While in yoga class the other day, my teacher shared this Native American parable:
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.”
Whether or not it’s your first time hearing this story, it serves as an important reminder of the power we have over our experiences and emotions.
It’s easy to feel like a victim in challenging situations and circumstances in our lives. We want to understand our negative thoughts, feelings and experiences, so we place blame on other people, objects, or events. We look outward to try to make sense of what’s going on inside of us. We do this all the time. Why? It’s our way of coping, and feeling more in control of uncontrollable situations.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it takes away our personal responsibility and freedom of choice. In our attempt to feel more in control (by faulting others for our experience) we actually strip ourselves of our own power. That power is lost the moment we become dependent on other people or things to make us feel a certain way. Whether that feeling is positive or negative, we are no longer taking sole responsibility for our own emotions or experiences when we believe that they are a result of anything other than our own choice.
By exercising your freedom of choice, you can make a life-changing decision of which wolf you want to feed. Do you feed the wolf who is hungry for anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego? This evil wolf is also your inner critic. The one who tells you that you are a failure, the one who says that no one will love you or understand you for who you are. This wolf is a representation of your depression, your anxiety, and your low self-esteem. Do you want to feed this wolf? Are you feeding him already?
By cutting off his food supply, you will be making a choice to use your energy and resources on thoughts, feeling, and emotions that serve you in healthy ways. While you can recognize the negative emotions occurring within you, you don’t have to attach to them or continue to give them attention. You shifting your focus is a sign to that wolf that you are not interested in giving him food. And while it may take some time for that wolf to lose his strength and power, eventually he will surrender – as will your unhelpful thoughts and emotions. Once you stop fixating on them, they will eventually drift away.
So what about the other wolf? Well it certainly isn’t going to feed itself.
Just as you would with the bad wolf, it is imperative that you exercise your freedom of choice and decide to nourish the wolf of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. We often look to external objects for our fulfillment and happiness. We develop expectations that these things (a new job, a relationship, a lavish vacation, a brand new pair of shoes, a glass of wine, etc.) will finally make us feel the way we want to feel. And while this may bring momentary gratification, it isn’t realistic to maintain this long-term.
Happiness isn’t a conditional state. It’s a state of being. True lasting happiness comes from making an active choice to be happy, rather than depending on external things to make you happy. The more that we seek out happiness, and look for it as if it is a treasure we will find, the less we are feeding the wolf that is inside of us. You already have everything you need to be happy because you are whole as you are, right now. The feeling and experience of happiness comes from feeding the wolf from within. As he becomes bigger and stronger, he will be better equipped to handle life’s challenges. If you choose to feed only him, he will always win.