Feeding the wolf

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.”

I first heard this  amazing legend from a dear friend and mentor, Britt Bensen-Steele.

Recently, because of some inner struggles my husband and I have (Grad school will do that to you), this story resurfaced in my life and seemed more relevant than ever.  I was particularly taken with how this story can pertain to emotional eating.

Just like in the story, my experience with emotional eating stems from something Ekhart Tolle refers to as the “pain body” (aka the negative wolf).  For some reason that wolf sometimes seems easier to feed.  Pain can be very seductive especially when it is wrapped in a package that looks like “I am a victim” or “why does this happen to me” or “I will never be good enough”.  Eating emotionally is a way that I’ve often fed that wolf.  It reinforces the pain because it gives me a momentary reprieve and a lasting shame.  It never satisfies anything but to fuel the fire of that voice saying “see, you messed up again”.

On the other hand, when I can pause, be mindful, and shift into the role of the observer I can see that there is no feeling and no situation that will be solved with food (or any other substance).  This is like feeding the positive wolf.  When I am gentle with myself, when I stay calm, when I reach out to give and receive love, I find serenity and trigger foods just don’t have the same allure.

When I am caught up and find myself longing for excess sugar I can stop myself and say ‘hey, what is going on here?”.  I don’t have to just go into the food on autopilot like I used to.  I can catch myself feeding the negative wolf earlier on than I did in the past, but it does take work.

A long time ago I heard somebody tell me that training the mind to be ‘mindful’ and shift into the observer role is a lot like training a puppy.  It constantly goes off course, wandering and searching for stimulation.  The solution is not to blame or punish the puppy (the mind).  It is just doing what it inherently does.  The solution is to kindly, patiently, gently call it back to course and let go of the attachment, knowing that it will stray again in 5 minutes.

Maybe it’s age, but more than ever I’m so curious about my own mind and where my thoughts come from.  I’m doing a lot of work on looking at the origins of my emotional eating (which is just a manifestation of deep anxiety).  It’s  fascinating, I tell you.  I had no idea how much I’ve fed the negative wolf and starved the positive wolf.  The greatest gift in this exploration has been in realizing that the deep, dark places I’ve been afraid of aren’t so dark at all.  Almost like the negative wolf’s bark has always been bigger than his bite but I was under an illusion.  So, for me, the positive wolf might have a softer voice but dang is she STRONG!!