One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, there is a battle between 2 “wolves” inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, fear, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Someone sent this to me a couple years ago, and I saw it again in a book I’m reading now. Brilliant isn’t it? I find this a powerful contrast to the “this is the way I am,” story many people hold as true.
For them, “I’ve always been like this, and I always will.”
And they get to be right about that.
If they don’t see the possibility of transforming their way of being, to boldly go where they have never gone before they won’t. In fact they can’t. It really is impossible if you live in such a story of who you are.
They don’t see that they are in an ongoing choosing of who they are and what’s possible for them in their life. As long as they don’t see that it’s a choosing they certainly can’t choose another way of being, another possibility for their lives.
Actors can relate to this as acting is all about taking on different ways of being, seeing, thinking and moving in the world. If you can do it on stage or on screen, you can also do it in your life.
What I like about the old Cherokee’s story is that whichever version of you – good wolf/bad wolf – that shows up more often depends on an ongoing practice, almost like a literal daily feeding of the version of yourself you are choosing.
But what constitutes the food, and what constitutes the versions of self that you choose to nourish? There is probably an infinite number of ways we could create ourselves showing up in the world, and it’s practical to choose between two; the two wolves in the old Cherokee’s story.
It’s not necessary to think of your choice as between the “evil” you and the “good” you to incorporate this idea of which version of yourself that you “feed”.
A couple posts ago I wrote about your almost certain probable future, the future you are most likely going to end up living in if you continue on your present course. You could create this probable future as the “evil” wolf and create another future as an alternate choosing as the “good” wolf.
The real world practice is a bit more difficult than in the Chief’s story as you don’t give the food to one wolf or the other. If you had such visible ass-biting feedback as a bad wolf vs. a good one things would be easy.
In practice it’s just one wolf: you.
Whether it’s the good wolf or the bad wolf depends on the quality of the “food” you’re eating.
and the food is the choices you make
You could look at what you are feeding your wolf as the choices you make every day. It’s not literally food but the choices you make about what you think about, the moods you stay in, what you talk about, your friends etc.
So, the challenge for us is not to choose which version to give the food to, it’s a matter of choosing what kind of food is consistent with our “good” wolf. And you’ll know the results by which wolf is showing up. The people around you will notice too.
You may not take the direct route though. (Don’t you wish we could just throw a switch?) You’ll probably feed both, and then it really shows up as a battle between the two wolves.
Inconsistent choices will keep the battle alive. One day, or week the good wolf is fed, and another day or week the “evil” one gets fed. I think for most of us it’s even an hour by hour, or minute by minute feeding (choosing) one wolf and then another.
This I think is the gift of taking on your life as a practice in the way that a lawyer takes on the practice of law, or a doctor takes on the practice of medicine. Taking on your life as a practice forces you to choose the version of you that is the “good” wolf, and invent the practices – what will constitute the food, exercise and training – for the good wolf to live strong and healthy.
Oh, another thing I like about the story is that he chose wolves. Wolves are social and cannot survive apart from their social group. Same with us.
Be well, brother/sister wolf.