The wolf of love

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?
Anja Tanhane

Being here now

‘At any moment you have a choice,

That either leads you closer to your spirit,

Or further away from it.’

Thich Nhat Hanh

Most of us tend to experience a wide range of emotions over our lifetime – sometimes even in the course of a single day. Yet I find that underneath all these varied and colourful emotions, there is what I call an underlying ‘feeling tone’. And this feeling tone tends to be either one of patience, gracefulness and presence (which I call the feeling tone of love), or else one of impatience, ragged movements, and absentmindedness (which I call the feeling tone of rejection). This feeling tone is like the floor at the bottom of the ocean, and may have little in common with the stillness or tornadoes raging in the waves high above. We might be feeling fairly calm, with no major stressors to preoccupy us, and yet we are rushing through our tasks with a sense of impatience, choosing, on some level, to not be quite present. Or we might be under a lot of strain, feel quite agitated and exhausted, and yet the smile we bring to someone who is suffering is warm and compassionate.

We often have little awareness of this feeling tone, and yet, in my experience, it’s something we can easily influence for the better. Intuitively, it might seem that the opposite should be the case – that we should be able to influence the waves of our superficial emotions more easily than the feeling tone of the ocean floor. Yet, in fact, we always have a choice about how we choose to engage with each moment. Mindfulness, at its heart, is about taking good care of our lives, living it with a sense of presence and love.

The real work of mindfulness is mostly at the level of the feeling tone. We don’t try to transform ‘bad emotions’ into ‘good emotions’. Instead, we choose to bring a sense of kind presence to our lives, whatever happens to be going on right now. A regular practice will make us more aware of the level of engagement we bring to our lives – whether, in each moment, the underlying feeling tone is one of love, or one of rejection. This can be quite subtle, but the influence on our life is very powerful. Mindfulness is life-affirming – it’s about saying yes to our lives, not ‘yes, but only if… and when…’, while waiting for the perfect conditions. If we wait for the conditions to be perfect before we say yes to life, we could be waiting for a very long time!

We don’t usually go to the beach and tell the ocean – ‘I can’t accept you today, your waves are bit too choppy, sorry!’ And yet, unconsciously, this is how we often choose to live our lives. Saying yes to our lives doesn’t mean we don’t work at improving ourselves and our life. It’s like the love we may have for a child or a pet – hopefully we don’t only love them when they’re perfect, or else we think they’re so wonderful that we never offer them any guidance. We can engage with our lives with gentle discipline, seeking the guidance of mentors and teachers, and at the same time fully embrace the life we have, bringing a loving presence to each moment, making the choice to be fully here now.

Weekly practice idea:

Make the intention this week to tune into your underlying feeling tone from time to time. What do you notice?

Anja Tanhane

Training a cute little puppy

Imagine your mind is a little puppy – cute, playful, boisterous, and, above all, determined to run around and explore every nook and cranny wherever it goes. While you might have a notion that the puppy should be sitting quietly in a corner all day until you call it for a walk, the reality is that puppies just aren’t made to sit quietly in a corner, and there is no point getting angry at the puppy for simply doing what puppies do.

Our minds also love to run around, to explore, to jump all over the place, and to get excited whenever there is the slightest indication that a treat or a walk or some playtime might be coming up. In part, this constant curiosity and excitability has served us well – as a species, we’re forever searching for new and innovative ways to improve our lives, and what we can achieve. On the other hand, our minds, like puppies, do benefit from some training. Dogs are happier when they are well-trained, and our mind is also more contented when it is trained with gentle discipline.

There are two aspects to this mind training. The first is to understand that our busy, racing mind is simply doing what it’s designed to do – there is no point in getting angry at ourselves for losing focus during a meditation, just as we would be unreasonable dog owners if we started yelling at a puppy every time it moved away from its spot in the corner. We often have highly exaggerated notions of what our mind should be capable off during a meditation – as if we can simply flip a switch and our mind will go from unfocused and distracted to calm and serene simply because we happen to be sitting in a meditation posture wanting to meditate. It’s just not the way our mind is set up, both from our evolutionary history, and also because most of us live very busy, overstimulated lives.

The second aspect is that we should not be afraid of applying some ongoing discipline to ourselves and to our mind. This discipline can be gentle, loving, patient, just like a good dog owner is gentle, loving and patient with a new puppy. Yet just as a puppy which is allowed to do whatever it wants does not grow into a contented, well-adjusted dog, so we too need to bring some discipline towards our minds, and we benefit from training our mind on an ongoing basis.

This is why mindfulness meditation is more than simply learning to relax and blissing out. There are many activities which are enjoyable and which benefit us – gardening, going swimming, watching a movie, and so on. Mindfulness asks more from us than simply having a relaxing, enjoyable time. Over time, a regular mindfulness practice will increase our appreciation and enjoyment of life, and help us feel less stressed. But when we are meditating, our mind could be all over the place, and we gradually learn to bring it back, again and again, just like we might train a puppy to walk on a lead and sit on command.

Weekly practice idea:

Take some time to examine your attitude to bringing discipline into your life. You’re probably already disciplined in all kinds of areas – work, household chores, personal hygiene, diet etc. How do you feel about a disciplined meditation practice – is this something you already do, or something you find challenging?

Anja Tanhane

 

Patience

Stone in creek

‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. By the time!
  2. Surely man is in loss,
  3. Except those who believe and do good, and      exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.’

This beautiful line, from the Quran (103, Surah Al-‘Asr), really struck a chord with me when I heard it presented by one of the Muslim ladies at an interfaith friendship meeting. To consciously encourage each other to be patient – we have become such an impatient society. Patience used to be more highly regarded – remember the saying ‘patience is a virtue’ – but now it’s often seen as being old-fashioned, an obstacle perhaps to instant and magnificent success. If we are patient, we might miss out on something! People might take advantage, and walk all over us! We might only get through 98% of our to-do list today instead of all of it plus a bit extra!

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