage. My marriage is this or that. But really, what we’re, attempting to get at is an experience we have or maybe have had. And when we can connect to the aliveness that it is or can be for us, that’s when we can really transform our experience of it. And there’s a freedom in that. And I get, as I’m saying it, it can sound very abstract or very esoteric, but I think there’s something that can be incredibly liberating when we get there. And I think learning about the Tao helps us move closer to that. Things we didn’t even know. We didn’t know. You know?
Diane Dreher [00:36:39] Yeah. What’s your what.
Brilliant Miller [00:36:41] Do you think.
Diane Dreher [00:36:42] Nouns are? Where a person, place or thing. Right. A noun. You know, way back from my grammar days, it’s a piece of property. It’s a thing. It’s an object. So by naming something, we objectify it. But when we’re in process, you know, with someone you know. Okay, we have to call someone, a friend. We have very limited vocabulary for personal relationships in this country. We have people in their sixties and seventies referring to each other as girlfriend and boyfriend. If they’re not married, you know, I think that they’re adults. They’re not girls and boys at this point. But again, we have an impoverishment of language as well as the fact that language puts things into a static property state when that when they’re nouns. Right. And and limits them. Whereas the Tao is dynamic. The Tao is present. The Tao is now.
Brilliant Miller [00:37:49] Yeah, it’s beautiful. And it’s something there’s one particular aspect I’m really eager to ask you about, which is this of Wu Wei and as I’ve heard it like non doing if I have that right, but it’s a kind of a theme, I mean although as I understand it, it’s talked about directly in the text, but it’s also kind of a theme that recurs throughout it. But, and this is something that I’m interested in because as I look at my life like I think this might literally be true, that all what I consider the best things in my life, they all happen without my effort. And, you know, and conversely, when I use my intellect as best I can to make a plan or set a goal and then my will to try to get there, that’s when I experience what I would say. Like a lot of I don’t want to say suffering that might be too extreme, but a lot of discomfort, like a lot of unpleasant emotions. But and there’s this balance, right? I mean, between like trying and allowing and this concept of just like spontaneous right action or non doing is very intriguing. But I certainly haven’t mastered it yet. But how do you see it? Like, what have you learned about it? What is it? How can we do it more fully? More easily? You know, that kind of thing.
Diane Dreher [00:39:12] One way is, I think, you know, access to our intuitive faculty. If I’m trying to do something with my conscious mind and think, okay, I’ve got to solve this problem now and use will and effort and push my way through it. Ego, you know, is really there. I’m limited to this much of what my brain can do because that’s, you know, that’s my conscious mind. And there are times when I get stuck working on a writing project and I can see no further than, you know, then what I’m doing. And I can push through and try to finish the job with my limited conscious ability. Or I can step back and say, you know, I reached the point of diminishing returns and I’m going to exercise will way non-action. I’m going to do something else. I’m going to go out and take a walk, work in my garden, you know, any number of other things. And the next day when I come back. I have looked at that same piece of writing and all of a sudden there there are new insights and the problem is solved. Someone, something comes in, drops the solution in. Call it the muse intuition. But one way is a process of releasing, of letting go when something isn’t working and, you know, making way for or a higher power of inspiration to flow through us and to us. And sometimes, I mean, this happens a lot with creative people. Albert Einstein used to go sailing when he was out there at Princeton and. He would when he was sailing, he’d he’d be, you know, all of a sudden he was not in his lap. But the next step in an experiment would come to him when he was not working on the experiment.
Brilliant Miller [00:41:12] So it’s so interesting.
Diane Dreher [00:41:13] That’s yeah. Because there is the creative process I think is dependent upon which way. There is a period of active work, you know, and then there is incubation when we’re not working on the thing. And after incubation comes inspiration and then you go back and you incorporate it into verification. So there are four steps, you know, the actual starting the work initiation and then incubation, inspiration and verification. I think that sometimes when we don’t know what to do, the best thing to do is we’re away because solutions will come to us when we clear our minds. We have access to all kinds of creative possibilities. When I was in college, my parents told me that they couldn’t afford to pay for my college. So I was one summer working at all these little temp jobs or tele services driving this old red Volkswagen. After one of my jobs, and I drove by the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper office. And I got this sudden inspiration, I guess, saying, you’re a writer, you should work there. So I turned the car around, made a U-turn, went into the parking lot, walked in the door at age 19, feeling very shy, but but energized by this impulse, saying, Hi, I’m Diandra, I’m a writer. I’d like to apply for a job. And they said, Oh, come on upstairs to the personnel office. So I did fill out some papers and they said, Our college intern just gave notice this morning. Can you start work on Monday?
Brilliant Miller [00:43:00] Wow. Holy cow.
Diane Dreher [00:43:05] That’s opening ourselves up to inspiration, to intuition. I didn’t have to. I didn’t even. You know, they hadn’t even advertised the job yet. So it wasn’t in the want ads and it was just there. So sometimes we tune in to something when we’re in a state of will way. I was driving my car. I guess that’s like Albert Einstein, you know, sailing when we’re doing something that is repetitive and, you know, relatively mindless, we’re not worrying about something that our minds are clear.
Brilliant Miller [00:43:39] Yeah, that’s so interesting. And as I’ve observed this, it seems to me that emotion, like you said, repetitive as opposed to motion, seems to be a part of it. And, you know, we often talk about ideas that come to us in the shower.
Diane Dreher [00:43:54] Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:43:55] Whatever reason. But water is moving, so there’s an element of motion there, too. But what’s your what’s your sense of like if I don’t know if there’s significance to that, but what’s your sense of the connection with being in movement? Obviously, we don’t have to be in there’s time, stillness can be what’s called for. But what’s your sense of like motion as like a gateway to accessing this kind of would way stay to our intuition?
Diane Dreher [00:44:22] You know, I never thought of it until you mentioned that, but repetitive motions like I can be out in my garden pulling weeds. I get all kinds of good ideas for time, and the garden looks better, too. But something, you know, walking, you know, a lot of people get ideas when they’re walking. Yeah. Our bodies were made to move and certainly under running water. That’s a kind of a cleansing process as well, you know, washing away all kinds of worries. And but we are in movement. Maybethere’s some connection there. The movement, the, you know, repetitive. We’re not working on something with our conscious mind. We’re just kind of letting things happen, moving along. And that rhythm made me trigger inspiration and intuition. Yeah. Wow.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:26] Interesting. So interesting. How did that story turn out? How long did you have that job? What, if anything, significant or lasting came as a result of it?
Diane Dreher [00:45:36] Oh, that was a great job because newspaper offices are open 24 seven, so I could work my newspaper copy job. I wrote headlines, I edited little stories, I prepared the TV log, which is kind of funny since I don’t watch that much television and I got to go out and cover, do stories and have a byline. I met all these reporters and got to get a sense of what it was like to be a writer, you know? And in the newsroom, we were all there with our desks and it was exciting. You know, wherever there was the police radio would come on. And whenever there was a crime or an accident, the reporters would all go charging out with, you know, the cameras and ready to cover the story, like, oh, god, you know, it made me aware of the fact that news is usually unless it’s an editorial, it’s usually when it bleeds, it leads, you know, it’s it’s bad news. So I worked my way through college and it gave me a lot of self-respect. I could, you know, pay my my tuition, buy my books, moved into the dorms, paid for it all myself, gave me a lot of sense of of agency. And it was like I, I had self-respect because I was working at the newspaper office. I mean, I was what was an English major to do.
Brilliant Miller [00:47:02] What an experience at 19.
Diane Dreher [00:47:05] Yeah. It just, you know. Yeah. And we got, you know, a free subscription to the paper and it just gave me a lot of respect for journalists who were sometimes a great hazard to their health and to their lives. Go out and cover stories, especially international correspondents, in some of these hot spots. And the fact that the news in in our newsroom, if something was was erroneously reported, we’d have to print a retraction, because news is truth. And they, you know, get the facts, get the truth. It was not propaganda. And now there’s a certain amount of confusion about what news is and what it is.
Brilliant Miller [00:47:48] Yeah, I’m reminded of that. If I ever open Facebook and I see my so-called newsfeed, they call it a timeline now or something.
Diane Dreher [00:47:56] But yeah, a lot of it is gossip. You know, it’s not it’s not verifiable news. But sometimes I think that, you know. That we have some kind of guidance that we can tune into that will help us find our way. You know, the way the Dell the journey of life and we can find guidance by by again, by tuning into our intuition, by by using will way instead of just, you know, pushing through with this limited, conscious mind.
Brilliant Miller [00:48:32] Yeah. What in your experience, how can we cultivate a stronger relationship to or greater access to that intuition? Because then just extend this approach, practice questions a little bit. But my sense is that two of the hardest things in the world is one, living in a way like being able to hear our inner voice and to consider the promptings or whatever you would call it in two is maybe then having the courage to follow it, assuming we can even hear it in the first place. But that’s where I go back to the question I’m asking of what’s your experience of how we can cultivate a relationship to that, to be able to turn up that inner volume and hear it more easily?
Diane Dreher [00:49:16] Okay. Well, like anything, it’s a relationship, right? If we want to have a relationship with our intuition, we need to cultivate that relationship. So for some people, they’re in there. They access their intuition when they’re running cross-country, you know, when they’re out in nature. For some people, they access it by having a regular meditation practice. Or for some people, you know, it’s. It’s meditating and and listening to set, you know, to just sort of take deep breaths, send her down and ask. What is it that I need to know? And we’ll get the answer. Maybe not right away, but something will come up with, you know, we need to converse with our there with our intuitive capacity. We need to tune in to it. I got a lot of intuition when I was training in Aikido because the, the movement and it’s very dao we would. Change an attack into a spiral that would not harm the attacker. Know it was. That’s why it’s a nonviolent martial art. But we have to be centered. We’d have to come from center, be aware of our energies, and then extend our key or our energy out. So to be aware of our own energies, to be aware of our center, to have something that for us is a centering exercise. And I think I think movement is very important. I think if we just sit, that’s not enough.
Brilliant Miller [00:51:03] Yeah, I think you’re right. And as I looked at this, I think even like writing like Julia Cameron teaches in the artist way about morning pages or free writing, but even the writing is a sense of motion.
Diane Dreher [00:51:17] Yeah. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:51:18] And come from that.
Diane Dreher [00:51:20] Exactly. And it’s a sense of motion. And it’s also tuning in regularly to that part of ourselves that is beneath the surface of our awareness. You know, we’ve got this sort of dialog that goes on in our brains all the time and usually telling us what we need to do. Or the other critic comes in there from time to time or, you know, worries and stuff. Well, you get that out of the way and just sometimes put it out on the page if it’s morning pages, sort of release it and get perspective on it. But the act of writing is is is actually motion. Yeah, right.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:00] Absolutely. I want to ask you about I know you’ve written the book, your Personal Renaissance, 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling and How to Read That Book. Yeah, I am curious about it. And it’s a minor hobby of mine collecting. Life’s purpose is like definition processes, you know? And I’m sure you’ve seen many of these, too. Like one of my favorites that I came across was the advice was like to open a word processor or a notebook and write until you write something that makes you cry.
Diane Dreher [00:52:37] Oh, my gosh.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:40] Maybe it works for somebody, but at any rate, you’ve written a whole book about this, and it’s a process. Is 12 steps we could follow, huh? At the end, it would, in design, help us find our true calling. But broadly speaking, what do you say to somebody who’s looking for purpose calling, meaning, you know, something like that? What are you just kind of I don’t want to say advice, but approach. How do you begin that conversation?
Diane Dreher [00:53:07] Well, I wrote this book actually after listening to some of my students in a senior seminar. I asked them, we were talking about something and I said, well, why are you in college anyway? And one of them said, I need to get a good job so I can make money. I want to buy a new car. And I looked and I said, Is that all? And then one of them said, I want to be able to support my wife and family in the future. And I said, oh, my gosh, this is all on the surface of things. You know, Maslow’s deficiency needs. What else is there for you? And I thought these poor students, they’re out of touch with their sense of meaning and purpose. You know, they just want to pay the bills, you know, whether they’re altruistically paying the bills for wife and family or paying or paying the bills for a new car for herself. I mean, it’s yes, we need to deal with our deficiency needs. We need to have enough food and shelter and water and air and all the rest of that. But there’s more to life than that. So I went back and researched how people in the Renaissance discovered their callings because in the Middle Ages, the only people who were seen to have a sense of calling were monks, priests, and nuns. Everybody else just worked to eat and to live.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:29] And this is where, as I understand the word vocation even comes from.
Diane Dreher [00:54:34] Calling Bukhari, the Latin word for calling, to be called. They believe they were called by God to be priests, monks, and nuns. In the Renaissance, all of a sudden, artists and theologians believed and the theologians taught that everyone had a calling. Everyone was given a set of gifts by God. And it was their duty and their destiny to use them in the service of God, their neighbor, and to fulfill themselves. And if they didn’t work and do that, that was very bad. So you have the Puritan work ethic going to extremes there. But what happened was there was this within one generation shift where there were all these artists, scientists, saints, you know, people seeking their callings. You have a young boy growing up in the English countryside whose parents were illiterate and could only sign their names with an X going to London and finding his calling on the London stage as William Shakespeare. And that Christopher Marlowe. Same kind of thing. One generation. Because they felt like everyone is given a set of strengths, a set of gifts, and we have to discover what they are and use them. Well, people tell you that you’ve got your own personal set of strengths. You start looking for them. So I figured that way we could learn from that. So my four – 12 steps. Yes, but there are four stages, which I guess is simpler in that book. The first one is discovery to discover our strengths. And of course, when we were children, we naturally reached out and did things that we enjoyed. We played with animals. We went out and explored nature, or we loved books or we loved to draw and paint, or something that brought us a sense of joy. And that was how we played. That was kind of what came naturally to us. That’s one way of discovering our strengths. Another is to remember a time when we felt really alive and vital and happy and fulfilled. What were we doing? Do you know? And the other one is to take the character survey, you know, and there are ways to discover our strengths. And then the second stage is detachment from distractions that keep us from using our strengths, which can be external distractions. You know, a lot of the habits we get into media, you know, some people spend an incredible amount of time on social media.
Brilliant Miller [00:57:22] Well, even TV, like, I look this up, but I’m hesitant to call googling anything research. But I googled this. Yeah, I read that. Even still, even with all this social media and all of the other technology that the average American is still watching like 5 hours a day. How could that be true? But from what I can see online, I think it’s true.
Diane Dreher [00:57:46] Oh, yeah. I mean, I don’t. But one of my relatives I used to go visit when I was in college had a TV set in the kitchen, in the living room, and even in the bathroom. And they were all on. Right. And I said, Why do you have all these on? Oh, it’s company, you know. But with all that noise coming at you, you know, I guess it keeps people from really reflecting on their lives. Maybe they don’t want to.
Brilliant Miller [00:58:12] Well, isn’t that the thing about a person will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing one’s own soul?
Diane Dreher [00:58:21] That’s right. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:58:23] Right.
Diane Dreher [00:58:23] That there are, you know, so there are a lot of distractions and the process of finding our calling. We need to listen to our hearts and our souls. So we have to detach from these distractions and from all the noise in our world in order to do that. So there are checklists and, you know, a chapter about detachment. You know, what are your distractions? How can you cut down on them, etc.? And then there’s discernment, which is to listen to our hearts. You know, where do we find value and meaning? Where do we find joy? And, you know, there is an Ignatian reflection where people can find where do I find consolation? What brings me a sense of joy and meaning? Where do I find desolation? Where do I feel alone, separate, frustrated, anxious, or depressed? And it’s just, you know, the light in the dark and into a guide that becomes an inner compass. You know, if I’m doing something and I find myself feeling really frustrated and angry, maybe that’s desolation. Maybe I shouldn’t do that. Maybe there’s something else. I should go in the opposite direction.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:35] To hear you say that now, man, that’s valuable for me personally, because I realize just in, like, someone’s like a light went on that I’ve avoided looking at the truth of where I find or experience desolation. But that’s a powerful way. And of course, we know we can often get clearer about what we want by learning what we don’t want. But for me personally, like, I’ve avoided that aspect of discernment.
Diane Dreher [01:00:02] So just now. Yeah. And it depends on the individual because I have a little quiz in the book about, you know, okay, you know, I was walking in the woods and I looked at the beautiful sunset. Well, of course, that’s consolation. And then, you know, desolation, other things. Feeling detached, feeling alone. I sprained my ankle and I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. That’s obvious. The isolation. Then I spent the weekend visiting my relatives and I’d ask people in a workshop who’s had constellation and desolation. Well, It depends on how you feel about your relatives. Yeah. You know, do you have a good relationship with them, or are you just there because you feel like you should? Is it abusive? I mean, what is it for? I spent the weekend working in the yard. Now, for me, that’s gardening. That’s wonderful. That’s consolation for some people. That’s a drag. That’s yard work. That’s just so you know. And we each have our own inner compass based on our personal experience, our personal gifts, and our values. And to really tune in to that. And that’s important. They have an examen. The Jesuits I used to teach at a Jesuit university, all came from the Renaissance, a daily examination where you pass at the end of the day, and you look at the patterns of joy and, you know, sunlight and shadow, consolation and desolation and what you can learn from them and give thanks for the consolation and say, okay, what can I learn from anticipation? And then, you know, modify your course accordingly. Stage four is a direction where you put it all together, your gifts and your sense of values from discernment and avoid distractions and just set a goal and then move forward one step at a time and move on from the process.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:10] Yeah, I think. Thank you for breaking that down. And I realize. You know, this is also probably to some degree at least a dynamic process that you know, for me personally, I will look at this thing like because I lived through the first 35 years or so of my life, maybe 30 years believing life had no purpose, or at least not sure if it did, and realizing like I hadn’t discovered it in the lessons I had learned or, you know, the way of life I had been brought up in, hadn’t found like a satisfying, you know, purpose for my own life. And it actually changed in a conversation with a rabbi, which was following my, you know, religious tradition and that kind of thing. But in that conversation then I was in a crisis period at that time. My father had recently passed away, and I didn’t love, you know, my marriage was on its way to being a divorce. And I had a son who was born prematurely and spent nine months in the NICU and so forth. So really hard time in my life. And, I was looking for answers outside what I had known and this rabbi listened to me describe how painful my life was and was very kind in the way he helped me understand how much of that was self-created, despite its externality. And he shared with me this idea that ultimately the common denominator here was that I was not living on purpose. I was not living a purpose. Although he stopped short of telling me what it was for some reason in that conversation, I believed. I came to believe that I did have a purpose. And now it was up to me to find it and to live it. And it did change my life. Now, since that time, I’ve done exercises where I’ve articulated it and it’s through a few drafts. It’s been really flowery and poetic and things like this. And it’s been useful. And at the same time, I tend to think if it might not be true that I have a purpose, but believing I do, I know from experience is a different way of living. So that’s kind of a mind twist right there to go I don’t know objectively if every human is born with a purpose, and then we must discover it and live it, and it’s like God’s expectation of us or something. Like, I don’t know that, but I know if I declare it for myself and I live it, that that’s a different way of living. And then all at the same time, I have this thought that you know, if we do have a purpose, it’s probably beyond anything I could articulate in language anyway. So how to live with this self-created purpose and find the joy and benefit that can come from it while knowing it’s all made up?
Diane Dreher [01:04:53] Wow. Okay, there’s a lot there. Okay, first of all, the purpose that can be named is not the eternal name. It’s like the Tao. It’s a process. So that was my purpose when I was 19 years old, it’s not the same as my purpose now. I mean, it’s included in my purpose now. But we continue to grow and to discover, you know, we’re always in discovery. So and as long as we’re alive and aware, we’re always in discovery. And there are interesting role models for that. There’s a woman named Edith Eger I interviewed recently who was a Holocaust survivor. She was in Auschwitz as a teenager, and she knew Viktor Frankl. After she came to this country, she got her doctorate and became a psychologist. She is 94 years old. She’s still seeing clients and she just finished her second book. She has also just started a new webinar helping people discover their north star, their guiding star in life. I mean, she’s amazing, but she says, you know, I’m still learning. Right. Okay. And when she was you know, she’s 94 now, when she was 50, she wasn’t the person she is now. But, you know, we continue to evolve and develop and she said she believes that she survived Auschwitz so that she could tell her story and be a guide to others. That’s her purpose, whether it’s a purpose that was given to her from some, you know, supreme being or it’s a purpose that she claimed for herself. Either way, it’s the purpose that helps her navigate her life. And it’s real for her, you know?
Brilliant Miller [01:07:10] Yeah, it’s powerful. And I do have this belief that so much of what’s not working in our society today with the depression or addiction or loneliness or whatever unhealthy behavior, like what we might say, unhealthy or just unfulfilling really does have at least as a component, if not a root, this meaninglessness or a sense of purposelessness. And, you know yet the challenge of like finding it, it’s not I don’t think it’s very easy. I have a client and a friend who I met a couple of years ago, and he was introduced to me by another friend. And when we talked, I asked him, you know, what would you want out of this coaching relationship? He said, I want to find my purpose. And I said, okay, you know, I have this online course, and that’s a component of it. And through this, I have a process that I believe, you know, will be effective in helping you find it and so forth. And so he came through the program. He did it and he showed up. He did the work. Well, I hadn’t seen him after the program ended for about a year, and I just ran into him about six weeks ago. And I said to him, Hey, I’ve been thinking about you. And I wonder, how’s it going, the purpose thing. And you know what he said? It just made me smile. He said, Yeah, I don’t really feel that I have found and I’m living my purpose, but I feel a lot more peace. And I went, I don’t know about you, but that’s close enough for me. We’re peaceful if we’re healthy. So I thought that was really interesting, but there doesn’t really seem to be one approach that works for everybody when it comes to this. A purpose or meaning or calling.
Diane Dreher [01:08:50] And what’s sad, as you said, is that there is an epidemic of depression, anxiety, and loneliness, especially among young people. I mean, apparently, 49% of all American college students have clinical depression or anxiety disorder. I mean, that’s really sad. That’s half our college students. Plus, a lot of people, you know, are seeing therapists, my friends who are therapists. Their practices are also since COVID happened, which shook up a lot of people’s lives and made them reflect on the fact that you know, the habit that they were living was really not meaningful for them. And now they don’t really know what to do. Our culture does not reinforce people for self-actualizing or finding a sense of purpose or for having meaning. Instead, it tells people to go shopping. You know, if you’re feeling less than, well, you need to go out and buy a new pair of shoes or, you know, take this pill or buy a new mattress or something, you know.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:52] Or earn a lot of money.
Diane Dreher [01:09:54] Yeah. So you can buy all these things. Yeah. We’re looking outside ourselves to find ourselves. And that doesn’t work.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:02] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s my experience, for sure. Well, Diane, we’ve covered a lot already, and I do have a few more questions about what we’ve been talking about. But in the interest of time, I want to transition us to the Enlightening Lightning Round before we talk about creativity and writing. We’ve already been talking for more than an hour.
Diane Dreher [01:10:23] Oh, really? Okay.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:25] Let me check in with you. First of all, how are you doing? And do you want to take a break for a moment? Are you going to keep going?
Diane Dreher [01:10:31] I’m fine. I can’t imagine the time has just flown by. I must have been in a flow state.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:37] Yes, I know I have been. Okay, cool. Well, before we transition. What, if anything, related to any of the topics we’ve been discussing or any of your books or work have we not talked about that you want to talk about or you think might be of service to the listener?
Diane Dreher [01:10:55] Oh, my gosh. Well. I think that there are two aspects yin and yang from the daodejing. Awareness and action. And we need both. We need to have an awareness of who we are, what we value, and where we are in our lives. And being present right here and right now that awareness, awareness of the principles of our awareness of our oneness with nature. And then we need to have action because without action, awareness can get stagnant like stagnant water. But without awareness, action is mindless action. So we need to balance awareness and action in our lives according to the principles of Tao, to have time to reflect and time to act on what we value. And together, I think that dynamic balance will create greater, greater wholeness and harmony in our lives and in our world.
Brilliant Miller [01:11:57] Yeah, I totally agree with you. So thank you for that. And I think each of us gets to discover what that looks like in the 1440 minutes we have each day. Right. Or however long we’re blessed to have them. So on the one hand, there’s the concept, and the concept itself can be useful, the distinction. And then there’s the practice. How do we put that into practice for ourselves?
Diane Dreher [01:12:22] Right. And we need to find our own way because we’re all unique. There is no one on this planet who’s ever been exactly like you or me. No one on this planet has ever had the same single fingerprints, not even identical twins. That to our uniqueness and yet our oneness.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:42] That is remarkable. Awesome. Okay. Well, thank you for that. And I want to go ahead and transition us to the enlightening lightning around. A series of questions on a variety of topics. I think it’s actually nine questions these days.
Diane Dreher [01:12:57] Okay.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:58] My aim for the most part is to simply ask the question and kind of stand aside. I might tug on your responses here and there, but otherwise I’ll aim to keep it going. Keep it moving. Okay.
Diane Dreher [01:13:13] Okay.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:14] Question number one. Please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a.
Diane Dreher [01:13:25] An adventurous journey.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:28] Okay. Question number two, what is something about which you have changed your mind in recent years?
Diane Dreher [01:13:42] My political opposites, people in the opposite political parties. I now see that we’re all underneath the surface more of the same than we are different.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:56] Okay. Question number three. I know this might be a stretch, but if you were required every day to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it, or a phrase or saying or quote or quip, what would the shirt say?
Diane Dreher [01:14:09] Wow. Compassion.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:16] Okay. For a moment, I thought the shirt would say, Wow.
Diane Dreher [01:14:21] No, the shirt needs to say compassion. We need more of that.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:24] That’s awesome. Okay. Question number four. So what book, other than one of your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Diane Dreher [01:14:37] Probably lately. It’s James Doty’s Into the Magic Shop, which is his spiritual memoir. It’s very inspiring.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:47] Is this the one, he was a neuro or is a neuroscientist?
Diane Dreher [01:14:51] He’s a neurosurgeon at Stanford. But he had a very dysfunctional childhood that he overcame through meditation.
Brilliant Miller [01:15:00] Wow. Why is this the book that you’ve been gifting or recommending most often lately?
Diane Dreher [01:15:09] Because it shows that. A boy who grew up in poverty with a father who is an alcoholic, with a mother who was suicidally depressed, who is very often homeless and hungry. If he could wander into a magic shop and have the woman there, a very kind woman, teach him to meditate. And it changed his life. So much so that he became a neuroscientist, a neurosurgeon, and a professor at Stanford and a bestselling author, and the friend of the Dalai Lama who’s working to create greater compassion in the world, that if he could go from that beginning to this, then for any of us, incredible growth is possible. And the key is our awareness, our meditation. Instead of looking at our problem, to look through it, to transcend, to find a solution.
Brilliant Miller [01:16:08] Right on. You know, a friend gave me that book a few years ago and I haven’t read it. And now I’m thinking we’ll revisit that sooner than later.
Diane Dreher [01:16:17] Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:16:19] Cool, thank you for that. Uh, okay. The next one has to do with travel. So in your life, I imagine you’ve done quite a bit of travel. What’s one travel hack meaning something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Diane Dreher [01:16:36] Oh. I always keep a journal when I travel. To record my insights.
Brilliant Miller [01:16:42] Awesome. How long have you done that?
Diane Dreher [01:16:47] Since I was a junior in college when I went to Stratford upon Avon to study Shakespeare. Because travel is such a fast way of learning. Everything is new. And so, you know, it challenges, ah, preconceptions. So to write down our insights is very important so we don’t lose them.
Brilliant Miller [01:17:10] Yeah, it’s amazing what we forget isn’t it? And then when you read something you wrote and you thought, I didn’t remember that, but I’m glad I recall it because I wrote it down. Absolutely. Well, then someone suggested to me, too. I forget this whole body of research, but about how sameness, how novelty helps us expand, helps our sense of time to expand right there when it’s same, same, same, every day starts to seem the same. That time really seems to speed up because there’s really nothing to differentiate our experience. And how travel can then, because of the novelty that we get to experience, it really does seem to extend to the time, including in addition to, like the quality of our experience. But anyway, I’m kind of rambling a little bit, but I love what you’re saying, and I love that you’ve been journaling about your travel that long.
Diane Dreher [01:18:07] Yeah. Travel expands her awareness. It wakes us up. Yeah, it’s out of our habitual routine, so we notice all kinds of things.
Brilliant Miller [01:18:17] Absolutely. And what’s that saying? That very famous saying about the world is a book and those who never travel read about one page or something like that.
Diane Dreher [01:18:25] Yeah, that’s a good quote.
Brilliant Miller [01:18:29] Okay, awesome. So question number six. What is what’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Diane Dreher [01:18:49] I have a pretty deep question for an answer. The answer is I’ve started meditating more and spending more time in nature.
Brilliant Miller [01:19:06] Awesome. Okay, and I listened to an interview that you did. I found one on YouTube I listen to. And I think you said you do different types of meditation each day.
Diane Dreher [01:19:19] Is that true? Yeah. I do meditation. I do Reiki treatments, I do. But I do reiki at night and send out energy to help heal the planet. You know, people I know who ask for treatments in the morning, I do something called Inner Balance, with the Heart Math Institute, and I have this little device that shows me when I am in a high coherence or not. So it’s like biofeedback. So I do that kind of meditation. I do mindfulness meditation. I say a mantra, and I very often meditate on a spiritual passage. It’s nice to have a real repertoire. It’s like having a balanced diet of meditation. And at night I reflect on my day, you know, do a kind of examination, look back on the sunlight and the shadows, give thanks for one and learn from the other, and then do Reiki treatments and, you know, centering meditation.
Brilliant Miller [01:20:21] Awesome. Now, thank you for sharing that. And my heart math certified trainer as well.
Diane Dreher [01:20:27] Oh, that’s fantastic. So you do this too, right?
Brilliant Miller [01:20:32] Yeah, it’s amazing. And to me, a perfect example of what you talked about earlier, how now modern science is kind of validating or verifying what we’ve known for thousands of years. But it’s like, yup, it works.
Diane Dreher [01:20:44] Yeah, I’m very excited about the Global Coherence Initiative.
Brilliant Miller [01:20:48] Yeah, it’s so interesting.
Diane Dreher [01:20:50] I do that at night also, you know, to send out because our energies collectively affect the energies of the planet. So happy. Yeah, me too.
Brilliant Miller [01:21:05] And at the same time, it’s like, man, some of the headlines, you know, because as we record this now, it’s September of 2022. I think this will probably live on the Internet forever, probably. But so just to give the listeners some reference, one of the headlines I read this week was about Putin mobilizing 300,000 more troops to participate in this Ukraine conflict. And it’s like I don’t know if I don’t know what’s going on, but I know there’s a lot of devastation.
Diane Dreher [01:21:33] So yeah. And a lot of Russians are protesting against that, which, you know, in fact, sometimes when I do the Global Coherence Initiative, you know, you can look and see where in the world other people are meditating and tuning in the little bright spots. And there are occasionally people meditating for heart math in Russia. So, you know, we’re not alone.
Brilliant Miller [01:21:59] Yeah. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you. Okay. I’ll keep us moving here. Question number seven. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Diane Dreher [01:22:12] How to begin dealing with the chronic stress that most of us experience so that we can become more centered, more balanced, and more at peace with ourselves and others. So dealing with stress, we need the tools to deal with stress.
Brilliant Miller [01:22:30] Yeah, I agree. Question eight. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve learned about making relationships work?
Diane Dreher [01:22:40] One word, listening.
Brilliant Miller [01:22:43] Yeah sounds so easy. And question number nine. Aside from compound interest, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money?
Diane Dreher [01:23:04] It’s a resource and a means to an end. And what I’ve noticed is when I work for money just for myself. That’s pretty limited. So all of my books, I donate some of my royalties to causes that I believe in, and then I feel like I’m making money for the greater good.
Brilliant Miller [01:23:29] Right on. That’s really cool. What are some of the causes that you that your books contribute to?
Diane Dreher [01:23:35] Oh. Depending upon what the book is, inner-gardening is to help, you know, nature conservation. Some groups like the Tao of inner peace. Doctors Without Borders. You know, groups that promote peace on lots of different levels. The Carter Center, which is amazing considering what Jimmy Carter has done since he became president.
Brilliant Miller [01:24:02] Right on. Yeah. He’s a real peace builder.
Diane Dreher [01:24:05] Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:24:07] That’s amazing. Okay, well, speaking of money. One of the things I have done in an attempt to express gratitude to you for sharing so generously with me and everyone listening is I’ve gone online and I’ve made a microloan to a woman entrepreneur in Colombia. Her name is Susana. She’ll use this money to make improvements to her business and to purchase raw materials like fabrics and threads and pens and buttons that she well, she’s a dressmaker, so I won’t receive any interest from this when Susana repays it. Instead, that will go to fund the operation in Colombia of microloans. So my hope is in some way our conversation will continue to do good in the world and it will be even part of a virtuous cycle. So thank you for giving me a reason to do that.
Diane Dreher [01:24:57] That is so beautiful. Thank you.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:00] My pleasure. My pleasure. Okay. Well, we’re in the last part when the last part of the interview and I realize I have one other question to ask you, so I’m going to reserve that for the end. But this is the time where I’ll ask you a few questions about writing and the creative process. And you talked about that experience when you were 19, getting this intuitive hit, so to speak, and driving into the newspaper and asking for a job and getting one. And you said, I heard you say that, well, you’re a writer. You should go work there. Yeah. Did you first know you were a writer? Was that the moment or was it earlier?
Diane Dreher [01:25:39] Oh, it’s been a dream of mine for a long time since my father was in the Air Force. We moved all the time and I was, you know, I had to leave all my friends behind every two years or very often more when he got transferred. So I would find my way to the local library, get my library card and check out books and my library books became virtual friends. Libraries are amazing places. You know, you can get a book and have had a relationship with a person that transcends time and space. I read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography when I was in high school. I read The Diary of Anne Frank. I read all of these books about people who had suffered and somehow manifested great strength of character and made a positive difference in different ways. So I was inspired by writers, and I’d walk around the stacks of the library looking up at all the books, thinking, Someday I want to write a book. It’ll be up there, too. So it’s like being part of this community of writers that stretches way back in time. It’s magical inspiration.
Brilliant Miller [01:27:02] Yeah, I do think there is something magical about it. And someone pointed out to me that language is magic. That’s why we call it spelling.
Diane Dreher [01:27:12] Oh, that’s good.
Brilliant Miller [01:27:16] So then I’ll just jump broadly to kind of the strategy, maybe the tactics of what’s your process for completing a book? Everything from how do you develop the outline, to the book proposal? How do you research? How do you organize? How do you draft? When does an editor or someone else come in? Like just broadly, what’s what are the broad strokes of getting a book done as you do it?
Diane Dreher [01:27:46] Oh, okay. Well, the first part is obviously getting the idea, which comes to me from my intuition. So if it’s a good idea, I mean, it’s not something that I think, oh, okay, I’m going to do this thing. You know, I’ve written scholarly articles that just come from the top of my brain, but my books come from a far deeper place, and I just get the sense I need to write about that. So I make myself little notes and have a folder that I put them in a literal actual physical folder, old fashioned, and anything that is part of that concept that I see newspaper articles, you know, little notes of throw into the folder. And then one day when I feel like it, I’ll look at all the scattered pieces of paper in the folder and arrange them and see some kind of pattern emerge. And then make myself a bullet point outline. And the book starts to take shape. And then I actually put it on the computer with a little outline so it looks nice and print it out, put it in the folder, and then in the morning I always meditate before I write, so I’m in the right spirit. Then I’ll look over whatever my notes are and get more ideas. The concept keeps growing until I’ve realized, okay, this book is going to have this many chapters with these concepts, you know, one concept for each chapter and. Then after a certain point, I either start writing the book or start writing the book proposal. With a folder for each chapter. And, you know, the same kind of process happens. The chapter is about our relationship with nature. Then I put all the research that I end up doing and, you know, Google Scholar and books and articles that I have about how nature can heal us in many ways. You know, there’s all this fascinating research about the effect of nature on our health, mental, physical, emotional, so that all that would go in there. And then then I’d go through the same process in the morning after meditating and looking through the folder when it seemed like it was ready to look at organizing these things, make myself a little outline, and then I’d start writing. So my inspiration is. Morning notes. To myself, writing, revising, editing. And then when it gets to a certain point, it goes on the computer. But then I print it out. I’m ashamed to say, given my feelings about nature. I use a lot of paper, but I use both sides of each piece of paper, and I also recycle the paper. But that’s to excuse myself from the fact that I print out a lot of drafts, and then I take them and I look at them after my morning meditation and get ideas to add to the draft, edit the draft, revise it, add sections, etc. So it’s kind of a process. And then I put that on the computer. So it’s a process of yin and yang in terms of the physical and the intuitive and then the editorial kind of physical aspect. And then there’s a lot of research that goes into it. I’ll make a note to myself, needs research in this area. Just go to Google Scholar and you know, and then keep writing. And then the next day when I’m, you know, I’m not writing something, but it’s during my writing time. I blocked out time every morning to write. I’ll just go and learn all kinds of interesting things, take notes, and print out articles with the memory folder. So it’s kind of a back and forth conversation between me and the subject until each chapter is done, until each section of the proposal is done, and then I send the proposal to my agent and hope for the best.
Brilliant Miller [01:32:05] Wow. Yeah. As a thank you for sharing that. As I hear you describe your process, something I’m curious to know more about, and how you manage this. And for me personally, I’ve experienced that as quite a challenge, you know, if you look at these activities in verticals of like research as a vertical, drafting as a vertical, editing as a vertical. That and there as much as we like to think writing is a linear process, it’s also iterative like a somewhat circle.
Diane Dreher [01:32:37] Yes.
Brilliant Miller [01:32:38] And it can be forever. So this in particular is what I’m interested to get your take about or how you manage this, which is when it comes time to draft, how do you, assuming you do, how do you manage to produce writing without getting stuck in like the rabbit hole that research can be or in the editing? Because as we know, you could spend all your time editing something and it can always be better or it could never be finished. But do you distinguish between those activities in a very deliberate way, do you follow a schedule or how do you deal with that?
Diane Dreher [01:33:15] Okay. There are different parts of my brain and perhaps different sub-personalities that do this work. The creative part just does the drafts. And occasionally the editor will lean over and say, that’s the wrong word. You need to look something up. Just get out of here, and make myself a note in the margin. But, you know, look it up later. But I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m drafting, when I’m creating, when I’m writing. I’m a developmental writer. There are different kinds of writers. A lot of the scientists I know, having done an experiment, when they write up the experiment, they know exactly what they’re going to write because they’ve already done the experiment. They know how many subjects there were, the participants and what they did. So there’s no new material that comes in, so they can be interrupted by a phone call or somebody dropping by their office or whatever. Not me. When I’m drafting something, I ignore my phone. I ignore people knocking at the door because it’s a process of consciousness and creating. And in my mind, if I get interrupted, it goes away.
Brilliant Miller [01:34:29] You lose it.
Diane Dreher [01:34:30] Yeah. So it goes away when I would try to edit it or look something up that’s bad. Okay. So I just let my creative artist part just do what she needs to do until we’ve got a draft. And then I can relax and go get a drink of tea or coffee or something and take a break. But during that time, you know, total focus on that. It’s like a meditation process. I don’t want it interrupted.
Brilliant Miller [01:34:59] Yeah, it’s interesting to me to hear you describe yourself as a developmental writer. I think that’s what you said. Does that come from any specific body of thought? Are there different kinds of writers? You know, like I mean, because you talked about scientists who are just trying to report something or whatever. Yeah, but is that like a larger term? Somebody is teaching I have heard before or is that just your own description of yourself as a developmental writer?
Diane Dreher [01:35:24] That’s my own description. But, you know, the process is it develops during that process and it’s like I’m getting dictation from some source and I’ve got to keep writing it down. So the book, the article, or whatever it is develops during that process. Yeah. And the other thing is, you know, that’s great. Once I’ve got the draft, I’ll put it on the computer, print it out, and then let my editor take care of it or let the researcher fill in the spaces that need to be documented.
Brilliant Miller [01:35:57] How clearly connected. This is maybe a leading question, so forgive me, but how connected do you feel to your reader while you’re in the act of drafting?
Diane Dreher [01:36:09] That’s a good point. Sometimes I feel very connected because I feel like I’m talking to the reader now. Sometimes I feel like I’m just taking dictation from some source. In fact, it’s a little bit of both you know, the kind of creative, poetic parts of my writing or from the source. And then I’ll turn and say, you know, in order to get centered, here’s a practice you might want to use. And then, I mean, I’m for sure directing it to the reader. And I have a dear friend in Chicago, actually, and we read each other’s drafts back and forth and talk about them. So there is a sense of being part of a process that would be too cool.
Brilliant Miller [01:37:03] There was a question along those lines that I was interested to ask you was, see, there was connection to the reader. And then, it’s this, it’s about, either before you. Before you settle on a book topic or before you’re thinking of a chapter. How much, if at all, do you think about either the question that this is intended to answer for a reader or the problem it’s meant to solve? Like, do you have in your mind a purpose, a clear purpose for each part of the book, and then you won’t finish until you’re satisfied that you addressed that? Or are you a writer? And this assumes it’s binary, maybe it’s not binary. Or are you a writer who just, oh, you just write and you’re like, okay, that was everything I had to say versus, you know, like trying to help someone problem solve a problem or answer a question? Does that question make sense?
Diane Dreher [01:37:55] Yeah. I think there are different kinds of writing for different kinds of books. The book I’m writing now and the ones that I’ve written and Darwin repeats, for example, I was very much aware of the reader and the challenges of grappling with this very confusing and conflict-ridden world. So, to offer something that is going to help the reader, including the small processes of getting centered during the day. So there is a context. I don’t just write something and say, okay, I’m done.
Brilliant Miller [01:38:33] Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Well, let’s see. Let me ask you about deadlines. How important are deadlines to you and how do you use them effectively?
Diane Dreher [01:38:46] Well, it depends on if it’s an internal or an external deadline. But I really believe that we need to have goals that have a timeline. Or else we’ll get distracted while digressing or doing other things. Especially if we’re, you know, curious about lots of things in the world. You can go off on all kinds of tangents. So I usually set myself a deadline for writing a book proposal and then, you know, it can be flexible, but I need to have something to aim at or else when is it ever going to be done? You know? Okay. And then once I get a book contract, the press gives me a deadline. So I usually say in the book proposal that the book will be finished, I don’t know, nine months after the receipt of the advance. That’s usually standard, but most of the time I could actually finish it in six because I keep writing more chapters while the process is going on. Deliberation with editors and agents and whatever. So I cut myself some slack. I give myself a margin. And if I submit it before the deadline, that just makes everybody happy. If I submit it after the deadline, that’s not good. But yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:40:03] It’s kind of like, you know, submitting before the deadline is a little bit like no one was ever upset that someone ended a talk early.
Diane Dreher [01:40:10] Yeah. Why does that under-promise and overdeliver instead of the opposite?
Brilliant Miller [01:40:18] Yeah, absolutely. What for? You are the best and worst parts of being a writer.
Diane Dreher [01:40:28] The best parts are the excitement of getting new ideas, the kind of contact, and high inspiration from the process itself. And. The joy of connecting with people that I might otherwise never meet. Sometimes my readers write to me and tell me, Oh, I read this book. Made a big difference. Thank you very much. And I feel so blessed and grateful to be part of that process. So that’s the good part. The bad part is the inner critic, which says with each new book project, you really know what you’re doing here.
Brilliant Miller [01:41:09] Wait, you mean that never goes away?
Diane Dreher [01:41:13] No, mine comes back and. And then, you know, external critics. Just what’s going on with publishers nowadays is that they have the big five publishers in New York. When I first started writing books, there were lots of different publishers, but they all kind of merged into these big conglomerates. And now they’re interested in selling books about the latest scandal, about the former president, which, you know, that’s not the kind of book I write. So we’ll see.
Brilliant Miller [01:41:51] Yeah. What advice or encouragement would you offer to anyone who is either in the middle of their own book project, kind of the messy middle that might help them get done, or someone who’s in the situation of harboring the dream, they carry the dream for a long time of someday I’ll write my book. What do you say to says either kind of person to maybe help them finish or help them get started?
Diane Dreher [01:42:21] Okay. To help them finish. I suppose it would be helpful to have a writing partner, have somebody be a member of a writer’s group. I used to be in a writer’s group and every month we would meet and we’d share what we were writing and it would be embarrassing not to have anything to report. So we of course, we had a self-imposed deadline of our next meeting. So that was useful. And we also had support. People would say you know, I don’t understand you, but you need a transition here or, you know, this is a great discussion. It’s good to get real feedback while you’re working on a draft. That was terrific. So to have a writing partner or a writers group that we’re in the middle of and kind of having trouble moving forward. To begin. In my heart of hearts, I believe. That when we’re given. A desire to do something. And it comes from a very deep place inside of us. We need to honor that. And we need to follow up on it because that’s where we find meaning. That’s where we find purpose and joy and not to worry about, you know, how am I going to sell this book proposal? Who’s going to read my book, etc.? There are all kinds of ways to publish. I belong to the Author’s Guild and they have hybrid publishers, bookshop workshops, whatever. How to deal with agents, how to do this. How to do that. So not to worry about the mechanics, but to tune in on the message and get started. One step at a time. As the Daodejing says, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step to get that momentum going. To follow your heart. To believe in your dreams.
Brilliant Miller [01:44:08] Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you for that. Well, the last question I have for you is, one, it’s of a sense of a personal nature. Over the years, I’ve had a few personal to me, if I may indulge. But over the last few years, I’ve had even the publicly stated intention, you know, to friends and family somewhere that I would write. A book, a few drafts of different books, and so forth, and in some ways I’m creatively blocked is my experience and myself. And yet the idea is don’t quit coming, right? So it’s like, Oh, maybe I should write this book and so forth. And lately. A book. And I don’t know where this came from or why or what to do with it, but is it staying with me day to day, although I’m not acting on it much. But I’ll ask you about it. It’s about prayer. It’s a book about prayer.
Diane Dreher [01:45:02] Oh.
Brilliant Miller [01:45:03] And I’m totally fascinated because I don’t consider myself religious. But I think that prayer, I just have a sense that it is actually something that is tremendously valuable or can be. It is not very well understood by our society because I think we do associate it with a certain way of being in the world. And so I’m not even sure, as you might sense what the question is. But I would just ask you, I guess it would be about two things, like what in your journey have you learned about prayer? So it’s like part A and then part B is what kind of resources or people, if any, would you recommend? Maybe I continue to explore to learn more about it.
Diane Dreher [01:45:47] Well, first of all, I’d love to read your book. Oh, yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:45:54] Me too.
Diane Dreher [01:45:55] Yes, there is. There are different kinds of prayer, as you know. There’s there is a prayer petition where we’re asking for something, you know, and then there’s a prayer of listening where we’re listening for divine guidance. And there are different practices, different techniques. So my friend Jane Ferguson wrote about something called Centering Prayer, which the Catholics do. It’s a kind of mindfulness meditation. You have a sacred word or phrase that you say to center yourself, and then you just listen. Because how are we going to get inspiration, intuition, divine guidance unless we’re listening? So there’s a sense of the importance of silence in prayer. And then, of course, there are very active prayers like saying the rosary where, you know, our fathers and all the Hail Marys and, you know, or meditating on a passage which is filling the mind with inspiring words. So that puts us in a particular frame of mind, and it puts me into high coherence on my heart monitor, actually.
Brilliant Miller [01:47:11] I never even thought to, like, try that for anything other than heart-focused breathing.
Diane Dreher [01:47:15] Oh, yeah. Just. I mean, reading. And then they’re reading spiritual books, you know? That also puts me in coherence. So there are different kinds of prayer. There is. Gosh, what is it? There’s a kind of prayer where you read a spiritual passage and then think about it or even discuss it with other people. That’s a kind of prayer. So there are books on meditation that acknowledge insurance, Lou Mountain Center meditation. He has books about meditation where you can just go to the Blue Mountains Center of meditation. They have all kinds of free resources that you can download about that kind of meditator prayer. But there are so many different kinds of prayer. There are people who believe in them, you know, to do some Google Scholar research on prayer and results, because there are some practices of prayer resulting in healing for people, even distant prayer that has been documented. So it sort of seems to me right now that you would be exploring, you know, you’d be in the discovery process, you’d just be looking around at all these different forms of prayer and, you know, going online, examining them, seeing and then following your own questions, which, you know, your questions might be what are the benefits of prayer to the individual who’s praying, you know? Have there been and there have been scientific studies, and I’m sure they’re on Google Scholar. There’s a whole aspect of the American Psychological Association that is about spirituality. And they do research showing the benefits of prayer on emotional and physical health. So that would be interesting. But as you’re in discovery, sort of wandering around examining the field, some of these ideas will connect with you on a deep level and will lead you, you know, kind of answer your questions and you’ll find yourself navigating through this terrain led by your questions.
Brilliant Miller [01:49:38] Yeah. I really appreciate you calling that out because that resonates deeply with me now where I’m just realizing that in feeling prompted to write a book about this or at least explore it more fully. But I had not gone as far as to think about, well, what questions would I like answers to? Or, you know, that also might hurt others. And that’s a very useful approach. And I realize, too, that I’m very interested in understanding more about indigenous methods of prayer and their relation. And I’m super, super fascinated in some of this, I think it’s very like with the Tao exploration about the individual and I don’t know the cosmos. Right. Because I came across this in this quotation, I read attributed to Frederick Douglass, the former slave, when he said, I prayed for 20 years and I got no answer until I prayed with my legs. That’s so interesting how often like we pray, but our prayer, our prayer is just a hope, you know. But then when we take action and become a vehicle of our own, how powerful, that is. But then how can we do that? In a way? So this goes back to the value of you calling out, like asking questions, like making them distinct questions. And I realized that one of those questions I’m fascinated in is how can I be an individual in the world with my own ego and identity and all that? We all have yet to allow me to be or give myself to or whatever, something greater than myself, you know, without it being a selfish endeavor, you know.
Diane Dreher [01:51:23] Oh that’s the paradox, right? Yeah, that’s the paradox that okay, if we’re just praying and say, God, give me a good job here, I need to make more money. I want to pray for this and pray for that. Then it’s all for me. Make it right. Make my life work better. But, can we expand our sense of self there? There’s research on one by Dacher Keltner at UC. University of California, San Francisco. I believe. Okay. Awe is what we feel when we are overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, by looking at, you know, the Grand Canyon trees, you know, that are towering above you or some incredible symphony. You know, we feel a sense of oneness with that, something greater than ourselves. And Dacher Keltner’s research. On the Berkeley campus. I guess he’s at Berkeley, actually. UC San Francisco. UC Berkeley. He had students in two groups, one of them looking up at a big, tall building and one of them looking at these Tasmanian eucalyptus trees that towered above them. And the students who looked at the trees, guess what? Experienced awe, not the big buildings. They also expressed greater altruism and compassion because the researcher, they do this in experiments, dropped the box of pens they were supposed to fill out the forms with and more students who had experienced or helped pick up the pens. So they demonstrate that was only one experiment. But there is a connection between experiencing this overwhelming sense of being part of something larger than ourselves. Looking up at the stars in the night sky, watching cosmos and seeing, you know, Carl Sagan’s, you know, just euphoric sense of wonder at the cosmos. That sense of awe makes us altruistic, makes us more caring toward other people. And so if prayer can bring us that sense of awe, a sense of connectedness to something larger than ourselves, a sense of gratitude, for example, and gratitude the gratitude practice, which, again, has been shown to be really good for our health in lots of ways, but also help us relate to other people. And it makes us more altruistic. It’s not just for our egos, you know. So there is an ego-centered prayer and that is interesting. But then there’s this sense of being part of something larger. The Jewish tradition of tikkun olam is that we pray and we also ask Rabbi Howells three questions. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when? The idea is that we are not here to just be for ourselves alone. We’re here to try to make the world a better place. So there are cues in many religious traditions away from egocentric prayer.
Brilliant Miller [01:55:08] Yeah. That’s a great reminder. Yeah. Thank you for that. And part of what I love and what you’re saying, too, is that, you know, there seems to be this connection that when we are present, where we are in relationship with nature, that our behavior, like what we want, changes naturally. It’s not a will power driven thing. It’s just, we don’t have to think, okay, I’m going to be kind today. I’m going to be compassionate. It is just like when we give ourselves to that, that’s what happens.
Diane Dreher [01:55:40] Yeah. It transforms our awareness. It expands our awareness beyond our egos. And it’s when we’re in our egos that we feel limited now when, you know, and perhaps that’s why when people are in nature, it reduces their depression and anxiety because of depression and anxiety happen when we’re into ego and feeling less than and feeling threatened and when we’re feeling part of some glorious state of nature, all that goes away.
Brilliant Miller [01:56:11] Yeah. That’s definitely my experience. Yeah.
Diane Dreher [01:56:15] And the Native American tradition, again, you know, very close to nature and there is a sense of community with their healing and sweat lodges, etc. So that kind of prayer, again, an individual is not alone of individual as part of a larger world. They do the forest directions, you know when they bless people that were part of nature. So there are some really interesting questions that you have.
Brilliant Miller [01:56:45] Yeah, I think so. Well, thank you for sharing with me a little bit about your experience and what you’ve learned related to that. Well, Diane, we’ve had a very full conversation. It’s been 2 hours already.
Diane Dreher [01:56:59] Really?
Brilliant Miller [01:57:00] Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing so generously with me and with the people listening. Of your knowledge and your experience and your wisdom. I’ve really enjoyed this and I think especially for anyone who’s made it this far in the interview, they have to. So thank you.
Diane Dreher [01:57:21] Thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure and a blessing and I just am delighted to be able to share these creative ideas, peace to you.
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