I heard a spiritual teacher once say something very encouraging– in reference to the Native American story that you’ve likely already heard – about the white wolf and the dark wolf inside of us. Here is the story for quick review if you’ve never heard it:
A 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.” 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.”
The encouragement from the spiritual teacher is that –well, first of all my own observation. I see the dark wolf in myself and of course in others; but seeing it in my self is the most painful and disheartening. It is dispiriting to see others feeding the dark wolf also; and it is for these who have no knowledge of their actions whatsoever that can evoke greatest compassion. And I say this without a grain of self-righteousness being intended.
I recognize in my past the states of being totally asleep as to which wolf was being fed (to continue with the Native American teaching example)—not to mention knowing that there were two wolves in the first place! Ignorance is bliss only temporarily for eventually awakening (whether in this lifetime or the next) awakening is bound to eventually occur.
And when that awakening does begin to happen one can be filled with great regret—we see unflattering and embarrassing things about ourselves then and that usually happens at 2 am or throughout half the night! It all bubbles up and there are, at least in my own experience, cycles or layers of time between these realizations about how the dark wolf was fed—sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. The light shines upon our awareness and what we were not conscious of or about (because we were busy feeding the wrong wolf) suddenly comes squarely before us. We don’t want to look because it is painful.
And sometimes this is where people turn to anything to rid themselves of the pain of sorrow or regret over their mistakes. Who knows how long this process takes—lifetimes maybe, who knows? But when we get to the point where we have to acknowledge the two truths, the two wolves, that is when we become awakened or fully conscious of ego and how it operates.
However, even when we ‘are’ conscious and aware of feeding the wrong wolf, there is a period in which we cannot seem to stop ourselves—due to habit (brain patterns/proclivities), prior soul wounds, due to the wiring of our psyche for whatever reason, even when we are conscious that we are doing it and we know we are feeding the wrong wolf we do it anyway!
Now what? I see this in my self. I am conscious that the wound has taken over (again) and aware that I am reacting in the old patterned ways which, after all, are only for the purpose of wanting to avoid pain and I see myself doing it anyway! This is called, in some circles, responding in a patterned way to the trigger!
But now the difference is that we are aware we are doing it and that awareness is 99.999% of the battle that the spiritual warrior fights. The encouraging news from the spiritual teacher is that success is guaranteed once awareness occurs. And if you think about it, that makes sense. Once you know—you know and can no longer ‘not know’. Once you are conscious, you are conscious and can no longer ‘not be conscious’. Oh yeah, we can try and that’s called denial but in the end we become conscious of that too—it just causes more pain.
Again, what do we do? One thing is that this can bring us into great feelings of compassion for ourselves and for others and the general human condition. We can see in others the struggle they are suffering through because we are currently or have been in that same struggle. For those who have no level of consciousness about feeding any wolf at all (totally asleep)—and these are often (but not always) the folks that seem to trigger us in the first place—we can have great compassion for them but first we must create that compassion for our own self. (Both at the same time really in many cases I think.)
What I do is go quiet when triggered and since I’ve moved closer to family and since financial demands have been greater all with impositions on time and energy (well, who amongst us does NOT have concerns like these?)—however, the point being that I’ve been triggered every which way but loose and old ghosts of the past are knocking at the door asking to be fed again! Each one wanting, no demanding, something different—in moments it becomes overwhelming. And I’ve had to watch myself dealing with the two wolves—some days more successfully than others; yet always aware.
And again that’s the good news—once we are aware we are guaranteed success but then the success becomes challenged again over and over. More good news is that we can relax about that too once we know it is simply life and impermanent and always changing! Like my mother’s wisdom goes: Hang in there, it won’t last. I add, hang in there and remain aware, conscious. Don’t let the dark wolf take over completely by going into denial because eventually that, too, will need to be brought to the light of consciousness and again usually at 2 or 3 in the morning!
So often I think of the people of Tibet and the Dalai Lama and that suffering and the example of the refusal to feed the dark wolf that His Holiness has demonstrated and how much discipline, courage and compassion this required of him individually. Yesterday was human rights day 2012 and still Tibet is not free; it is heartbreaking if we let our mind take us there… and to be more like the Dalai Lama in the face of that the Chinese takeover that his country suffered… well, he continues to be the example for me. The Buddhists train themselves purposefully to handle intense fear and to handle death by contemplating both. I sometimes think of the charnel training that some developing monks are sent by their teachers to do.
I’ve read about this numerous times and heard it referred to in documentaries and so my sensitivity to this is not as strong as it is would be if I were hearing about this the first time. So this may be a bit shocking to the reader who does not know of this. That high in the Himalayas the ground is often too frozen to have an actual ground burial when someone dies and burning bodies is not practical because of the situation with trees. Therefore, the way that the bodies are dealt with after death involve feeding them to the vulcher birds and wild animals after the charnel ground workers chop up the bodies. The charnel ground is much like a very exposed grave yard and to be there at all one is to face great fear from many levels as you can imagine (body parts everywhere and all that) but to be there at night… the monks send the students there to learn to deal with highly intense emotion using various tools of the mind. Sometimes I wonder if this is why folks get themselves so attracted to graveyard ghost chasing experiences and freakish paranormal phenomenon fascinations and magnetisms. I wonder if they are not trying to induce their own somewhat milder charnel ground experience in order to teach themselves to remain calm during intense situations—or some degree of this somehow. I don’t know. Probably some of that is dark wolf stuff too; we shouldn’t make a blanket statement there.
I’ve heard it said that everyone is (in some way) is either trying to avoid pain or induce pleasure. I’d like to think we’re a bit more sophisticated than that; but perhaps not. Life is sometimes pleasurable and sometimes painful all on its own. The question is can we be with it either way without fanning either flame or feeding either wolf? Can we just sit with that—can we sit with whatever it is that comes up in the charnel ground of life even though the whole time we hear the calls of the hungry dark wolf? He will quiet down and wander off if we just give it a little time—or so that has been my experience.
I think to withdraw and not react for a while until you know how you want to react even if it takes months to make peace with it all—a better alternative than its opposite. Then, of course, we see how life is such a balance of up’s and down’s and irritations and joys and we don’t need to necessarily over-react to any of it. But if we do over react and are aware we are doing so… the bottom line encouragement is to take heart because once the awareness is there, the good quality we want to substitute will eventually take hold. Will we ever stop being triggered? Probably best to expect that we always will be but our response to the trigger, with enough charnel ground practice, will be something we are less attached to. And then I think too we can trust our response by not labeling it good or bad; we can say that we are acting consciously and in the end maybe that is the best any of us can do. And that’s staying awake. Being too strict with ourselves or too forgiving with ourselves–neither one is favorable as Buddha taught. The middle path is best. We have to love both wolves but not let either take over!
My own intuition was working as a guide last night when after doing yoga stretches on the floor and being at eye level with the bottom bookshelf (a row of Buddhists books), I noticed a strong attraction to one of the books. I looked at it for a long time just allowing myself to be sure of the pull from the book; my eyes just kept going back to it in my post-yoga relaxation phase. Without my glasses on, I could not see the title. I took it off the shelf, retrieved my glasses to find that the name of the book is The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way – Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika (yes, the last word is really that long and when pronounced is very beautiful IMHO). I’m reading some other books and doing my own writing, but there’s something in this book I’m about to revisit!