Many of us are familiar with the lovely story about a Navajo Indian grandfather who tells his grandson about the battle going on inside him between two wolves. One wolf is full of love, peace, joy, friendship and kindness while the other is angry, full of hatred, shame, fear and resentment. When the grandson asks which wolf will win the battle the grandfather tells him – the one that I feed.
Ultimately this story is a parable about the soul (‘the good wolf’) and the unconscious mind (‘the bad wolf’). Sometimes these are referred to in different terms as our TRUE SELF and our FALSE SELF. In reality though there isn’t two wolves battling away inside us it just feels as if there is. In truth our personhood cannot be split into distinct parts; we are WHOLE and COMPLETE beings comprising of mind, body and soul.
The fact that some parts of our personhood are more obvious to us than others means that it is easy to fall into the trap of forming our identity from these parts. In this way we come to believe that we are our minds and bodies; we become unconscious of our souls and the truth of our wholeness is forgotten.
Our minds like to go their own sweet way, seeking a life away from the soul. They wander off into ego land where they live out the belief that they are separate, distinct beings in their own right. This untruth gives rise to feelings of disconnection and discomfort as the mind tries to assert its independence while the soul cries out for connection and a reestablishment of its rightful relationship with the mind. The body is the battle ground for the fight between our ‘good, soul wolf’ and our ‘bad wolf’, our unconscious mind. Hence the feeling of two wolves (the two selves) battling against each other is real but the reality of the two wolves is false.
There is and always has been just the one wolf (one Self).
However let’s back track a little and return to the idea of the two wolves and the suggestion that we have a choice as to which ‘wolf’ we feed. The implication in the story is simple: we feed one wolf and starve the other out of existence. Sounds simple enough but is it? How might this look in practise?
Let’s start first with identifying the kind of foods each ‘wolf’ may like to eat because these are very different. The ‘bad wolf’ likes to feed on such things as: hatred, intolerance, prejudice, fear, bitterness, self pity, revenge, greed, defensiveness, judgement, competitiveness, self centeredness, envy, despair, cynicism, suspicion, self righteousness, blame and shame. I call this a diet of CRUEL GRUEL.
On the other hand the ‘good wolf’ feeds off an entirely different diet, the LOVE diet which includes such things as: patience, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, peace, joy, appreciation, faith, openness, truth, connection, contentment, celebration, forgiveness, cooperation, joy, trust, thankfulness, understanding and respect.
Obviously the kind of diet we feed ourselves will give rise to completely different experiences of life. Even though none of us follow one diet to the complete exclusion of the other it may be helpful to look at what would happen if we did, while at the same time bearing in mind that we all experience a mixture of the following two scenarios.
Experience 1: Feeding the ‘bad wolf’
What happens when we feed the ‘bad wolf’ and neglect to feed the ‘good wolf’? Well as would be expected feeding the ‘bad wolf’ makes this wolf grow. Feeding ourselves with a diet of CRUEL GRUEL means that we ‘grow’ more ‘badness’ in ourselves and we experience more ‘badness’ in the world around us (badness being a relative term of course!). The CRUEL GRUEL diet is a restrictive, life limiting diet that perpetuates a downward cycle of negativity and despair.
BUT what happens to the 'good wolf' while the ‘bad wolf’ is getting all the food? It would be reasonable to think that by starving the ‘good wolf’ we would end up killing it off but thankfully this isn’t what happens!
The ‘good, soul wolf’ lives eternally and so cannot be killed off. Despite going hungry it remains as complete, whole and beautiful as it ever was. What happens though is that as the ‘bad wolf’ grows our ability to feel the soul diminishes and eventually we may end up believing that it never existed in the first place! Then the world can become a loveless place and life can become a poor image of what it was meant to be.
We may even catch ourselves saying that life has become soul destroying, empty, meaningless and futile. It hasn’t of course it’s just that in neglecting to feed our souls we have created an experience of life that is lacking in the things that make us feel fully alive.
Experience 2. Feeding the ‘good wolf’
Now let us take a look at a different scenario. What happens when we begin to feed the ‘good wolf’? Well again the first thing we notice is that this time an upward spiral of positive energy is created and we begin to feel the growth and expansion of our souls. Goodness breeds further goodness.
The beauty of the LOVE diet is that it is a WHOLESOME diet made up of WHOLESOME food; food that nourishes the WHOLE of our being because it is equally palatable to both the soul and the mind. LOVE it seems is beneficial to all aspects of our personhood unlike CRUEL GRUEL which can only be tolerated by the mind, being too harsh and bitter for the soul to enjoy.
Although the ‘bad wolf’ would benefit from feeding on the food of LOVE in its unconscious state it doesn’t believe this. It is used to the fuel of CRUEL GRUEL which it uses to feed the illusion it has of itself as a separate identity and it fears that if it eats more WHOLESOME food it will cease to exist.
At some deep level the unconscious mind carries a memory of its connection to the soul but it chooses to fight against it. This is the difference in nature between the soul and the unconscious mind. Whereas the soul when it is not fed accepts its fate the unconscious mind doesn’t. When hungry the ‘good, soul wolf’ because of its loving nature does not fight to get our attention but rather exercises patience, faithfully continuing to shine its light until we begin to take notice of it again. On the other hand the 'bad wolf' when faced with starvation begins to FIGHT for its survival. He becomes angry and aggressive and in this state he takes no prisoners!
This is why just when we think we have got this thing called life (or love) sorted the ‘bad wolf’ will rear its ugly head again and go on the rampage looking for its next fix of CRUEL GRUEL to feed upon.
(Eckhart Tolle refers to this ‘wolf on the rampage’ as the pain body which lives inside us. I heartily recommend you read his book ‘The New Earth where he explains this phenomena.)
The good news for us and for our world is that over time as the ‘good, soul wolf’ grows and expands, its authentic vibrancy and joy will allure the ‘bad wolf’ back into FULL integration with the soul.
In this way a dance begins whose steps define what it is to be human. Perhaps we could call this dance the dance of the two wolves?
It is a dance that I myself know intimately. I know the pull towards wholeness and the pull back into unconsciousness. I know the joy of moments when the ‘bad wolf’ and the ‘good wolf’ join together and I feel whole and complete for a time. I know too the pain I feel when this reunion is short and ends too soon. It is not easy to learn to dance graciously and I admit to struggling at times with the awkwardness of my movements. Very often my step is out of beat with the rhythm of the dance.
Writing this post has not been easy for me and I have struggled to articulate the nuances of this dance. However I firmly believe that I am called to write about the things that I need to learn and integrate into my own life. Because of this I have persevered until at least something half resembling a blog has materialised into being!
NOW I wonder if you might be able to help me learn? Do you have any experiences of this dance that you would be willing to share? Please leave any comments you care to make in the boxes below. Thank you.
The opinions I express here are my own. However I offer them with the word 'syat' next to them. 'Syat' is a word used by the Jain Tribe in India which means 'To the best of my knowledge SO FAR.' In the spirit of openness I invite comments from anyone whether you agree with my point of view or not. In this way we can all learn and grow together. Thank you.