There is an old American Indian story about a beloved Elder, a grandmother, who was asked one day how she’d managed to become such a wise, respected and contented woman. She replied that she knew that there were two wolves in her heart, the wolf of love and the wolf of hate, and that everything depended on which wolf she chose to feed each day.
We have evolved as humans with both of the wolves, and they actually each have a place in our lives if we think of the wolf of hate as trying to protect us, and the wolf of love as trying to connect us. We might rename the wolf of hate to ‘the wolf of protection’, and we can see how we can get caught up in feeding this particular creature. When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, it’s easy for the wolf of protection to assume a prominent role in our lives. We become more suspicious of others in case they try to encroach on ‘our’ territory, and might be less than kind in our responses. It’s like we lose touch with the kinder, more patient and wiser parts of ourselves, and so we might find ourselves snapping at a child who is a bit slow and befuddled; we might feel depressed and eat far more than we should; or we might bitch about a colleague although we know, in our heart of hearts, that this will do nothing to improve a difficult situation.
A regular practice of mindfulness meditation offers us the ability to have more choice about how we might respond to any given situation. Instead of reacting in the heat or exhaustion of the moment, we can pause, take a breath, engage the more empathic parts of our brain, and act in a way which is more aligned with our values and good intentions. We might notice that the slow child is caught up in some kind of stress, that his mind is elsewhere, and we might reassure him rather than snap at him. We might pause once or twice during a meal, take the time to enjoy the food, and notice that we’re actually quite full. We might bite our tongue even though another bitching session seems like a wonderful way to release frustration, and instead reflect on what some of the underlying issues at the workplace might be.
Next week, we will look at some practical strategies for ‘feeding the wolf of love’ in our lives.
Weekly practice idea:
Think of a current situation which is causing you some stress, and brainstorm a range of strategies for dealing with this situation, ranging from the sublime and wise to the awful and absurd. Where in that list do you currently see yourself, and where would you like to be?