Which wolf do you feed?

Today is March 11 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “which wolf do you feed?” and involves the following Cherokee legend.


An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight, and it is 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 other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed. If you feed them right, they both win. You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy, and the white wolf is happy, and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking – that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all. You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

Today’s reflection focuses on the war of self-mastery going on inside most people. This internal struggle will determine how well you navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. You can decide to either feed one wolf, or both. Feeding both is the more difficult path to follow. As Buddhist peace advocate Daisaku Ikeda wrote the battle for self-mastery is key to establishing a strong identity. For people to stop warring with themselves they must "push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is, in the end, more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.” The opposing view is to acquiesce and give up on yourself. The nameless narrator of Dostoyevsky’s existentialist novel Notes from Underground suggests one to take solace in the realization you cannot change. At one point the narrator goes so far as to say that after struggling for years to overcome his own darker side, he came to rejoice in his own depravity because he saw it as inescapable.

Do you want to do the hard work required to push open the heavy door of self-mastery and feed both wolves or do you want to rejoice in your own inability to change? Self-mastery requires feeding both wolves and involves dealing with the entire range of your emotions from anger, envy, and self-pity (black wolf) to peace, love, and compassion (white wolf).

Which wolf do you feed?