Spirituality as Choice

Variations on a Native American story are making the internet rounds again, the latest for me paraphrased from a book by Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap (Shambhala Books, 2009). A boy asks his grandfather (after 9-11),”How can there be such evil in the world?”

His grandfather explains that each of us has two wolves struggling inside him. One is filled with anger, greed, self-pity, envy, arrogance, ego and false pride. The other is full of understanding and compassion, holding caring, kindness, joy, peace, hope and serenity.

The boy than asks, “which wolf will win?” The old man replies, “which ever one we feed the most.”

And this is the sort of question I ask myself, “Which one am I now feeding?” Frankly, I don’t remember to ask it often enough. Perhaps this is what a spiritual or moral path is: knowing to ask the question as well as how to answer it.

The practice comes up most often in responding to not-so-important details in my life. Driving in traffic is a common one. I am quite aware of how inconsiderate and unconscious other drivers can be. There is nothing like feeling in the right, to encourage me to feed the angry wolf. It is not that the anger arises; that is natural. It is my feeding it or not that defines the spiritual choice.

The other day, remembering this as I was stuck behind two, double parked trucks blocking the road, I was able to return to attending my breath, releasing the energy caught in frustrated anger. It helped to recognize there was nothing I could really do but wait. And you know what, realizing that, letting go of my breath, it was over fairly quickly. What is more, it felt much quicker than it would have, had I fed my anger.

So, do you consciously make such choices? What things helps or hinders you do so?

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9 Responses to Spirituality as Choice

  1. Lindell Bruce says:

    Thanks Dave. I look forward to following your blog. Today’s piece, on feeding the two wolves in our being, is beautiful and powerful. In this present moment, I find myself attending to my breath, noticing the tightness from fear and worry, and letting it go. In addition to my angry wolf, I also have a scairdy wolf. I like to think that I’m noticing who’s getting fed, then breathing away from the scairdy wolf and the angry wolf and breathing into the beautiful, compassionate, courageous wolf. Again, thanks. It occurs to me that all dogs, such lovely creatures, evolved from wolves, all because people nurtured the kinder, more docile wolves.

    • Interesting points. The story, of course, is in essence the ‘good’ wolf or the ‘bad’ wolf, when, as you point out, there are many choices. Becoming more conscious of our values, when different wolves appear we can then consciously choose which to feed.

      • Vivien Henderson says:

        Dave, i really appreciated the story about the two wolves. Back in 1996 i think it was, I was preparing a workshop on awareness. i found myself thinking the following (and i am sure my thoughts are not original, but they were to me at the time) I think as a baby, we are born with total awareness of ‘all’. With the culturalization process we develop defenses which cut us off from that originl state of ‘all’ awareness. it seems that it takes some incident to occur which triggers off a journey to reconnect once more with that inner aspect ofourselves. That journey is undoing the defenses we spent our entire lives developing and learning to be ‘in touch’ once again with all that is – this for me is the journey ‘home.’ Throughout my life I have always been aware of being on a path which from time to time I have wandered off to look at ‘the daisies’ but always return to that path. one central tenet of knowing if I am on that path or not these days is to do with being happy and joyful, if i am not, i know that i have stepped off the path again and attend to what I need to do to return to the path once more.

  2. ofra faiman says:

    Thank you Dave, your words fall upon open ears here.
    You mentioned Pema Chodron. I often like to quote her saying :” Pain is inevitable Suffering is optional”. which I do remind myself at painful moments , and there are plenty of them through life.
    It is our choice to let it affect us and our attitude or to simply ( yes, simple?) look at it , be with it , observe it and know it. I also think it is my being there with the other , when in pain , help the other look at it , be in it , know it – is the best kind of help I can offer.
    Ofra

    • Wise words. The phrase that ‘pain is inevitable, suffering optional’ is one I came to a number of years ago, unawares of her writing. I think it clarifies a confusion I have felt in Buddhist writings. That will be the focus of another blog, another day. I don’t mind repeating things when they important enough to be useful. Thanks.

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    • After checking your web site, I can understand your wanting to connect to my posting, but it would have been more useful to have stated something brief suggesting that connection.

  4. Robert Kane says:

    Hi Dave! This is a great subject. I consider myself to be very spiritual, as opposed to being very religious. Along with that, I have certain core spiritual beliefs and values that I try to live by. Of course, it’s very easy to be a “fair weather spiritual person.” When all is going well, my beliefs or values are never challenged. It’s when life presents real challenges that I feel “tested.” I am always astonished and inspired by people whose stories I hear and see in the news – for example, someone who has lost someone that they loved very deeply to a horrific crime – murder, etc. And yet, they are able to forgive the person who took their loved one’s life away. They are able to let go of the anger and move on (the pain of course will last throughout their life). I can only hope that if I ever have to deal with such a situation, that, after going through the various stages of grief, I too can come to a place of such grace.

    • Thanks for your comments. Forgiveness and letting go will be another topic, but ultimately are also tied into making a choice. When “righteousness” comes up, or justified rage I find it particularly difficult to chose not to feed that, but instead focus on compassion. It is the deeper challenges to our spiritual choices that help define who we are becoming rather than pronouncements made in discourse.

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