The Two Wolves (and the 700 Nuns)

Part 3 of an exploration of happiness

In the previous two posts, we explored how happiness is an intentional choice. How might we manifest this intention in our lives? Here’s a story…

A Native American elder was sitting around a campfire with a child. She said to the child, you know there are two wolves that are fighting a great battle within you. One wolf is filled with anger, hate, greed, envy, and impatience. It snarls and howls all day long. The other wolf is filled with love, kindness, generosity, and patience. It smiles at everyone. These wolves are locked in a battle for your spirit. 

Grandmother, asked the girl, which wolf wins? 

The answer, the elder responded gently, is very simple. It is the wolf you feed. 

If you feed yourself love and compassion that’s who you become. If you feed yourself compassion and gratitude, that’s who you become. 

Happiness is a practice. It is our ability to practice positive behaviors that make us happy.

In the last post (http://spiritualsushi.com/the-now-of-happiness-vs-the-pursuit-of-happiness/), I wrote about how our existence is like a wheel with an outer rim that interacts with the world — the friction of stones, ruts, and mud — and a central hub that is our inner state. We can absorb and internalize the friction of what is coming at us from the outside and become the snarling wolf. Or we can use our internal intention to transform how we engage the world with kindness. The rim and hub are joined by spokes that connect the two elements. 

The wheel is a symbol in Eastern traditions — a symbol of Buddhism and at the center of the Indian flag. The spokes on the wheels are practices. These allow us to engage the world from a place of intention. One of these practices is gratitude. 

‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

A practice of gratitude enables us to count the good we have in our lives. In doing so, we remind ourselves of the many good things we have that we can gloss over and counter-balance the things that aren’t good. A longitudinal study of 700 nuns who were asked to keep autobiographies over a period of 50 years found that the ones who expressed positive emotions such as contentment, gratitude, happiness, love, and hope stayed healthier and lived longer — 90% of the happiest nuns lived past 85 years compared to only a third of those who were the least happy. Gratitude not only helps us be happier, it improves our immunity against disease. It can also shield us from life’s wounds. 

The Dalai Lama who is credited for being happy was once asked how he could be happy given what had become of Tibet. He said, it is true that we have lost so much, but yet must I also lose my happiness? Happiness is not just for the good times. Its greater power is in shielding us from the bad times.  

You can find a set of gratitude practices in this post (https://medium.com/xcelerator-alg/to-make-2020-a-good-year-practice-gratitude-4e4c41ef0622). 

2 Replies to “The Two Wolves (and the 700 Nuns)”

  1. Life is an in between the 2 wolves… affected by the outside / circumstances …. practice to live happily is an ongoing journey… all the best to myself and all

    1. Yes, a daily practice to feed the “good wolf.” I find that starting my day with meditation changes how I show up. The day may have the same challenges, but I engage them differently… and that makes all the difference.

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