Sunday, April 10, 2011

Which Wolf are You going to Feed?

The last posts have been about acknowledging and honoring our feelings rather than denying them or repressing them. But some people have no problem identifying their feelings. On the contrary, as one commenter shared, their feelings are front and center, out of control, buffeting, raging, exhausting. How do we honor our feelings and at the same time not be at their mercy? I hope that as we focus on Step 4 this month, we can find a middle way, a way of modulating our feelings to support our emotional balance.

The story is told of a boy who was angry and upset, and went to his Native American grandfather for advice. The grandfather told him, “I have two wolves inside my heart. One of them is kind and understanding. He lives in harmony and peace. The other wolf is vengeful and cruel. He rages, but his anger changes nothing. The two wolves fight inside me to see which is more powerful.”

The boy asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. The grandfather responded, “The one I feed.”

I read that the life span of any emotion is 1 ½ minutes. After that, we need to give it more energy to keep it going. We need to feed it. We feed an emotion by attaching to it, telling ourselves stories about it, playing out scenarios based on it, nourishing it with our attention. (This gives “nursing a grudge” a whole new meaning.)

We can choose not to feed feelings that create separation and hostility. Pema Chodron tells a story from The Search for a Nonviolent Future by Michael Nagler, about a Jewish couple, Michael and Julie Weisser, who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. They began to get threatening phone calls from the Ku Klux Klan. The caller would threaten to kill them, destroy their property, and harm their friends. They must have felt afraid, and probably angry.

The Weissers eventually figured out that the caller was Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the Klan in that town. They knew that Larry was in a wheelchair and had a hard time getting around. During one venomous tirade, Michael spontaneously offered to give Larry a ride to the grocery store. Silence on the other end. Then Larry thanked them. They began to call him to offer whatever kind of help he needed. They brought him a home-cooked dinner. Finally, one day Larry took off his Nazi ring and severed his connection to the Klan.

The Weissers understood that behind every act of cruelty, there is always fear. They chose to feed the wolf of forgiveness and compassion. When we feel a strong emotion based on fear – hatred, anger, vengeance – we can remind ourselves that it will pass quickly if we don’t nourish it. We can pause and choose wisely which wolf to feed.


  1. This is very inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Galen: Great post. I don't think I ever heard the "wolf" story, and I am into Native American folklore. Thanks!

  3. Well, I can't understand how you haven´t still received any comment to such interesting topic!

    It's been great navigating through your Blog and I'll keep on visiting it daily.

    Thanks for sharing. If I had to choose one feeling, I would say "Give up the delusion of control", since I am currently thinking of leaving it all and starting a new life abroad but don´t have the guts to do so...

    Kind regards,


  4. I love this. Every chance I get to read your posts (which unfortunately isn't always), I'm inspired and your words provide such a wonderful message.

    "...which wolf would win the fight in his heart. The grandfather responded, “The one I feed.”

    This is so true. Thank you.

  5. Galen -
    I love this story. By stopping and being deliberate in our response we can change the heart of another and our own hearts. Thanks for sharing this! Godspeed, Elizabeth

  6. I like this metaphorical way of thinking about the positive/negative emotions. Using the "pause" button is most important in my case. I'm smart. I can do plenty of damage I will later regret in well under a minute and a half, using well-chosen words under misguided intent. Fortunately I have learned that the wolves in me, like any animal, can be socialized. They remain wolves, but become manageable.

  7. Oh your post really hits at the center of things...this is one that needs/begs for reflection...I too have this wolf that creeps up every once in a while each month that really requires so much of my attention to keep at bay....feed it love.....that is all we can all other things become infectious to others ......I am always learning everyday to take nourshing things from my cupboards (real and from life).....step by step we learn... ;)

  8. I was raised by a woman who could nurse a grudge like no one I've ever known. I watched it cause her a lifetime of grief and disassociation from others. She used to deride me for letting things roll "like water off a duck's back" because she thought that anything less than her stubborn and prideful behaviour showed a lack of character. I was a rebellious daughter though, and intentionally set out to be the opposite of my mother. Perhaps though, I've gone too far in the other direction and need to give my emotions a bit more acknowledgement. always make me think!

  9. Beliza--Thanks for your comment.

    JJ--I first ran across that story in a book by Pema Chodron. Then I googled it and found several versions of it.

    Antonio--Welcome! Thanks for following and thanks for your comment. Control is a big issue for me, too. You might want to go back and look at posts from March. Step 3 was the focus of most of the posts last month. Would love to hear more about your plans to start over somewhere different. Good luck!

    Haven--Thank you so much for your comment. Always glad when you stop by.

    Elizabeth--Your comment highlights how much power we have to change ourselves, and maybe others, too. Thank you.

    Mikey--Yes, our words are incredibly powerful. I heard a sermon once about "speaking the blessing." It was about using our words to bless others through words that encourage, support, build up, love, forgive, sympathize, appreciate, etc. As you note, we can just as quickly speak a curse and do so much damage. Thanks for your comment.

    Karen--Step by step. That is so true for me. Each day, each moment, is a fresh start. Thanks for commenting.

    Kara--Thank you for sharing the story about your mom. How sad. I saw some of that in my mom, too. The opposite could be denying or refusing to acknowledge your feelings. Or the opposite could be feeding the other wolf. That is, feeding feelings that connect us to others, to our higher selves, to God. Thank you so much for commenting.

  10. Hi Galen,
    I agree that the wolf we feed wins. But its hard to feed that one because the bad wolf seems to be much stronger and fights for the food :-)

    Also, about the story...I am not sure how many people would actually respond the way Larry did. So it is kind of difficult to feed the good wolf in such cases.

  11. Aneri--I agree. Not many people would respond the way Larry did. It is pretty amazing that Larry was able to decide to feed a different wolf. So the question for us is--can we choose to feed the wolf of peace even with others continue to feed the wolf of war?

  12. Galen, I can always count on you for feeding my soul! I had never heard the "Wolf Story" but must confess I find it completely true and compelling! LOVED THIS POST!

  13. Such a fine post and so well written - thank you.
    I have been going into my suffering right now and exploring how to let go of the story which is producing so many feelings for me. Working on being accountable and responsible, but needing to change the story and actively move away from the fear.
    Having a bit of sunshine this weekend and now today - is helping.
    I just heard NY Times columnist David Brooks say that the Greeks felt we needed to "suffer our way to wisdom." I wonder if that is part of my process. A shaman once told me I seem to always need to be stung by the bee to move forward...
    Fasting is not feeding either - but that and yoga certainly enable feelings to come up.
    Thanks for you good sharing.

  14. Galen I just wrote a long reply to your request on the first post in this series - it disappeared.

    I will try to come back after my meeting and write it again...sorry. I did see what you asked, but was not allowed to send my words your way :)

  15. Mitzi--Thank you for your comment. Like the feeding soul reference!

    Patricia--I prefer the Buddhist perspective to the Greeks. Pain is inevitable...suffering is optional! Not sure what happened to your other comment. Hope you will try to post it again!

  16. Oh Galen....yet another great lesson you have shared with us. I, too, agree with the Buddhist perspective....I spent a lot of my life the other way...and am much happier now that I don't seem to "suffer" as much.


  17. Every time I make the time to read what you have written I come away bowled over. "Behind every cruelty is fear" ...such a basic and absolute truth. You say so much in a short post.

    I have added you to my Blogroll...something I should have done months ago.

  18. My gosh, what inspirational stories!

    I always fins something enlightening when I visit your blog.

    FYI- The Blogging Buddies have grown so much, I started a social networking site today. It's still being built, but you can set up a profile page and add your blog link. I would love to have you drop in!

    Have a wonderful evening!

    Come on home - mom blog
    Working at home advice

  19. Jo--Thanks for your comment. Once we can catch ourselves we can significantly ease our suffering, just as you say.

    Bob--Well, you bowled me over with your kind words, so we're even! Thank you so much!

    Carolee--I would love to be included. Thank you!

  20. Hi Galen!

    Well, you visited my Blog and asked for where I came from. I am from Spain and currently living in Madrid (Spain), though have some friends in France, main reason why my Blog has lots of comments in that language.

    Kind regards,


  21. How wonderful that I find my way to your site Galen! A very touching and lovely story, thank you for sharing.

    Personally, I'm not keen on the use of wolves to define my inner beings. I prefer to use tigers (as I'm a Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac) to illustrate the wrath of my anger, or the calm and nurturing of my peace. Whichever I feed becomes more prominent. Not dominant, but prominent.

    I'm looking forward to reading more Galen :-)

  22. Antonio--Thanks for the additional info. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

    Stuart--Interesting how we are drawn to different animals. I have always identified with wolves myself, so what a coincidence that the story is told using wolves. I think many animals would work just as well, certainly including tigers. Speaking of tigers, I just watched the movie Two Brothers, about two tiger cubs who are separated and find each other again. Lovely movie.

  23. The story is a great reminder for me in nurturing healthy and loving thoughts and emotions. Your sharing of "the life span of any emotion is 1 ½ minutes" is very interesting to me. It shows that we need alertness in order to stop ourselves from feeding the negative emotion with more energy. Out of ingrained habit, we are likely to follow up on the 1 ½ minute with more of the same energetic quality.

  24. Evelyn--You bring up a very important link between our thought habits and feeding negative emotions. I'm going to write more about that soon. Thank you for your comment.

  25. Hi Galen,

    Great stories you have shared. They do drive home the point that our emotions depend on us to nourish them. I especially like the Native American story! There is so much wisdom in these stories but I don't really get to hear or read about them often.

    Fear is a dangerous emotion. Without stopping to think and reflect, we can do many irrational things because of it. I believe that it is important to constantly nourish our minds with wisdom through books or other mediums, on how to manage fear and the negative emotions it triggers. When we do this, it becomes easier for us to avoid feeding fear based emotions.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  26. Irving--I heard a speaker say last night that fear and faith go together, rather than being incompatible. She had a different perspective on fear than you and I do. It was interesting and I will write more about that soon. Like you, though, I believe that fear cuts us off from our awareness of our basic goodness. Thanks for your comment.

  27. Fear and faith go together? That's an interesting idea. Looking forward to your write up on it. :)


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