The wolf you feed

The Fight of Two Wolves Within You

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

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.”

First Lesson: The Fight is Eternal

The first part of the story is telling us that we can never get rid of the first wolf, the first wolf will always be there. The fight between two wolves is eternal.

Both wolves will always be there. This applies to our emotions, behaviors, habits, and every other aspect of our life.

I used to fall into the trap of trying hard to banish the negative side of myself. I would force myself to eat 100% healthy all the time, beat myself up for relaxing even for just a minute, and tried to get rid of those negative thoughts in my head.

The truth is that none of us is living in pure bliss. What we can do is to act in spite of those negative feelings or hard times. We can take those fears, those worries, those doubts and move forward anyway. That’s how you feed the second wolf.

  • Feeling unmotivated to workout, workout anyway.
  • Not feeling confident in your upcoming sales presentation, do it anyway.
  • Not happy with your spouse, show him/her your love

Imagine if we’re paralyzed by the first wolf, by doing nothing, accomplishing nothing, and getting nowhere. We’d lose the momentum to move forward and indirectly we’d be feeding the evil wolf!

Besides, what will you be doing by telling yourself you haven’t accomplished anything? How will you feel when you get nothing done all the time? You won’t just stop at where you are; you’ll be moving backward! And the evil wolf will get stronger day by day.

Small Actions Build Momentum

Now, start telling yourself you’re worthy, begin to believe in your ability and act in spite of fears and doubts, in spite of constraints and challenges. One step forward will always be a step ahead even it’s tiny.

Instead of doubting yourself and doing nothing, you can try to learn new things and expand yourself at a slower pace. Instead of focusing on the fears within, start with ONE thing you should (and could) do that is right in front of you.

  • Want to lose 100 pounds and achieve your fitness goals? Start by walking for 15 minutes a day if you haven’t yet. Then start learning squats and maybe push-ups with your body weight and make slow progress from there.
  • Want to build a community with a vast audience? Focus on delivering quality content, and start building ONE audience at a time. Provide value to ONE person at a time and grow your audience from there.
  • Want to start a business? Start by validating your idea and find one customer. Then optimize your product and offering from there.

Start Feeding The Right Wolf

One truth to remember is that it’s so much easier to feed the first wolf — the first wolf is there to encourage the easier options in life. It’s easier to complain, procrastinate, dismiss, ignore, and give up.

There is almost no effort required to do those things, and you’re getting the reward with the sensation of relieving and instant gratification without much an action.

The second wolf is very different; it’s picky, it’s harder to feed. It’s challenging, tiring and time-consuming to do things like learning, teaching, inspiring, sharing or simply sticking to a new behavior. These things take so much energy, effort, momentum, and guts. And you don’t usually see immediate results from them.

Which wolf you choose to feed will define who you are, and we all know we should feed the second wolf — even if it’s harder. Feeding the second wolf is how we end up feeling a sense of accomplishment and success at the end of the day.

By conquering the temptation of the first wolf we opt for a much more challenging (but right) option in life.

Feeding Both Wolves

In the Cherokee world, however, there’s another version of the story and it ends this way:

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:

“You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and will always fight the white wolf.”

“But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities — tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking–that I have need of at times. These are the very things the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.”

“You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life.”

“Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowledge that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.”

“Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.”

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

You Know That Charming Little Story About the Two Wolves? It’s a Lie.

There’s an old story about two wolves that goes something like this…

An old Cherokee grandfather is telling his grandson a story. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said.”It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance,resentment, lies,and ego.” He continued, “The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The wolves are fighting to the death.

Wide-eyed, the boy asks his grandfather which wolf will win.
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Lovely little parable, right? Except, it’s a lie.

The story was first published in a 1978 book called “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life,” by Billy Graham. Graham admitted he invented the story for a sermon some 40 years ago.

His original story was about Inuit people, not a Cherokee grandfather, but the Inuit blasted him pretty badly in the Canadian Press so he changed the story.

He chose a Cherokee grandfather for the re-telling because they wouldn’t be able to challenge him. Back in the 70’s, Native Americans were treated like war criminals and blacked out from media — which is, incidentally, why Marlon Brando had a Native American activist refuse his Oscar for him, but that’s a whole different story… anyway…

Maybe it’s not so lovely? If you think about it…

Billy Graham was an American evangelist and an ordained Southern Baptist minister. The story was meant to drive home the concept that we are all born with evil inside us. Our inner darkness, or the “original sin” if you will.

Except, the concept of “inner darkness” or “original sin” is a very Westernized concept and not accepted by either the Inuit or the Cherokee.

Which is ironic, because he used a Native American elder to tell a story that a Native American elder would never tell because it’s centered in Christian belief not Native American beliefs.

Misappropriation didn’t skip a beat before the Internet.

If the wolves were real, anger would be my nemesis

There is so much in this world that makes me angry. Like…

— 2018 and women aren’t equal under the law yet? In any country. Srsly?

— And why do we even need a thing like #metoo? A five year old knows what no means. Whats-a-matter? Men grow up and the definition of no falls out of their heads? Shouldn’t even be happening, much less trending.

— There are over 40 million people in slavery still today. Not just “over there” but here, too. Almost half a million slaves right in the USA.

— And 25 million people trafficked into the sex trade against their will.

Just so much, you know?

Rampant racism. School shooters. Using tear gas on children.

And tell me this — why is it that the living wage in the USA is $16.07 per hour but the Federal minimum wage is $7.25. Poor people don’t matter? Did you know a single mother with two children earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25needs to work 135 hours per week to earn a living wage. Not possible.

Seems to me humanity isn’t very humane and I didn’t even finish the list because it’s just too darn long.

If there were 2 wolves, anger would be both…

If there were two wolves, first of all, they’d be European because that’s where the concept of white as good and black as bad came from.

But, if the black wolf is all that’s bad and white is all that’s good, then anger isn’t just the black wolf. Anger is why we have millions of assaults and school shootings and all that crud — but anger is also how we affect change.

We don’t change things unless they first make us good and mad. We do ourselves and the world a disservice when we pretend all anger is bad.

The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised.
— Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, written 350 B.C.

What this world needs is more good people to get angry.

I don’t know what that looks like to you. Maybe it’s telling that family member their opinions are racist and you don’t want to hear them anymore. Maybe it’s picking up the phone and calling a state representative about something that’s been pissing you off. Maybe it’s starting a petition. I don’t know.

What I do know is that if you don’t look around you and see that a whole lot of things are broken, maybe you’re what’s broken.

Maybe you’ve become like the Grinch, whose heart is just 2 sizes too small.

With Depression, the Wolf You Feed Is the Wolf That Wins

There is a Cherokee legend about an elderly brave who tells his grandson about life.

“The same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person, too,” explained the wise Cherokee elder.

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

The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I feel the wolves attacking each other every day. Every hour. Most minutes.

One wolf is resentful as hell that she can’t eat a piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving without suffering the consequence of loud death thoughts for two days after, that the tiniest bit of refined sugar and flour can throw off her limbic system — brain’s emotional center — so significantly. She’s angry that she has to exercise so intensely no less than six times a week in order to escape suicidal ideations. She’s bitter, in general, that she has to work so hard and be so disciplined in order to experience the same serenity that is available to her friends and family all the time.

The other wolf reminds her that, while the rest of the world would like very much to be on a diet but can’t drum up the self-discipline, she should be happy that not eating right has such devastating consequences that she’ll never have to go on a diet, because in order to exist without suicidal thoughts she has to always be on one. The other wolf says, sure, exercise is sometimes a drag, but she should be thankful that she has legs with which to run and arms with which to swim, that there are many people with physical disabilities who don’t get to enjoy the temporary anesthesia from depression that an intense workout can offer.

One wolf believes her suffering is unique, that no one could possibly understand the anguish she feels. She’s resentful of those who have never wanted to die, and wishes she could experience that kind of ignorant bliss. She is tired of telling her story to people who don’t understand. Their puzzled expressions only make her feel that much more alone and send daggers through her heart.

The other explains that everyone is fighting a battle of some kind, that anyone born to this earth has known a type of suffering. This wolf tells her to forget the happy persona most people try to project, that every home has shed its own tears for tragedies and sorrows and distress and fears that are kept hidden from the world, but are nonetheless there.

One wolf believes that if those in her life could listen to her thoughts, they would abandon her for sure. She builds a wall of stone around her morbid world so that she can never be hurt again.

The other reminds her that they didn’t leave her during those moments of bleakness, that they have stood by her during the ugliest hours, and that they are still around. The wolf says that she is safe to be real and transparent, that peace comes with authenticity.

One wolf knows for certain she will never feel better. She has given up on trying to get better. She is tired, disillusioned, and deflated. After opening her mind time and time again to new ideas and strategies, and investing the energy needed to pursue them, she has no more space in her heart for hope.

The other reminds her that her track record for getting through difficult times so far is 100 percent, that there is always room for hope, even if a heart is rock hard from trying and failing and trying and failing and failing once more. She says that although depression feels permanent, there is nothing in this world that is constant, that biochemistries evolve and relationships shift and situations change, and not one thing is the same from moment to moment, therefore there is always the potential to begin again, and for healing to happen.

I suppose I feed both wolves every day.

Inadvertently.

When I have my hand out to feed love and hope, the other wolf snatches the goodies, and suddenly I’m filled with envy and anger. I try so hard to do all the right things — eat right, meditate, exercise, pray, get support, help people — but the “dis-ease” will present symptoms, and then I have to start over.

But I know about these wolves now.

I know how deceptive the wolf of despair can be, but how powerful the force of compassion and kindness are.

All I have to do is keep trying to feed the wolf of peace and benevolence, to continue to hope and have faith even when good health seems impossible, and the other one will eventually get bored and stop begging for food.

Be sure to check out a collection of podcasts — interviews with authors and thinkers about this Cherokee legend — at oneyoufeed.net. My interview airs Dec. 9 at 6:30 pm EST.

The Wolf You Feed

The Wolf You Feed collection is a reflection on the personal and outer battles that people face. The battle between good and evil, between the path we choose and the one that is chosen for us. In our busy day of living this life, we often forget that the most basic elements of our lives are based on the choices that we make and how these choices have an impact on our families, communities and society.

Many of the themes in this body of work relate to human nature and interaction. The problems of this world are a manifestation of the deterioration of our societies and the obsession of our own mortality. Some of us believe in God, some of us believe in spirituality, some in money and others in fame and so forth. Does anyone dream of a better world or have we grown comfortable in accepting the nightmare as a reality? We have become like by standards of an accident, watching with passivity for our own self-satisfaction, yet in the distance the world burns. Which is the wolf you are feeding?

How The Tale Of The Two Wolves Within Determines The One You Feed Most

The Shadow Self

“And one of the elders of the city said, ‘Speak to us of good and evil.’ And he answered: ‘You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good.’ ” — Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
“My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

The tale of the two wolves portrays the good and evil that lives within us, represented by the conscious and the unconscious desire of man.

If we are unconscious of our thoughts, we are at the mercy of feeding the evil wolf.

Our unconscious thoughts are the unresolved or repressed parts of our psyche. The evil wolf asserts its power when we least expect it, because it is hidden from view.

I’m aware of this darkness when a driver abruptly cuts me off in traffic and my ego is threatened. I react in a fit of simmering confrontation, believing I have been wronged. It is upon reflection, I recognise this as an unconscious anger seeking to protect itself.

The ego strives to assert its will to protect and strengthen itself and so we fall prey to its needs.

David Richo, Ph.D., psychotherapist and teacher states, “Our ego was never meant to die, only to be tamed so that its wild energies could be put to better use.”

To mitigate acting out our unconscious desires, we become mindful of our thoughts instead of numb to them. We witness them with openness and tenderness instead of with binding judgement.

Similarly, the shadow self comprises the unknown dark side of our personality. To disown the dark side means going to war with ourselves. Yet, to accept ourselves as whole is to embody our strengths and limitations — our shadow self.

This can be seen in the Yin Yang symbol represented by the two halves that together complete wholeness.

Therefore, what we feed gives rise to goodness or the collapse of character.

A False Persona

“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” — Anthony Burgess

It was Frank Outlaw who said, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”

We may not realise we are reinforcing the ego’s grip until it grows in intensity, overshadowing our personality. Like a double-edged sword, what we feed is what we co-exist with.

So, how can we stop feeding the fear and anger within?

Without being aware, we confer power to our dark side when we identify with disempowering states. Through a false persona we form an archetype where darkness prevails.

If you walk into a pitch-black room without light, you assume darkness is all that exists. Yet, when a light is switched on, you perceive it instantly instead of the darkness.

The answer lies in knowing darkness is simply the absence of light.

“Experience anger or fear or shock for what they are. But you don’t have to think of them as evil — as intrinsically bad, as needing to be destroyed or driven from our midst. On the contrary, they need to be absorbed, healed, made whole,” states author Steve Hagen in Buddhism is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs.

How do we recognise our inner radiance?

It is the loving aspect of our being, imbued with openness that infuses our hearts and mind.

“When the Buddha found enlightenment, the demons felt consternation at the prospect of so much light coming into the world. This is the archetype of the combination of opposites: Light arouses shadow and shadow arouses light. Goodness is attacked by evil forces, and forces of goodness battle forces of darkness,” affirms David Richo in The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them

Nurture The Goodness Within

“The chief beginning of evil is goodness in excess.” — Menander

I recall on one occasion during meditation, drawing my awareness to this inner presence. I later explained to a friend, “I felt I was going deep into my being and I loved what was there.”

In contrast, if we feed the evil within, it grows in intensity since we give it life. Yet, perpetuating evil cannot be maintained because the grim shadow leads to our self-destruction.

Thus, by integrating our shadow into the wholeness of our being, we are called home to where we belong.

I am drawn to Lama Surya Das’ message, “To realize how karma works through insight into its actual mechanics is to become master rather than victim of our fate, and to realize freedom from and even autonomy within causes, circumstances, and conditions. That is why Buddha said, ‘No one can make me angry unless I have it inside.’ ”

In keeping with Lama Surya Das’ statement, we have the power to choose our path and not be victim to our inner demons.

We examine whether our beliefs are useful to help us let go of the negative karma of the past. How do we know if they serve us?

Look to your external world to see life expressing your beliefs or opposing them. Do they create fulfilment and enrich your life, or keep you hostage?

The narrative of the two wolves highlights the division inside us, vying for our attention.

We can feed harmony and joy or light the flame of resentment and false pride.

It was author of The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield who said, “Where Attention goes, Energy flows; Where Intention goes, Energy flows.”

It is with this intention we direct our focus to nurture the goodness within. Like returning home, our soul calls us to find wholeness instead of remain alienated by the fog of separation.

Our negative thoughts can create anxiety, anger, resentment, jealousy—an array of emotions. Negative thinking is normal. However, if this way of thinking becomes incessant, it can lead to depression and self-destructive behavior like addictions, derailing us from what we want most in life. At minimum, negative thinking saps our energy, erodes our self-confidence and can put us in a bad mood. Certainly, many would agree that our thoughts come and go so quickly that it’s seems impossible to notice them, but with awareness and an attitude of self-compassion, we can redirect our negative thoughts to more positive ones.

Two Wolves is a Cherokee Indian legend and illustrates the most important battle of our lives – the one between our good and bad thoughts. Here is how the story goes:

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.”

Our thoughts can be our own worst enemy. That is, if we let them. Think about how you may be “feeding” your negative thoughts by allowing them to rule your mind. Next time you have a negative thought, catch it and ask yourself, “What is this thought doing for me?” You will find that the answer is that all they are doing is disempowering you. You can immediately feel more empowered by focusing on something good in your life and cultivate the practice of gratitude.

We can create greater peace, confidence and a more positive outlook by learning how to manage our thoughts. After all, this battle can be won because we have the power of choice!

Which wolf are you feeding? Remember, you always have a choice…

More resources:

  • The Legend of Two Wolves by Celestial Elf (animated video of the Two Wolves story)
  • The One You Feed podcast

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