Written by: Valerie D'Ambrosio
‘One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on within people. He said, “My Son, the battle is between two wolves inside of us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
“The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The Grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The Old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”’
I called on a friend and asked him to help me process something I’d been thinking about, perhaps a bit too much. We met for coffee and he graciously gave me the space to talk through my circumstances and feelings with him before we headed to a yoga class together. He listened attentively as I expressed and unleashed my raw emotions. His accepting presence helped me feel seen, validated, and held.
As soon as I landed on my yoga mat, it was as if Pandora’s Box had burst open and a plethora of critical thoughts came flooding back in into my mind. They were common thoughts, ones that frequently visit me when I allow myself to be so emotional and vulnerable. Feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety came into my experience while I was trying to practice. I was not present on my mat; I just couldn’t seem to let go and ground into my practice. I felt a physical constriction in my breath.
When I reflect on this pattern of feeling like I’m an overbearing person, and then beating myself up for it, I see that it is an attempt by my ego to feed a deep core wound. After reflecting on this for a while now, here’s what I would like to share with you:
The Ego is not the devil that we so often make it out to be; it is a part of us that we can learn to use. When we are operating with a healthy ego, we have the ability to discern when our limiting beliefs or core wounds are stealing the limelight in a survival attempt. From there we can respond consciously, confidently, and humbly. The Ego has the capacity to become a confidante, supporting us through times of dismay and uncertainty if we learn to step outside of our internal dramas.
The notion that judgment is an “either-or” proposition limits our thinking, and from this limited thinking we judge and assign labels to ourselves and others. These are the moments where we choose to feed a wolf; we are being “good” or “bad.” But what if we were to move beyond the duality of some thing, feeling, or situation, and instead practice accepting that which is? From that place, we find an opportunity to be like the grandfather, simply choosing not to feed either wolf. Greater acceptance creates space for more freedom and peace in our lives. Awareness is the first step, so becoming aware of our feelings and our thoughts will move us in a direction that may reveal a new way of being.
In the past, I would have fed the wolf that says “You’re just too much, Val,” and then apologized profusely for the way I unloaded on my friend. I would have continued to hold onto those feeling for hours, perhaps even days afterwards, and begun questioning other choices I had made too. I would have stifled other feelings I had about anything positive in order to punish myself for being overwhelming, continuing to beat myself up until being reassured by somebody else that I am okay just the way I am.
I recognize that contracting, withholding, and berating myself are ways that my Ego learned to survive. In the past, holding it all in was what my Ego had perceived as success. My Ego was denouncing my expressive self in an attempt to protect me.
I had an hour in class to witness and be with those thoughts and feelings. Instead of feeding them, I chose to watch them and extend kindness. I internally voiced compassion and understanding toward those feelings.
Extending acknowledgment and validation to negative feelings is not something many of us are taught to do. As a coach, I work with clients who are often baffled by this idea. “Extending kindness to my anger? What does that even mean?” they ask.
I have been establishing a different dialogue with myself over the years. Sometimes I remember to check myself, and other times I go on auto-pilot and fall down the rabbit hole of self-criticism and self-sabotage. I look at learning a new tool as trying a new article of clothing you may not be used to wearing. It may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, but eventually over time, it begins to feel second nature.
My inner dialogue that day went something like this: “I hear you… it makes sense that you would feel this way. Here’s the thing: You are GLORIOUS. You allowed yourself to be expressive, raw, and authentic in what you were feeling. You allowed yourself to share your honest concerns and seek support. I love you BECAUSE you allow yourself to be expressive and real. I love you in your stillness and silence, and in your chaos and your emotion. I love you.”
Every time my Ego tried to step in and squash me, I continued to internally override the destructive thoughts with love, compassion and acceptance. Eventually, I even noticed the corners of my lips turning up in a slight smile. I reminded myself that my friend wanted to be there for me. I remembered that I am a conscious woman who has chosen to surround herself with people who love, accept and appreciate her for who she is. After all, I only want to be authentically Val in each and every moment.
As I moved intentionally on the mat, breathing deeply and continuing to build strength in this new compassion muscle inside of me, I started to experience peace, ease and centeredness. These were drastically different emotions than I would have felt in similar situations in the past.
After class, instead of apologizing, I let my friend know how much I appreciated him for being there for me and supporting exactly where I was. His response: “Of course.”
We have myriad thoughts and feelings, and from them we choose to take actions that lead to certain results. If we don’t like those results, but our action continues to stem from our negative internal dialogue and/or feelings, we will inevitably get the same or similar results. With this negative, self-fulfilling thinking, we are ultimately feeding the wolf of fear.
We can retrain our minds to feed the wolf of love and courage instead, by learning to identify our limiting beliefs and old stories, forgiving them, and practicing a new internal dialogue that is self-supporting and affirming.
*In the times where you are vulnerable and expressive about your emotions, or reach out to someone to express and talk things through, what story plays out in your head about doing that? Is it one that supports you or negates you?
*In those moments of authentic expression, what are your internal thoughts toward yourself? What feelings run through you? It’s so important to be aware of what is underlying the actions we choose to take.
*If you notice you are feeding the Wolf of Fear, what thoughts would you rather have? Feelings? Practice drawing in something different and learn to feed the Wolf of Love. This may be uncomfortable at first and might even feel fake and forced. Yes, “fake it ’til you make it” can really get you there.
* If you find that you feed the ‘Fear Wolf’ frequently, you are not alone. Most of us are conditioned to believe our thoughts and feelings without questioning their origins. But you are not your mind. You are not your feelings. On a consistent basis, we must reevaluate if our thoughts and feelings that we routinely have are still true to who we are today, right now, in present time.
Having support and resources in your back pocket is like getting a personal trainer if you have been out of shape: someone to hold you accountable, give you new tools, support you in building new muscles and creating a new lifestyle. That is what a coach can support you with. LEAN IN. You are not alone nor do you have to do this alone.
Check out vdacoaching.com for more support on learning to feed the ‘Love Wolf’ in order to bring more joy, healthy connections and abounding love to your life!
With love and deep respect, Val