Friday, April 19, 2013

Starving the Wolf

An old Cherokee story was brought to my attention yesterday, one you may have heard. There are several minor variations, but the basic story goes like this:

An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story.

I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.

But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"

The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."

Is there really any question which wolf to feed? Of course I would feed the good wolf, right? Of course. Always. But the other wolf, the anger, envy, sorrow, etc... he's wily. Those feelings will come without wishing them. They come because they are inside me--inside all of us. I feed the bad wolf when I wallow in them, when I let them hold too much of my energy and attention. It's easy to do so... too easy when I'm tired or lonely or hungry... He's quick and sharp, this bad wolf, and he can snatch a meal so quickly.

It is especially easy to feed the bad wolf when it comes to those most dear to us. Those we love most can offer the juiciest morsels because our feelings for them, our emotional investment is so great. We toss anger, envy, resentment, self-pitty and the like in his dish. If we aren't vigilant, he'll snatch scraps right from our hands.

But there's more. There's always more. Maybe, just maybe I can take those scraps which fall to the bad wolf and boost the good wolf's diet with them. I can steal them back from the bad fellow. Any tidbit the good wolf can salvage will strengthen him. Those things on which the bad wolf might feed can serve as food for the good wolf just as well. Better, in fact, knowing they come from a place of love and only exist because of love.

Can you understand jealousy as an expression of love? Can you harness anger and know it only feels so raw because of the bond you share with the person with whom you are angry? How about morphing self-pity into ache and longing--a good, pleasant ache?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

It takes vigilance. It takes effort to make feeding the good wolf a habit. It takes patience and time and commitment. It takes love, but the good wolf thrives on love.


Donna said...

I used that story on my graduation cards for my seniors one year. It was particularly apt for some of them, but I don't know that it was truly appreciated.

Indigo said...

I know this legend well. And I also know how difficult it is sometimes to know which wolf we're feeding. I know I've spent some years feeding the wrong wolf (mistakes, lifestyle choices). These days I'm trying to do the right thing and balance out the bad. I honestly think that's what the story is about - finding a way to balance the two. We'll always exist with both wolves.

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Anonymous said...

I've heard the legend, but I like your take on it. Rendering not evil for evil but for good. This analogy's going to stick with me. Thanks, Aaron.