I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”
As many of you know I have been studying much of the neuroscience that has come on stream in the last decade or so and especially how it can enhance our experience of the movement meditation practice. One of the interesting things I have found is how the brain is velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity. This basically means that we are so much more orientated towards the negative and it takes commitment, hard work and a willingness, to orientate towards the positive.
The oldest parts of our brains evolved when survival was the most important thing for our ancestors. When they had to be constantly on alert for danger whether it was in the environment or from other bands of hominids. Therefore the part of our brain that saw others as different from ourselves and to be feared was very well developed. Because of this, our inheritance is, that we are also hardwired for negativity. Although as humans we have the most advanced brain-the neocortex- in that we can imagine things being different, we can pause and notice our impulses. We can plan, pay attention, develop compassion and question our beliefs. In order to use this newest brain to our best advantage we have to own our propensity for negativity and its power to control us, and we need to pay mindful attention to the habits each and everyone of us has to feed the wolf of hate.
I think it is vital now that we each begin to take seriously our ways of feeding the wolf of love. In my mind with all the hate that seems to be circulating around the world at the moment we need to apply our imagination to changing this hardwiring in the same way that we need to take global warming seriously or our grandchildren may not be able to enjoy this beautiful world we live in.
I have always kept in mind Mahatma Gandhi’s saying that “whatever you do may seem insignificant , but it is important that you do it” especially when I feel helpless in the face of so much violence and pain in the world and I become convinced that the wolf of hate is running the show. Although it may seem very little in the big scheme of things, each time we pause, notice what we are doing, which wolf we are feeding (and this also includes hurting ourselves by our thoughts or actions ) we are making new neurological pathways in our brains and making a change in the world. Again to quote Gandhi “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
I do not believe any one can stand and act as if the wolf of love and the wolf of hate do not live inside each of us. We only have to take the time to look at the parts of ourselves that we project on to others, the parts we disown- the ways we speak about people; the ways we compare ourselves to others and either come up better or worse; the instant and sometimes wrong judgements we make and then operate out of; the ways we put ourselves down; the times we thing we have not enough and need …..when in actual fact we have more than enough; when we deem some people’s lives to be more important than others; when being different is about making the other wrong or less than, or not worthy of equality and on and on……
Some people seem to be feeding the wolf of hate to the point that they are obese with hate these days and thus justify every action they take as there is no room for doubt.
I really believe there is such a thing as “healthy doubt”. By this I mean taking a moment to really notice the direction I am heading. To become interested in what I am about to say or do and to have enough space between my actions to ask the question -Which wolf am I feeding?
This may seem like curtailing my spontaneity, but I don’t believe that. At first like the creation of any new habit it will seem odd, awkward and unfamiliar. Yet what we know about creating habits tells us that some day it will become the norm, the familiar. We will have learned to pay mindful attention to how we live and will be taking full mature responsibility for our action and speech and the consequences of them. We will be well on the road to feeding the wolf of love, of kindness, of justice, equality and true happiness.We will learn to use our great skill of empathy to feed compassion both for ourself and others. Right action can become more the norm and we will openly own when the wolf of hate, criticism, jealousy, fear is rearing its ugly head in our actions.
Maybe this may seem like utopia. Even so I believe if we do not strive for such life on this earth now we will be offering our beautiful earth and the great beauty of being human to the wolves of hate to eat and destroy. I do not want the latter part of my life to be oriented in that direction. I’d rather do insignificant things than do nothing, or say nothing.
I will end using the powerful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh-
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.