"The wolf that wins is the one you feed"
The Cherokee Indian parable, Two Wolves, carries such an important message, that I wanted to share it with you!
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.”
He continued, “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.”
Two Wolves illustrate the most important battle of our lives – the battle between our good and bad thoughts. And, the thoughts you feed are the thoughts that win!
Our thoughts can be our own worst enemy!
It happens quickly. A thought pops into our head that gives us pause. We begin to spin a story. The story takes on a life of its own and before we know, we are spiraling out of control.
It may occur when we hear a piece of news. It may not be true or accurate, but we react anyway. We begin the spin. Without substantiating what we've heard, our mind quickly begins putting thoughts together, creating an emotional reaction somewhere in our body.
Before we know it, we have created an angry war in our minds, an emotional attack on ourselves and others, or a tale of fiction that causes us pain, guilt, and sadness.
It seems crazy how one thought can cause so much damage - but it can and it does!
Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, it is a fight to control the thoughts that are swirling in our heads. And, trying to replace them with positive thinking only seems to give the black wolf more power. The white wolf is in the fight, but there is too much negativity bouncing around to find a place to grab on.
The human mind is the battlefield!
Personally, the battle between the two wolves is something I know only too well. I can be thinking about how blessed and grateful I am and before I know it, my mind wanders to some past regret or present problem. That is about all it takes for the big black wolf to take over! At this point, the strength of my negative thoughts overcomes the peace that my white wolf was offering.
I have also had times when the only voice in my head was one of anger and resentment. The more I fed the negative stories, the more self-righteous I became. And, the more self-righteous I became, the more my thoughts became truth. I hurt myself, and I made it very difficult for others to want to be around me. I wanted to be angry, sad, hurt, and resentful. The white wolf didn't stand a chance.
I learned over time that the more I fed those feelings, the more the ugly black wolf reared his head. He was winning and I was losing. It was humbling to realize that I was allowing my thoughts to take over, causing me unnecessary guilt, pain, and sadness. Not to mention, all the lies that were fabricated from bits and pieces of stories.
It took time for me to begin making the shift, but eventually, I began feeding my mind with the gifts of the white wolf. I found that it was more important to be at peace than to wallow in unhealthy stories. I also discovered that once I began to make this change, I felt legitimately happier, more at peace with myself and others, making it easier for me to start setting healthier boundaries.
The struggle between the two wolves is always a part of me, but through a process called, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, I've made great strides in the battle.
Russ Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap, A guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), gives a thorough explanation on how to stop allowing our thoughts to control our thinking while helping us to understand how we are allowing them to affect us. Harris "created the term Defusion, to describe the ability to separate ourselves from our thoughts. On the contrary, Fusion means getting caught up in our thoughts and letting them direct our behavior."
When we get caught up in our thoughts
and allow them to direct our behavior,
we are fusing with those thoughts.
Harris says that "Most psychological approaches regard negative stories as a major problem and make a big fuss about trying to eliminate them." They may advise rewriting the story, creating distractions from the story, or simply pushing the story away. My personal favorite is, When given lemons, make lemonade. Every time I hear that expression I want to reply with, "Sometimes there is not enough sugar in the world to sweeten those lemons!"
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy takes a different approach. Negative stories are not seen as a problem in their own right. It's only when we "fuse" with them, when we react as if they were the truth and give them our full attention, that they become problematic.
The use of defusion allows us to stop taking our stories so seriously. Stop wasting our time and energy trying to fight them. In ACT we don't try to avoid or get rid of the story. We know how ineffective this is. Instead, we simply acknowledge: This is a story.
There are many techniques in the book to help begin the process, but they also caution that it takes time and practice. Acknowledging and accepting our negative thoughts, without continuing to allowing them to spiral us out of control, has not been our normal, so we must be patient with ourselves.
My daughter, Kelsey Barnum Bonilla, has written extensively about ACT at www.bestillandknow.com, This was back in the Spring of 2014 when she was going through a life transition. She refers to it as "Her Awakening."
She wrote a two-part blog regarding the effects of attempting to be in constant happiness:
She discovered that life isn’t about being happy all the time, but being present and content wherever you are in your life. Through ACT, Kelsey learned how to see her thoughts as just what they were – thoughts. She didn’t have to believe them or invest in them, she just needed to acknowledge their existence and move on. Nor, did she need to try to dismiss them, rewrite them, or sweeten them!
Through this process it allowed her to begin getting out of her head and into the present moment. And, it has made a huge difference in her life. I suggest you check out these two posts, as well as, several other posts on this topic, for her account on the use of ACT.
If the average person thinks 50,000 thoughts a day, it only makes sense that we get overwhelmed. We can’t escape our thoughts or emotions, but we can decide what we do in spite of them. Taming your Irrational black wolf makes room for your logical white wolf to be heard more clearly and honestly.
Imagine what would happen if we all stopped feeding the stories, the scenes, and the ugliness? What if we started allowing the thoughts that no longer serve us, to just be - without judging, analyzing, or denying?
What if we stopped feeding the black wolf inside of us? How would we feel? How would it change our lives?
The struggle between the big black wolf and the big white wolf is part of everyone's life, so don't feel alone. But, the good news is, it doesn't have to control our thinking, our behavior, or our relationships!