We Must Feed the Dark Wolf
Peace comes when we no longer struggle with our dark side.
I might be one of the few people who truly enjoyed the Disney movie, The Call of the Wild. Although the story itself intrigued me, I was mesmerized by the dark wolf who guides the main character, Buck.
It reminded me of the story of two wolves, which is an old Native American parable. The parable has been somewhat distorted because it suggests a dualism — a fight against good and evil within yourself. Here’s the more popular version you might have heard:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside 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.”
However, this is an incomplete version of the parable. This version was told in Billy Graham’s book, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life, to describe the good and evil within everyone. This tells us of the dualist perspective of faith and can put us at odds with ourselves. It can also compel us to “starve” our shadow rather than recognize it as an integral part of us that needs to be “fed.”
The original version ends a little differently. When the grandson asks who wins the fight, the grandfather responds with a non-dualistic perspective. Rather than using a zero-sum approach, this story is about eliminating the fight altogether:
If I only feed one, there is a power imbalance. One will become hungry in rage and use its power to defeat the other when it isn’t aware. The battle will continue, and no peace will come. If I feed them both right, they will work together. The wolf of rage and arrogance, if fed with proper food, becomes the wolf of courage and strength, which is what the other wolf lacks.
Here is another account of the grandfather’s message:
To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both, and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.
Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.
It is when we deny this dark wolf exists that causes problems. Therapist Debbie Ford describes how duality helps us understand life. We can easily define things by their opposites. We know light because we know dark. If we don’t acknowledge one, we don’t understand our own restlessness. In the book, The Shadow Effect, Ford warns us of the danger of starving the dark wolf, which she calls “the shadow.”
[A]lthough ignoring or repressing our dark side is the norm, the sobering truth is that running from the shadow only intensifies its power. Denying it only leads to more pain, suffering, regret, and resignation.
We need to feed both wolves.
When we have many distractions to keep our minds from slowing down, we don’t have to face our shadow. The shadow, however, emerges during emotional times when our rational mind can no longer suppress it. Our lives come to an abrupt halt and we come face-to-face with our internal reckoning.
Ford suggests that for us to reach our fullest potential, we need to nurture our shadow. We need to feed both wolves.
We will assert that it is because of our unexamined life, our darker self, our shadow self where our unclaimed power lies hidden. It is here, in this least likely place, that we will find the key to unlock our strength, our happiness, and our ability to live out our dreams.
The grandfather reminds us that we can cultivate internal strength when the wolves no longer compete for our energy and attention. Both wolves can instead serve us in each circumstance in our lives.
We can also become more compassionate towards others when we acknowledge that all of us have a dark part of ourselves that needs to be fed. Rather than labeling others “bad” or “good,” we recognize that some dark wolves are starving.