Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Which wolf are you feeding?

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.
Agatha Christie

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'”
Kurt Vonnegut

Ok. Have you read through all those quotes? Good! All three have been important things for me to reflect on in my life. I hope you enjoyed them as well.

But let’s talk about the wolves.

Encapsulated in that little story, is a great deal of what you need to know about having a successful life. 

Which wolf are you feeding?

As a psychologist for many years now, I still battle with this every day of my life. Sure I can advise others about doing this, but if I’m honest it is something I continually struggle with. Traffic is moving too slowly? Yep, that bad wolf is getting a steak. I’m in a long line that’s not moving? Same thing.

But even beyond life’s inevitable inconveniences, I sometimes feel hurt or rejected or angry about little interactions in my life. Someone doesn’t text me back. A patient rejects one of my suggestions. A cute girl I try and talk to begins frantically looking for someone else to talk to.

Bad wolves all around.

I have come to realize (although I often forget), that we have a choice as to which wolf we are going to feed perhaps dozens of times a day. It is VERY easy to feel self-righteous, offended, and disrespected. We are all brilliant at taking our own perspective.

But how much of life might be different if we could ask ourselves, “What else could this mean?”

It is often hard to access the positive wolf in these situations. Indignation and self-righteous anger is sometimes quite validating.

As we approach a new year, I would urge everyone (still) reading to think about the wolves in their own lives. Are you choosing to be grateful for what you have, or resentful about what you don’t? Are you practicing compassion when others are hurt or angry, or thinking about how their behavior has upset you? (this is a hard one).

Over a lifetime, we will be confronted by a million variations of these choices again and again and again. And if we chose anger too many times, we can eventually develop a resentful and bitter view of the world. It doesn’t happen all at once, but little by little and choice by choice by choice. 

And I would like to end by reflecting on Kurt Vonnegut’s quote, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'”

Life is hard enough. Let’s be honest. It IS shit sometimes. But there are some good moments too. 

There’s always a choice as to which lens we want to look at things from. That’s both the blessing and curse of free will. As John Milton said a long, long time ago, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Now go forth and feed your good wolf!!