One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Whether or not it’s your first time hearing this story, it serves as an important reminder of the power we have over our experiences and emotions.
Imagine we have two “wolves” inside of us. The one we feed is the one that will be dominant in our life. When we feed the wolf of fear, the mind is consumed with danger and worry. We may feel overwhelmed by anxiety or sadness and paralyzed in life. When we feed the wolf of happiness and of well-being (santosha/contentment), we live in a place of ease, ready for what life offers. We are in the flow.
If accumulated stress has created a groove in your brain that feeds the wolf of fear, then it may be time to create a new groove for your brain's circuitry to follow.
When the wolf of fear is the deeper groove, the Inner Critic takes over our thinking. We get stuck in a rut. Anger, jealousy and anxiety can take over. It takes conscious effort to forge a new path and then deepen that path into a good rut, so that our brain feeds the good wolf.
Here’s what you can do to move toward feeding the good wolf:
• Start noticing which wolf is in charge.
• Then gently shift your focus to what your eyes see. Name a few things that you notice that are pleasing to your eyes.
• Notice what your body is feeling. Our body is a compass. It tells you how it feels about a situation if you will listen. When you feel relaxed, at ease, or energetic, you are feeding the wolf of happiness and well-being. Bring a sense of relaxation and ease into your body.
• Whenever your attention lands on something pleasing, describe it to yourself, as if you were telling someone who was fascinated by your perceptions.
• Allow a subtle shift of energy within, finding a focus of kindness, compassion or peace to fill you and create a sense of contentment.
• Breathe in and out slowly for a few cycles of breath.
These few simple steps can decrease fear thoughts saturating the mind with stress chemicals. The more often you engage these simple steps, your body enhances its capacity for well-being. Imagine your brain has grooves from past repeated thoughts. Remember, if you want to feed the good wolf, you must create new grooves for your brain to follow.
Create a ritual, or a time period in your day for feeding the wolf of well-being and contentment. When fear or anxiety start to take hold, see if you can shift your reaction to the situation. Observe the situation as if a third party. What advice would you give to a friend in your situation? See if that allows for a shift in perspective.
Take some slow deep breaths, journal, move your body. Whatever you need to do to discharge the energy created by the wolf of fear, and access your inner wolf of ease and happiness.
Sometimes we look to external objects to feed the wolf. We develop expectations that these things (a new job, a relationship, a lavish vacation, a brand new pair of shoes, a glass of wine, etc.) will finally make us feel the way we want to feel. And while this may bring momentary gratification, it isn’t realistic to maintain this long-term. Instead focus on activities, hobbies or work that allows you to create more times of being in the flow. Flow represents the times in life where you are so enjoyably lost or absorbed by what you are doing that time flies by. Find a way to incorporate more flow in your life. This way you can feed the good wolf from within, instead of looking externally. True lasting happiness comes from making an active choice to be happy, rather than depending on external things to make you happy.
You already have the tools you need to be content. You are whole as you are, right now. The feeling and experience of happiness comes from regularly feeding the good wolf. As the good wolf’s groove in your brain becomes deeper, you will be better able to handle life’s challenges from a place of peace. If you choose to feed only the good wolf, then that is the wolf that will win.
And best of all, when you apply these strategies, the only side effect is more relaxation, happiness and contentment, and less anxiety, anger and fear.