“Do you ever find yourself watching an awful TV program, unable to turn it off? The raucous noises, explosions of gunfire, are upsetting. Yet you don’t get up and turn it off. Why do you torture yourself in this way?” -Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s a good question. I often wonder why I put my brain through the things I do. Sages throughout the centuries have told us that we have control over what we let into our hearts and minds, and this has a big impact on our happiness. But we don’t often listen. From Buddha to St. Paul to the Cherokee People, mystics have warned us that just as we are what we eat, we are what we think. We become what our mind focuses on. I use a Cherokee proverb called “The Two Wolves” and a simple activity to help guide my students and kids to a better understanding of the how we can transform ourselves based on the mind-diet we feed upon. Both are included below.
Which Wolf Will Win?
An old Cherokee chief was 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, self-doubt, and ego. The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This 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 chief simply replied, “The one I feed.”
In The Two Wolves Contemplation Activity, I ask my students to identify the positive and negative elements that are most prevalent inside them. It takes some honesty, but we all have them, whether it is pride, fear, or self-doubt; or, on the other side, love, generosity, and compassion. We all have our favorites, our bests and our worsts. For example, I know I’m a fairly kind person (most of the time), but I can get a little tight-fisted when it comes to sharing resources and my chips at a pot luck. I could benefit from a dose of generosity at times.
So the simple question is: how do we feed these elements in us, the best and the worst. If we know fear is a weakness, do we feed on it by watching horror films and neurotic news programs? Can we increase our mind-diet of healthy elements in order to shift the balance? If stinginess is a trait I see in myself, I can cultivate generosity by sharing my bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. The first self-help guru on record, the Buddha, recommended we cultivate the opposite of our weakness. If you’re full of anger, then you should practice loving-kindness–thinking kindly about the people in your life–in order to actively nurture your loving side. Another great mystic, St. Paul, said, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Don’t waste your brain on the other stuff.
Yes, we are what our minds and our souls eat. What are you feeding yours? Check out The Two Wolves Contemplation Activity.
And if you’re in the neighborhood. Stop by. I’ll share a chip with you.
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