There is a fable that goes something like this: A young boy shared with his grandfather that he was angry with a friend. The grandfather told him that there are two wolves inside each of us fighting for control. One is angry, greedy, selfish, and sees itself as separate from the rest of the world. The other is compassionate, kind, empathetic, and knows that everything is connected and so acts accordingly. The young boy thinks about this for a minute and then asks which wolf will win. The grandfather answers, “The one you feed.” (1)
It’s About Micro-Steps
When I first heard the story I thought it was a fairly straightforward idea of choosing right from wrong in a big arena. Don’t lie; don’t cheat; don’t steal. And of course it works on that level. But over time I have realized that it is more subtle than that. On a daily basis we can put practices in place that feed the compassionate wolf. One example is consciously letting go of judgement when others don’t act or respond to things the way we do. We can remind ourselves that there is probably a whole backstory of why they are responding differently. This seems simple enough in writing, but it can be a challenge to practice on a consistent basis. Practicing means we set an intention and catch ourselves when we slip into judgement. It’s not always easy but it starts with intentionality.
Any of the qualities of the good wolf can be thought of as tiny micro-steps. If we want to nurture kindness, we make eye contact with the grocery store bagger and give a sincere thank you. We can acknowledge people on the street who are asking for money even if we don’t have any money to give. We can we also be kind to ourselves, recognizing when we need a break or are engaging in negative self-talk. Kindness, like compassion, might seem easy on paper, but requires intention to practice.
The meaning of the fable has changed for me over time. The big choices in life are still important, but the moment to moment intentional feeding of the good wolf is what is required. The mindfulness focus for the week is paying attention to which wolf we are feeding.
For more information on mindfulness focus words click here.
(1)I first heard this fable from Grand Master Samuel Copeland during a Gung Fu class. There are various versions on the internet. Click Here for one of them.