An old Cherokee chief told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside each of us. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought about it for a while, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.” -Cherokee Folk Tale
Modern nutritional science has made most of us acutely aware of the relationship between what we feed ourselves and our physical health. If you watch any 30 minute local news broadcast, there’s bound to be some story about the relationship between something that you consume and your health. More often than not the stories are contradictory. Some days you learn that coffee is good for you, red wine is healthy, it’s fine to eat an egg every day, and bottled water is the only way to drink it. Two weeks later, all those things are suddenly considered bad for you. Most of us, however, figure it out, managing to pay attention to what we consume and remain reasonably physically healthy. We need to be aware that food and drink is not all that we feed ourselves. Junk food is not the only thing that you may be mindlessly consuming.
While modern nutritional science has made it easy for us to be aware of what we should be consuming for our bodies, modern communication has made it more difficult for us to monitor what we feed our minds. The typical person in the United States gets up in the morning, flips on the television to see what’s going on in the world, does their morning routine, and hops into their car and heads off to work. While in the car, they listen to the radio, arrive at work, take a glance at something on their smartphone, and begin their day. Each of those informational inputs-television, radio, phone, and computers are some of the ways that we feed one of the two wolves that the Cherokee sage describes in the parable of the Two Wolves. Unlike the young boy growing up in the Cherokee nation years ago, we are not even aware that we are feeding our wolf, we think we’re just going about our regular day.
The modern world has a tendency to prey upon our bad Wolf. The news, gossip, things we remember, and things that attract our attention tend to be negative. Our brains are quick to notice these things. It’s just the way that they are wired. We need to be aware of things that are dangerous, potentially harmful, and threats to our survival. Threatening things tend to remain on the front page of our minds, making us aware, alert, and more capable of self protection and survival. Fortunately, our world isn’t as dangerous as that of a Cherokee child, unfortunately, the modern world makes us think that it is far worse.
Brilliant thinkers throughout history have known that the way we feel about the world, and our place in it, is largely determined by the focus of our thoughts. Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Victor Frankl are just some that come to mind immediately. Each of these geniuses taught that there is a direct relation between the focus of our thoughts and our levels of anxiety and fear. In the pre-modern era, it was easier for mankind to have control of their thinking. In the 21st century much of what we believe to be our own thoughts are really the modern world allowing our bad Wolf to gorge itself on junk food. Depending on what you listen to, read, and intellectually consume, your good Wolf may not even have a chance.
Undoubtedly, it’s difficult to live in the 21st century and not be aware of the negativity in the world. To be adequately informed makes it virtually impossible. We can, however, pay attention to what we focus on, consciously making an effort to feed our good Wolf. All of us live our lives with an internal dialogue that we call our thoughts. This play-by-play analysis of what goes on in our world determines how we play the game of life. The thoughts that we nurture and pay attention to are like food that our physical bodies consume. They determine how we feel, act, think, and relate to others. They are even more important than the food that we eat.
Feeding the bad Wolf is very easy to do. The human condition makes the bad Wolf a pretty ravenous creature. He’s nowhere near as fussy an eater as his good Wolf littermate. The bad Wolf will pretty much eat anything that’s put in front of him. Be careful of what you expose him to, because he’s going to eat it. For the bad Wolf, there’s no shortage of tasty things to munch on. The good Wolf is a little fussier, often needing to be hand fed, consciously and deliberately.
So, how do we give that good little Wolf pup a chance at thriving? Like a lot of behavioral changes, the first step is awareness. What information, news, entertainment, and inputs are you taking in each day? What catches your attention when you watch television, listen to the radio, or are on the computer? Which wolf is getting fed?
What kind of conversations are you having during your day? Are they productive, or bitch sessions? Is the quality of these conversations focused on solutions, or problems? Remember, you’re not the only person who feeds those wolves. Friends, relatives, family, and co-workers also play a role in how well those wolves grow up.
What kind of conversations are you having with yourself? What are some things you say to yourself on a regular basis? Which wolf are you favoring? The quality of your internal dialogue goes a long way towards determining how large that bad Wolf will grow.
What kind of activities are you engaged in? You keep a close eye on your finances and your bank book. Are you keeping as close a watch on your physical, emotional, and spiritual health? Nurturing those compartments of your life give the good Wolf nourishment as well, allowing him, and you, to reach your full growth potential.
Next time you review any component of your health, exercise regimen, or diet, remember this Cherokee tale of the two wolves. Being aware of other ways in which we “feed” ourselves is more important to our overall well-being than anything we take in by mouth. The battle between the two wolves is perhaps our live’s most important battle.
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