The Legend of the Two Wolves

wolfThere’s an old Cherokee legend about two wolves that goes like this:

An old man was talking to his grandson about life.

He told the young boy, “A battle is going on inside of me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents all that is bad — fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf represents all that is good — joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.”

The old man then turned to the boy and said, “The same fight is going on inside of you, and inside of every person on this great earth.”

The boy thought about this for a moment. Then he turned to his grandfather and asked, “But which wolf will win?”

And the old man replied, “The one you feed.”

I think there is so much wisdom in this story.

That being said, I don’t really think it’s helpful to label our feelings and experiences as “good” or “bad.” Doing so tends to lead us into self-criticism and self-blame, which is rarely helpful (and only leads us further down the same path of negatively and disconnection).

Personally, I prefer to think that one wolf represents those thoughts or tendencies that promote compassion, connection, love, and growth, while the other represents thoughts and tendencies that encourage pain, negativity, fear, and disconnection.

But same general idea, right?

Which Wolf Will You Feed Today?

Every day, we experience hundreds of thoughts and reactions. Many of these are automatic — they follow our familiar, habitual ways of responding, so much so that they occur outside of our full awareness.

We have mental habits, just like we have  physical ones. Practice something enough — a scale on the piano or a particular thought pattern — and it becomes second nature. It comes easily, automatically. Doing it slightly differently requires effort and intentionality.

We feed our wolves with the choices we make, the thoughts we entertain or cultivate, the decisions we make about how to respond.

Someone bumps into us as we walk down the sidewalk. Maybe we scowl and grumble to ourselves about how horrible and inconsiderate people are. Maybe we’re still grumbling internally as we arrive at our destination, and maybe this impacts our interactions with other people. Or maybe it just colors or own experience. We feel a little bit more at odds with the world.

Or maybe we look up at the person who bumped us and make eye contact. And smile. And say, “Pardon.” Regardless of their response, we move on from this moment feeling differently about it. Maybe we feel a bit more in touch with our common humanity. Maybe we feel amused by how absent-minded we know we can all be when we’re in a rush. Or maybe we feel compassion for this other person, who is clearly stressed out or preoccupied by something.

We have the choice in each moment to add a bit of negativity to our own and others’ days, or to respond with warmth and compassion. Whether the other person takes it in or not, that kinder response can warm our own hearts and ever-so-slightly impact the unfolding of our own experience.

We feed our wolves with the choices we make, the thoughts we entertain or cultivate, the decisions we make about how to respond.

Each choice strengthens a particular tendency. Each thought contributes ever so slightly to a habitual way of responding.

One bitter thought doesn’t lead to a life of bitterness, but it does set the tone for another bitter thought to come more easily, and another, and another. It may make us have to work a bit harder to reverse the course, to offer ourselves and others more compassion.

Every Moment A New Choice

Every moment presents us with a choice — which wolf will we nurture and feed?

Of course, we won’t always make the choice to nurture the wolf of kindness and connection. Sometimes we will be too tired.  Sometimes it will feel like too much effort. Sometimes we will be so triggered that we react without seeing the choice.

woman plantBut we can try to make sure that we spend more time nurturing the wolf of compassion than the wolf of disconnection.

And when we recognize that we’ve been feeding the angry wolf or the fearful wolf, we don’t have to then turn around and criticize ourselves. (In fact, if we do that, then we’re just feeding the same one — the wolf of self-blame and self-criticism!)

Instead, we could try to offer ourselves some kindness, recognizing that this is difficult. It’s hard to change old patterns.

We could give ourselves some credit for becoming aware of what we’re doing, thus giving us an opportunity to respond differently — to shift the balance a bit more in the other direction, and, in doing so, to nourish the wolf of self-compassion.


p.s. As always, I would love to hear from you — your thoughts, reactions, or questions about this post. However, if you choose to share your thoughts below, please keep in mind that these comments are visible to anyone who visits the blog. Therefore, I would encourage you to use a pseudonym (not use your real name) to protect your own privacy. If you would like to get in touch but would prefer to contact me privately, you can do so here.

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