Feeding the Right Wolf

>> Friday, September 10, 2010

Originally, I was going to write a whole post on my frustration and disappointment with regards to my teenage daughter's overwhelming sense of entitlement - or at least note that it no way jibes with mine. But I'm not going to. Here's why.

I saw a version of this on Amy Oops and it really appealed to me. I traced down a version to a Cherokee Prophecy:

An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside each one of us," he said to the boy. "It is a fight to the death, and it is between two wolves.

"One is darkness -- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

"The other is enlighted -- he 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 will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

That story spoke to me, not only how people get seduced by the dark side: anger, fear, envy, bigotry, intolerance, but also how people can get overwhelmed with emotions that hurt themselves: self pity, depression, guilt, sense of ill-usage, jealousy, dissatisfaction.

All the energy poured into that dark "wolf," all the credence, time and thought I spend dwelling on slights and feeling under-appreciated, on what I wanted but didn't have, on failings and failures I perceive in myself, that energy is more than wasted. It is an investment in my own unhappiness.

But, if I pour that energy into tolerance and forgiveness, patience and understanding, into a celebration of those aspects of my life that contribute to my happiness, those are an investment in my well-being and, to a lesser effect, the well-being of people around me.

That doesn't mean I can't feel disappointment or can't stand up for myself. The emotions are there whether I feed them or not. But I can choose not to dwell on those aspects that won't go away. The choices those around me make, the things I can't fix. I don't have to hold on to them and let them feed on each other by spending my energies on them.

It seems obvious, even simple. I don't think it's easy.

I suspect, though, it becomes easier with practice.


  • Jeff King

    Wow... I see what you mean, I need to do some looking inward, thx.

  • Shakespeare

    It is also easier when one gets to write on one's novel.

    I've figured out this week that not only do I have to exercise every day (or I get cranky), but I also have to write on my novel every day. I haven't touched it since Sunday... big mistake.

    I've taught that story, and I find it very compelling. Who we are is determined, not by our feelings or impulses, but by which feelings and impulses we spend energy on and put into action. If you want some more fantastic stories, try buying Richard Erdoes and Alphonso Ortiz's American Indian Myths and Legends. Excellent collection. It has a version of this story in it, along with many VERY entertaining ones. I highly recommend it.

  • The Mother

    Yeah, but...

    With teenagers, that is often much easier said than done. Being the cheerful, happy, upbeat one in a house with a stack of depressed, angry teens is a tough road. And a tough sell.

  • Stephanie Barr

    The Mother and Shakespeare, I think it is difficult to feed the right wolf. I've wrestled with depression and now how hard it is to climb out once you've started the spiral down. In my opinion, anger and resentment and even grief are so strong, it's easier to let them have their head and hard to rein them back once you have.

    I don't think it's realistic to think you'll never feel the darker, more destructive emotion, especially if those around you feel them. I'm highly empathetic and an unhappy family member tears me me.

    But once you start, it's hard to stop feeling bad. You make excuses or give yourself reasons to keep wallowing. I'll be happier when they're out of my house or when I sell my book or when I finish something, or whatever. The thing is, if you can say that, you could probably do it now. If you wanted it bad enough.

    However, I don't claim to be omniscient and, truth told, there could be many variations of the truth. This one spoke to me. Perhaps it isn't right for you.

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