An intention I’ve been working with in the past weeks is actually inspired by something a FANTASTIC YogaOne teacher, Piper, mentioned in one of her classes.
There’s a Native American legend that speaks of two wolves fighting within all of us. One is evil, and represents hate, anger, reactivity, resentment, ego; the other is good, representing love, compassion, care, kindness, patience. In the Native American story, a grandfather explains this to his is grandson. Wide-eyed, the grandson asks, “Which wolf will win?”
The grandfather answers: “The one you feed”.
Since then I have been asking myself the question “How can I feed the good wolf in this moment?”.
When I catch myself (often in traffic) triggered, reactive, placing blame; I realise that I am feeding the bad wolf and I ask myself that question. Often, we don’t know the whole story, and getting angry only puts ourselves in a bad mood and impacts others, often the ones we love. Covey gives a great example of this in 7 Habits (the go-to book to start learning about behavioral psychology and leadership development, in my and many others’ opinion). He calls it a paradigm-shift.
“I remember a mini-Paradigm Shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly — some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
-Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Knowing that truth, Covey’s feelings turned from irritation and anger to sympathy and compassion, and I bet his entire mood shifted too. I had a similar (although much less extreme) experience this week when driving to teach a yoga class, a car in the next lane swerved to move into my lane nearly siding right into me. I didn’t shout, but I leaned on the horn in a way that wasn’t just to warn the other car of my presence there, it was a non-verbal “what are you doing you idiot”. I backed off, let him move into the lane, and noticed (I assume) his wife in the passenger seat and his young son asleep in the back, who had woken up startled with the sound of the horn. I felt guilty. Although it was the driver who made a mistake and didn’t look properly, my actions had only brought more tension and disruption to the situation. I didn’t know anything about that family, how long they had been driving or working that day, what other distractions may be playing on the driver’s mind. What I did wasn’t about safety, it was aggressive. It was feeding the bad wolf.
So if we don’t know all the facts why do we even need the bad thoughts, why not start with the good ones? “Shifting your paradigm” or “feeding the good wolf” is hard, and risky (sometimes that bad, suspicious, wolf could be right) but in my view the rewards fully outweigh the risks. Choosing the good wolf; assuming the best of people and yourself, and waiting to be proved wrong; means you feel more positive, open, full of love and happy, and you bring that out in others too! As you continue to feed the good wolf it gets bigger and bigger, and the bad wolf gets smaller and smaller, and slowly it becomes easier to choose the positive path.
I invite you, in moments of reactivity, to ask the question “how can I feed the good wolf at this moment?”.
I invite you, in moments of reactivity, to ask the question “how can I feed the good wolf at this moment?”. That could be during the insignificant annoyances that happen day to day, in traffic, waiting in line, when you’re interrupted, when your boyfriend didn’t let the cat in before going to bed (not naming names…) or it could be about how you treat yourself. When you can’t reach the up-level of a yoga pose, you didn’t get a promotion you wanted, or an important relationship ended, are you beating yourself up with language of sadness, annoyance, shame, or can you feed the good wolf?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Here’s to living feeding the good wolf.