A tale of “The Two Wolves” is a helpful allegory to help guide our pursuit of mindfulness.
An old Cherokee Indian is huddled around a campfire with his grandson, with only the shine of the moon and hum of the turning world for company. “A fight is going on inside me,” the Cherokee said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight; it is between two wolves. One is angry. It has envy, greed, arrogance, guilt, resentment, inferiority, and superiority. The other is good. Joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, humble, kind, benevolent, have empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and is faithful.”
“The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person too,” he explained to his wide-eyed grandson.
The young boy pondered these details for a few moments before turning back to his grandfather and asking, “But which wolf will win?”
“The one you feed,” the old Cherokee replied.
The two wolves represent un-mindfulness (the “bad” wolf) and mindfulness (the “good” wolf). In my experience and observation, mindfulness brings wisdom, compassion, love, connectedness, and inner peace. Un-mindfulness, I see in myself and the world leads to suffering, anger, greed, and destructiveness.
The Eternal Fight
The fight between these two wolves is eternal and something that can never be avoided or brushed aside. Neither wolf can extinguish the other beyond repair. The first wolf will always remain, as will the second — meaning the likes of anger and greed will eternally fight against their joyful and kind counterparts.
I used to fall into the common trap of trying to banish the first wolf and relinquish my negative half. I would force myself to eat healthily without respite, punishing myself for even a brief lapse of internal negativity.
The truth is that no one can ever live in pure bliss. It is inhuman. The only thing we can do is to act in spite of the first wolf, taking on our fears and doubts as we move forward regardless. Such actions are how you feed the second wolf.
When feeling unmotivated to work out, work out anyway. When lacking confidence about an upcoming work event, throw yourself into it headfirst. Frustrated with a loved one, show them, love.
By rendering yourself paralyzed due to the weight of the first wolf, you only feed it further. You will not just find yourself at a standstill. The first wolf will drag you back further and further each day.
Feeding Both Wolves
Small actions build momentum. If you tell yourself that you are worthy, you will feel worthy. If you tell yourself to feel confident, confidence will find you. If you concentrate on love, love will conquer all. A step forward is always a step forward, no matter the scenario.
Take the time to learn things and grow at your own pace. Instead of focusing on your fears, focus on one thing you can do and run with it. You cannot lose 100 pounds overnight, but you can go on that first 30-minute walk. You cannot reach an audience of one million overnight, but you can make that first piece of quality content. You cannot turn over $500,000 overnight, but you can formulate your first professional business plan.
Start Feeding the Right Wolf
It is and always will be far easier to feed the first wolf. It is easier to give up, lash out and complain — these things require no effort.
The second wolf is picky and tough to feed. The process may be time-consuming and the light at the end of the tunnel can seem far away. It can take effort, pain, and guts, yet the reward for feeding the second wolf is far greater.
Which wolf you choose to feed will define who you are. Which wolf you teach your child to choose will define their future.
Anthony Cupo is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years. Our article is also published in ParentingOC’s Magazine!