Feeding the wolf of love

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the story of a wise American Indian Elder, who explained how each day she chose to feed the wolf of love. When we hear the idea expressed in those terms, it makes perfect sense to us. Yet in the rush and stress of everyday life, we can unwittingly find ourselves becoming impatient, unkind, or acting out old habitual patterns which we already know won’t bring us any happiness, let alone feed the wolf of love in our lives.

There are many reasons for this, and one of the ways in which mindfulness can be helpful is to allow us to become more aware of what in our lives pulls us away from being more loving and connected.

When we’re stressed, our thoughts and bodily sensations can move along with a strong momentum, almost as if they take on a life of their own. It can feel like we’re caught up in a compelling narrative which has its own logic, and which demands our full attention and engagement. Mindfulness is about stopping and asking ourselves – what is really going on right now? Is this current direction helpful, or unhelpful, or neutral?

Interrupting the powerful momentum of stress can be very hard to do – it’s almost like we feel it’s rude to interfere with something which is moving along so swiftly with a life of its own. Yet if we start to make a habit of regularly pausing, breathing, and tuning in, we might soon notice that we have a lot more freedom to choose the direction we want to go in. The more stressed we are, the more difficult it is to stop and pause, and at the same time, the more worthwhile the effort to do so is likely to be.

This is where a daily meditation practice can be helpful. You get into the habit of stopping on a regular basis, and noticing the benefits of doing this. After a while, a positive feedback loop is created – you become aware how good it feels to pause, and are therefore more likely to make the time to briefly pause during busy times as well.

Other opportunities for pausing and tuning into the here and now of our breath and our body can be: as we make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee; washing our hands; walking to the photocopier or the car; when we arrive home from work; between finishing one task and starting the next; or just before we start eating. It may feel a little odd at first to do this, even though the pauses don’t need to be very long. It’s worth experimenting with this technique, to see if we notice a difference in how we respond to the demands of our life. If we feel we are more patient, feel more grounded and connected, then we’re also likely to find that we are in a much better position to feed the wolf of love in our lives.

Weekly practice idea:

For the next week, decide to set aside a couple of minutes three to five times each day to pause for a moment. This can be a time to tune into your breath, how you’re feeling in your body right now, perhaps also noticing sights, sounds and smells around you. At the end of the week, review the practice and note whether you have found it helpful.

Anja Tanhane

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