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. 


Hot Season

There are times when the sun is shining and there are grateful breezes, yet the soul is suffering a hot season.  A sticky, humid sadness rises relentlessly to the surface and the human instinct is to turn away.  Even for me, one who has been preaching about holding and accepting the whole catastrophe of life for a long time now, whether it be the cool peace of good fortune or the disorienting blows of inevitable loss and change, I too am often caught by surprise. 

How prepared are any of us when a loved one dies, a child gets sick, a relationship ends, or we face our own mortality? Would anyone ever want to enter willingly into these spiritual deserts?  At first, our psyche gives us the anesthetic of denial.  Running is usually involved in this, either literally or figuratively, and can include drinking, eating, shopping, sleeping, or any other number of means of escape. The sense of needing to flee is intense.  But all matter of not looking at reality, no matter how effective, are temporary salves,  just shock absorbers.  Sooner or later, we need to become ready, to the best of our ability, to sit with those feelings that seem too hot to hold. 

This is the well-worn course to weather difficult times. Some Buddhists call this “relaxing with what is”, allowing pain, grief, and sadness an open vessel (us) to have their way sort of speak.  We learn to inquire into those emotions, describing what they feel like in the body, in a detached a way as possible.  Feeling our feelings, but not judging them. Allowing space for all sorts of internal experiences to be here, now.  I mean they’re here anyhow. If tears come, let them. Panic arises, we stay with it… spiritual warriors present to the storm.  Not trying to do away with any of it, not forcing our pain to pass quickly. We can continue to attempt to skip the process, but areas of our lives which we avoid have an uncanny way of repeating themselves in different guises until we learn.  We are beginning to discover a way to walk barefoot on the burning sand paths of our life’s journey.

 I say beginning, because each new day, every present moment is a chance to practice.  We may still run to our chosen addictions, from time to time, but we are more aware of what we are doing.  We are more able to be comfortable in our discomfort, to allow for ambiguity without immediately seeking resolution.   

Book of the Day When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron 

Quote from The Book of the Day: “When we have reminders of death, we panic. It isn’t just that we cut our finger, blood begins to flow, and we put on a Band-Aid.  We add something extra-our style.  Some of us just sit there stoically and bleed all over our clothes. Some of us get hysterical; we don’t just get a Band-Aid, we call the ambulance and go to the hospital.  Some of us put on designer Band-Aids.  But whatever our style is, it’s not simple.  It’s not bare bones.”

“Can’t we just return to the bare bones?  Can’t we just come back?  That’s the beginning of the beginning… Come back to square one, just the minimum bare bones.  Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time- that is the basic message.”