A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about.  He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his own heart.  One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind.  The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart.  And the grandfather answered, “The one that I choose to feed.”

I think this is the spiritual work for all of us, the challenge for me, anyway.  So many of my reactions are automatic and cause me to unwittingly feed the wrong wolf.  Just last week, I made a commitment to myself to not respond in the same predictable ways with my boundary pushing-prone 17-year-old son…to pause before engaging with him in any ‘discussion’ about consequences, truth-telling, accountability.  Yet it was only minutes later that there I was, at it again.  Quick with a comeback,  not fully engaged in listening in a way that invites conversation, having already made up my mind, keeping us stuck in a loop of frustrating dialogue.

It just reminds me of the vigilance required to notice which wolf I am feeding in the first place.  As Budddhist nun Pema Chodron points out in her book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears: “The first step in this learning process is to be honest with ourselves.  Most of us have gotten so good at empowering our negativity and insisting on our rightness that the angry wolf gets shinier and shinier, and the other wolf is just there with its pleading eyes.  When we’re feeling resentment or any strong emotion, we can recognize that we are getting worked up, and realize that right now we can consciously make the choice to be aggressive or to cool off”.

Pause, pause, pause.  Just the slightest turn towards remembering myself, a hiccup really, brings my reflexive thoughts, feelings, and actions briefly into clear focus; it reminds me I am the one doing the thinking, feeling, and acting . From there, I’m in a better place to choose.  A sense of humor is vital, the journey really impossible without it; with myself and others.  Taking yourself too seriously on the spiritual ascent is deadly, killing both the spiritual and the ascent!  Realizing that the pull to be busy in a thousand different ways is really just a distraction that gets me caught up again.  Recognizing how I get twisted up in my own story, some crazy yarn being fabricated out there in the recesses of my mind.

Potent fantasy most often, that’s what’s usually going on in my private movie while these two howling hounds are duking it out for primacy.  Ruminating about what she’s going to do, about what he’s thinking, about what’s going to happen to me next week, next month, next year. Taking things personally as if that were ever really true, especially seeing as everybody is busily building their own twisted tale of good and evil, villian and victim.  I can choose to say “No thank you” when someone pours me their ‘poison’ and asks me to drink.

Instead the low growls and the sharp bites of a fearful wolf; I can pick the wolf of warmth.  I can welcome a stranger or one estranged from me back into the pack.  I can howl at the moon in search of company.  And I can lick my wounds, trusting that healing will follow.

If I can do this for a few moments today and today and today, there will be more peace. 



We all like to hear stories about how two people met.  We listen around the dinner table or watch on the big screen movies like “How Harry met Sally” and it makes us feel good, comforted in the way that only something life affirming can do.  We are reminded too of our own stories of “coincidence”, chance encounters when we met our love of 50 years, or our oldest and dearest friends, or those whose time with us was short but whose impact on our lives was great.  These are our own anam cara, our soul friends. 

In the Celtic tradition, this is the beautiful notion of divinely bestowed love and friendship.  It is the idea of soul-love.  An old Gaelic term, anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend.  In the early Celtic church, it originally referred to someone who you revealed the hidden intimacies of your life.  With the anam cara, you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart.  

Celtic wisdom deems that you cannot manufacture or achieve this kind of love or friendship by a sheer act of the will or even by intention. It is simply the act of recognition

Whether it be a meeting on the street or a banal introduction, there is a flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow.  There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient belonging.  The Celts believe this to be an eternal connection. 

Ancient Irish lore metaphorically speaks of anam caras rising from the same pre-historic clay.  The clay shapes, once part of a whole were separated, lost in the creation of the world, and are searching for their related pieces. The allegory pointing to a larger reality, a conscious break from the overly-analytical nature prevalent in today’s world and an entering into the realm of mystery.     

The recent resurgence of Celtic spirituality reflects this growing ache for more sublime, more Real (with a capital R) notions of intimacy and relationship than our current neon culture provides.  Everybody, it seems, is always talking incessantly about relationships.  Even Yahoo has a category for relationships on its home page, as if you could get your fix alongside the weather report and the latest entertainment news.  All this overcooked verbage that ladens the media gives an illusion that even love is a consumer item, something that can be acquired.  

The temptation is to be more concerned with what you have and who you should be and who you should be with. It often overshadows the more important how you should be.  The stance of open-hearted faith and gentleness that opens the door to real intimacy which at its best is a sacred experience.  You must be ready to receive it.

In everyone’s life, there is  a great need for an anam cara.  In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension.  A precious understanding dawns so that you feel really understood. You feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.  As Pablo Neruda perfectly describes, “You are like nobody since I love you”.  

John O’Donohue asserts the grace of an anam cara: “The greatest gift new love brings into your life is the awakening to the hidden love within.  This make you independent.  You are now able to come close to the other, not out of need or with the wearying apparatus of projection, but out of genuine intimacy, affinity, and belonging.  It is a freedom.  Love should make you free.  You become free of the hungry, blistering need with which you continually reach out to scrape affirmation, respect, and significance for yourself from things and people outside yourself.  To be holy is to come home, to be able to rest in the house of belonging that we call the soul“.

You do not have to DO anything.  You just have to BE ready.