Feeding the Bad Wolf

A grandfather is talking with his grandson:

“I have a fight going on in me,” the old man said. “It’s taking place between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

The grandfather looked at the grandson and went on. “The other embodies positive emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. Both wolves are fighting to the death. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person, too.”

The grandson took a moment to reflect on this. At last, he looked up at his grandfather and asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee gave a simple reply. “The one you feed.”

Cherokee Parable

One of my favorite podcasts recites this parable at the beginning of every episode. I’ve always loved this story, even if it does get a bit annoying hearing it every single time I listen to “The One You Feed.” Still it’s always interesting to hear what each guest has to say about it. My favorite spin so far is from a guest named Steve Hagen.

Hagen made the distinction that it is not just about which wolf we feed, but what we are feeding them. We still have to feed the “bad” wolf. We feed it kindness and love and compassion, the same as we do for the “good” wolf. For me this is such an important thing to remember. While the parable of two wolves is profound and inspirational, it can also be the first step on the path toward toxic positivity.

We all have these two conflicting sides inside of us. It may not always be as simple as “good” and “bad” though. It might seem straightforward enough to starve the bad wolf, imagining eventually that dark side of ourselves will lie down and die. It’s much harder to comprehend and accept, that although we may dislike aspects of our character, we need both of these wolves. Ultimately they are both a part of us. To truly heal and grow, we have to make peace between the many facets of ourselves and learn to integrate them all into a cohesive whole.

For many years now, I have been attempting to starve my bad wolf. Ironically, this hateful energy, even when directed towards hate itself, does the exact opposite. The parable never really gets into what precisely it means to “feed” these wolves. The “bad” wolf is being fed from the very bitterness we feel towards it. In the same sense, if we try to disregard it and ignore that side of ourselves completely, it becomes more depraved and more unpredictable in its desperate attempt to avoid starvation. A hungry wolf is a fearsome animal indeed.

Labeling one side of ourselves as bad, and the other as good, is doing a disservice to the complex tapestry we call life. Saying that we have a bad wolf elicits feelings of anger and self-hatred rather than equanimity. It’s our job to befriend both wolves and find harmony within the chaos.

The Fight of Two Wolves Within You | Dean Yeong

Who Am I Really?

Lying in bed last night, about to drift off to sleep, my mind was flooded with fearful thoughts of my boyfriend coming home in a few months. You may at first assume you misread that first sentence, but no, I was afraid for him to come home. Even though I love and miss him tremendously. Still I was feeling terrified by the way things may change once he’s nearby again. I was afraid of how my routine would change. How much time will he be expecting us to spend together? Will I have to drive up to the city multiple times a week to see him? How often will he be staying with me? All of these unknowns prevent me from my normal mental and emotional preparations for change. I simply don’t know how my life is going to be from day to day in 2022.

Oddly enough, just eight hours later after waking up, having some coffee, and starting my workout, the thought of him not only being close by again, but even living with me, seemed like a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to share as much of my time with him as possible. I fantasized about being the very best version of myself with him by my side to motivate and inspire me. Everything I’ve been aspiring to do/be seemed more likely to happen once he is back home. The same changes that sparked fear last night, were now the very thoughts spurring me onward, giving me hope and energy.

This is not an uncommon occurrence for me. There are many times I find myself overwhelmed with a thought at night, that brings me joy the next morning. The question that always arises is, “Which one of these people is really me?” Who should I believe? The evening me or the morning me? How can one person shift so totally in the span of a day? And shift so predictably and consistently at that? It seems like everything becomes scary and negative in the evening hours, but in the morning the whole world appears brand new and enchanting. It makes me wonder if this is normal. Do other people feel this way? Is this what people mean when they say “morning person”?

In my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that this drastic inner change is caused by my brain’s neurochemicals dwindling as the night sets in. So I’m inclined to believe that the morning version of me is more true to who I am. The evening me is depleted and out of sorts, unable to view the world accurately. However maybe it’s my morning self that is deluded. Perhaps my refreshed brain is offering me a rose colored perspective that is just as inaccurate. Should I be distrustful of both? Should I deem the middle ground between these two states the most reliable and realistic?

This confusion and uncertainty about which thoughts are “me” and which thoughts are “not me” has always been of great interest to me. Never being able to decide, I gravitate towards the Yogic perspective. None of these thoughts are actually “me.” I am not my thoughts. I am the one who watches these thoughts. I am the one who wonders which of them are me. After all, that watcher within is the one consistent aspect of my mind, the one that is ever-present and unchanging.

Now the question becomes, how can I learn to identify with the watcher, rather than the fluctuating thoughts constantly demanding my attention? How can I keep myself from getting caught in the undertow of emotion that they cause? I suppose that this is the purpose of meditation. To practice being the watcher. To train ourselves not to get swept away. To ground ourselves in the impermanent and illusory nature of existence. To cultivate trust in the fact that it is okay to allow these thoughts to pass through us without letting them force us into action.

Contemplating the different layers within has, at the very least, allowed me to let go of the urgency I feel to respond to the thoughts I have. Lyrics from one of my favorite bands explains it best: “Nothing is ever as pressing as the one who’s pressing would like you to believe.” So when I find myself franticly playing out different scenarios in my head and wondering how on Earth I’ll be able to cope with them, I remind myself of those words. I assure myself that I don’t have to make any decisions or take any action right now. I can acknowledge that sense of urgency without feeling pressured by it. I remind myself that no matter how serious a situation may seem right now, with time my perspective will surely change. It’s okay to just wait, to observe, to sit with those feelings for now. Because I know that tomorrow I will awake to a new world, a new me. And maybe she will be able to handle it. She always has.

Silver Leaf Petal Kids Mirror | Pottery Barn Kids

When Self-Love Turns Toxic

Self Love with Sigrid Tasies — Jodi Plumbley - Bespoke Boudoir + Portrait  Photographer

Ever since I began my “self-improvement journey” I’ve struggled with toxic self-love. I’ve heard this term used to describe a few different things, and it seems counterintuitive at first, so let me just start by defining what I mean. For me, toxic self-love is when my best intentions become new ways for me to criticize and cut myself down.

Here is an example: I’ve been practicing yoga for years now. I started with just seven minutes a day and for a while I was doing 30-60 minutes. However, recently I’ve found myself being too busy to do more than 15 minutes of yoga on my lunch break at work. Yoga is about self care, self love, self exploration, mindfulness. It’s not about a rigorous, unbending routine. Nevertheless, I’ve been super hard on myself about doing less than I once did. It’s ironic, actually. In the end, what’s worse for my mental health, missing 15 minutes of yoga or berating myself for it for the rest of the day?

Often the very routines I cultivated to manage my anxiety become sources of stress instead. I’ve always had a hard time avoiding that “all or nothing” mentality. If I don’t do an hour of yoga and meditation every day, than I might as well have done nothing. If I don’t eat with perfect mindfulness, then I might as well scarf down my food as fast as I can. This kind of black and white thinking has the potential to be more detrimental than if you had never started the practice at all. It seems like when I do manage to find time for a 60 minute yoga flow, I don’t give myself any credit. I think, “Well of course, I don’t get a pat on the back for doing what I’m supposed to do.” However, if I only have time for 5 minutes one day, I agonize over what I failure I am.

This is toxic self-love. It isn’t loving at all. Self-love doesn’t mean I’ll love myself when I’m perfect. Self-love means I’ll love myself where I am right now. I’ll love my flaws and imperfections. I’ll love myself when I don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning. I’ll love myself when I gain 5 pounds. I’ll love myself when I’ve made a big mistake. Self-love is unconditional. Toxic self-love says: meet these standards first.

This pressure we put on ourselves to perform and keep up with all our positive habits every single day without exception, ends up making us forget why we began these habits in the first place. Was my goal to check a box, to be unwaveringly consistent? Or was my goal to be happy and to take better care of myself? Regularly reminding ourselves of our intention is so important, so that we don’t become sidetracked while going through the motions.

It’s also important for us to pay attention to the way we talk to ourselves. What kind of language are you using inside your own head? One of my worst mental habits is saying “I have to.” This is probably one of my most repeated phrases each day. I have to workout. I have to do yoga. I have to meditate. I have to eat healthy, mindfully. I have to go to work. Honestly this phrase probably comes before most of my thoughts. It’s no wonder I always feel so stressed and exhausted.

My entire life might be completely transformed by gently correcting myself when I notice this phrase coming up. I don’t have to, I get to. It’s even a more accurate and truthful statement. I genuinely don’t have to do any of the things I do. I choose to do them, because I enjoy doing them. It’s only after months and years of repeating to myself that I have to that I lose sight of the fact that I want to. When I give myself permission to not do the thing, that’s when I finally allow my natural desire to bubble to the surface.

Sometimes I even catch myself thinking that I don’t deserve to feel calm and content, because I didn’t do a certain thing. I feel my anxiety welling up and think, “Good. That’s what you get for fucking up today.” How sick is that? I am purposefully withholding happiness from myself as a punishment. It’s wild to realize the “self-love” I practice is so harsh and domineering. Often I’ll even beat myself up for beating myself up! It’s madness!

True self-love is gentle, kind, forgiving. It’s recognizing how far you’ve come. It’s acknowledging the things you’re still struggling with and being okay with that. Even though I still have things to work on, I am proud of myself for all the progress I’ve made. Before I wouldn’t have even had the mental clarity to recognize the ways I’m being too hard on myself. Instead of perpetuating that cycle with more self-criticism, I am excited to use all of the tools I’ve gathered over the years to show myself more loving kindness. When I notice a negative thought arise, instead of seeing it as a cue to become upset with myself, I can see it as a cue to be proud of myself for even noticing it at all. It’s a beautiful opportunity to practice softening, to practice opening my heart even wider. I am so grateful for the chance to keep growing in my journey toward peace, happiness, forgiveness, and love. I sincerely hope you will try to offer yourself that same grace on your own journey.

8 key signs that you are lacking in self-love - Life Coach Directory