Feeding the helpful wolf

by Elizabeth on December 14, 2012

There’s an old Cherokee legend that goes something like this…

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil; he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good; he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

This story related directly to the topic today I wanted to share with you which is mindfulness. Maybe you are very familiar with mindfulness and maybe you’ve never even heard the word. All mindfulness is is doing something with pure intention. Some examples would be: breathing for ten breaths and focusing only on breathing, another example would be going for a walk and noticing everything you can about that walk. The way it feels when your feet hit the ground, the temperature of the air on your skin, the smell of leaves or flowers. When I first started being mindful about things it was SO hard to keep my mind from wandering to whatever it wanted to wander to. It still is some days. That’s ok. Just notice that it wants to wander and bring it back to whatever you are being mindful about. You may have to do it 1000 times in 7 minutes. It’s ok.

So now that you know what mindfulness is, you’re probably wondering what in the world is the point of practicing it. It sounds pretty pointless. When a person practices mindfulness you start to NOTICE your experience rather than BEING your experience. SImilar to diffusion, you’ve created space for other things. The purpose is to train your mind to just be an observer rather than getting attached. When your attached or fused to an experience, let’s say your strong anxiety, you can miss out on many other things going on. You believe that the anxiety is all you can feel in that moment. Which is simply not true.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. I now know that I cannot control thoughts and feelings that come into my my mind. They are organic or come out of habit thinking. I used to try to change my thoughts or wonder why on earth they were there. And I would get really mad because I had all these seemingly crazy-making thoughts when no one else did. I have accepted that I can’t change or control my thoughts and emotions but what I CAN control is the relationship I want to have with them. My mind likes to tell me that being a stay at home mom isn’t being successful. There’s my thought. When I’m being mindful I can notice that thought and I’ll say to myself, “Haha… look at my mind having this thought again.” And that’s where it stops. I then don’t feel attached to it or like I have to believe it and start getting my resume together and googling jobs this very second. When I forget to be mindful and let myself feed the story that comes with this thought it’s a quick downward spiral into… “I’m lazy. I need to get back to work. I wonder what jobs are out there? It probably doesn’t even matter because who would want to hire me. Will I be able to balance a career and family? What if I get fired and blah blah blah…” Then I feel even worse! And for what? At my core I know I am blessed to be able to stay home and raise a family but my mind likes to tell me otherwise. Maybe you can think of a few things your mind likes to tell you on a regular basis that just aren’t that helpful?

You might be thinking… ok, so you’re telling me that just doing things like going for a mindful walk and noticing different sensations or focusing on my breathing can change my thinking? No, I’m not. Remember, the goal isn’t to CHANGE your thinking. It’s to have a different RELATIONSHIP with your thinking. I’m telling you that by practicing observing your experiences daily in a systematic way you will naturally begin to become an observer of yourself.

Research has shown that people who are mindful in some way everyday for 6-8 weeks actually change the neurochemical structure of their brain. It can be formal meditation, mindful walking, mindful brushing your teeth… I don’t care what you choose, just choose something! CT scans of the brain of people who practice this will look like a completely different person after 8 weeks. What happens is that instead of one or two areas of the brain always being activated, the blood flow is much more evenly distributed.

Being mindful creates so much room for perspective, flexibility, and allows people to make choices in line with their values rather than acting out of habit.

So this brings me back to our original question from the Cherokee boy. Which wolf will win? Whichever one you feed.

 

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Sauvageau December 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Thank you for sharing your wisdom now and always. You have opened my mind up to whole new way of thinking Elizabeth. I am truly greatful to have you in my life. I praise you for working so hard at improving your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

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2 Elizabeth December 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Thanks Joe! Our family is so worth it :-)

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3 laura December 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Very intriguing Elizabeth and I will practice mindfulness to help my brain and feed the good wolf.

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4 Brooke December 16, 2012 at 8:24 am

I love the part where you say don’t be attached or fused to your thoughts! Because you are so right it’s not worth it and if you do you will miss out on WAY more important things that are worth it! Stupid mind trying to make people miss out on the fun things in life how dare it be so mean! :-)

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5 Shawn September 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

Hey Elizabeth!

I’m not sure if you remember me, but I was a freshman on the women’s A&M cross country team when you and Joe were upperclassmen. I just read this post and I love it! I understand completely what you mean about accidentally letting your thoughts get out of hand. This post has such great advice! I love it! Thanks!

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