Would you call yourself brave or stubborn? Do you ever call yourself either of those things, or do you usually leave it up to the people around you to judge your behavior and attitude when questing? How much more might you accomplish — and how much more help might you get in doing so — if you (honestly) made the call yourself and adjusted your approach accordingly?
Japanese and Native American folklore share the Tale of Two Wolves, wherein an elder informs their grandchild that every heart houses two wolves (one good, one bad) which are both vying for control of their heart-house. When the child asks which wolf will win, they are answered with the question: Which wolf do you feed?
In order to answer this question, I feel it’s important to first inquire as to how “good” and “bad” are meant to be defined given that the story is known in cultures where balance is the order of the day. This then brings into question whether “which wolf do you feed” is the best translation, or if one might be better off asking: How much and when and what do you feed each wolf?
Brave Acceptance, Stubborn Control
People, like wolves, are social creatures requiring some sign of acceptance that will help us to nurture a sense of security within our larger social context. Without this acceptance and security we feel at a loss, and thus saddened, having been denied a basic emotional necessity. Our social survival requires reciprocal acceptance, a fact which has been proclaimed in many philosophies along the lines of “Treat the people around you the way you wish to be treated.”
Unfortunately, we often do not begin from a place of treating ourselves the way we wish to be treated. We are overly controlling/self-censoring as we await acceptance/permission from someone outside of ourselves. This itself can lead to our being controlling of others, or at the very least attempting to control how they will respond to us in order to ensure our social survival.
It can be terrifying to put yourself out there to be rejected by the stranger who doesn’t think you’re cute, by the potential employer who doesn’t think you’re the right fit, by the loved one who doesn’t know how to handle some piece of news or a secret that’s been shared with them. And just as terrifying as it is for you, it is equally terrifying for them to make themselves vulnerable to you. But we also know the sweet relief of relinquishing control in exchange for the possibility of acceptance, the freedom to be ourselves.
Brave Adaptation, Stubborn Automation
The thing is that the acceptance/permission/freedom that you crave is in your hands first. You get the first crack at accepting yourself and giving yourself room to adapt and grow as you go, or control yourself to the point where every move you make is calculated to automate every interaction you have. And where your decision-making ends, the world and its infinite whims begin.
How adaptable are you with regard to the world’s whims? How much are you automating your actions as a means of withstanding the potential chaos? How are you balancing the two?
Just as it’s necessary to be accepting of yourself while also practicing self-control, so, too, is it necessary to be able to adapt to whatever comes your way while automating all those routines that help maintain momentum throughout the day. In that way you will be able to pinpoint those actions which give you the most bang for your buck, leaving your body and mind free to be and feel more wholly you. Think it through and you will find the right action to lead you to the right work.
Brave Fear, Stubborn Annoyance
As social creatures, we need to think through how we feel about what others will potentially feel about our actions. We don’t need what others think and feel to sway our decision-making, we need our own sense of the situation to guide us. So when you know that others (particularly those who are important to you) may react/respond negatively to your chosen course of action, ask yourself: Am I concerned with how this may affect our relationship, or annoyed that they can’t bring themselves to see things my way?
If you anticipate being more annoyed than anything else, you have closed yourself off to any civil discourse that could help you to move forward. If you feel more worried or fearful than anything else, but are still sure this is the proper course of action, you’re on the right track. Maintaining balance within yourself is impossible without some sort of touchstone to give you an outside view of yourself.
Consider the Attitude Indicator, this tool is built into every piloted aircraft so that the pilot knows the craft’s orientation with regards to the Earth’s horizon. It’s that necessary touch of outside perspective that helps every pilot in the sky to stay their known but invisible course. As creatures who exist as much in our own minds as in the world at large, such a tool would be to our benefit as well.
Brave Approach, Stubborn Resolve
In letting go of the question of good or bad, and instead focusing on pairings of being brave and being stubborn (acceptance and control, adaptation and automation, fear and annoyance), we find we have the what and now all that is left are the How much and when you feed your heart’s wolves. That is, after all, how balancing acts work; you determine what balances what, and then you feel out the rest.
Both wolves, the brave and the stubborn, will always be howling for your attention. And it is up to you to know whether a given situation needs bravery or stubbornness or both. Both wolves have their needs and both have their purpose.
Will you call on the brave wolf or the stubborn wolf? Will you call your wolves to work together, or allow them both to rest? What will you do now you know what they really are?
And because such a tool would to our benefit, the Two Wolves Attitude Indicator is available as a free download (no email required).