Kevin B. Burk, author of The Relationship Handbook: How to
Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life.
A traditional Native American story describes a
boy who was feeling angry and upset at an injustice, who goes
to his old Grandfather for advice. The Grandfather tells the boy
that he, too has felt these feelings of hate and anger. The Grandfather
shares that he has also realized how these feelings have no effect
on his enemy, but they do cause him great pain.
“It is as if I have two wolves living inside
me,” says the Grandfather. “One is good and does no harm. He lives
in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when
no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to
do so, and in the right way.”
“But the other wolf,” Grandfather continues,
“fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. The smallest thing
will send him into a fury. He cannot think because his anger and
rage are so great; however for all its fury, his anger changes
“Sometimes it is hard to live with these
two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looks into his Grandfather’s eyes and asks,
“Which one wins, Grandfather?”
His grandfather replies, “Whichever one I feed.”
The lessons in this story are powerful, and echoed
through many spiritual teachings and religions. One of the most
famous bits of advice in Christianity is “Turn the other cheek.”
Buddhism teaches the path of the Middle Way. Hinduism advocates
non-violence in all things. Even some of the greatest spiritual
leaders of our time such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi
have demonstrated the power of the path of peace.
Many of us on a spiritual path understand and embrace
the principles of love, non-violence and non-aggression in every
area of our lives right up to the point when someone cuts us off
in traffic on the freeway.
Even though we may accept the truth that forgiveness
is essential to our long-term health, prosperity and joyful experience
of life, many of us continue to nurse our old wounds and grudges
as if they were cherished family heirlooms. A part of our consciousness
may be able to consider the fact that we, in fact, are the only
ones being punished with our grudges, but that small voice is
inevitably drowned out by the howling of the angry wolf within.
We listen to the voice of this wolf, and we believe
that our anger and our rage serve a purpose. While it’s true that
we can harness the power of our anger and use this energy to help
us break through to new levels of self-expression, we rarely do
this. Instead, we keep the fires stoked and turn the energy back
We may accept that it is possible to defend without
attacking, but we fail to realize that if we do not work consciously
with our anger, it will always attack. If we express it unskillfully,
it will attack others, and if we repress it, it will attack us.
On some level, we believe that the anger and resentment
we carry within us is exacting revenge on those who have hurt
us. The truth, of course, is that we are the ones that carry the
burden of our own anger and resentment. Our angry thoughts only
have the power to hurt us.
Since this is the case, forgiveness has nothing
at all to do with absolving the people who have hurt us. Forgiveness
is a purely selfish (and self-loving) act. The people we resent
don’t experience our resentment: Our thoughts and emotions never
leave our heads and bodies. These people are not being punished
by our thoughts: we are. When we forgive them, we give
ourselves permission to stop hurting ourselves with our anger.
We set down the burden of hate and the belief in separation, and
as soon as we do, we experience less pain and suffering.
So many of us know this to be true. We understand
the logic and the power of forgiveness. We’ve experienced the
emotional, spiritual and physical toll that our anger and resentment
exacts from us. And still, we find it difficult—and sometimes
seemingly impossible—to forgive. The deeper the wound, the older
the hurt, the harder it is for us to let it go.
Why is it so difficult to forgive for so many of
us? Because the still, small voice that reminds us of the truth
of the power of forgiveness is drowned out by the cries of the
angry wolf inside us.
As with so many things in life, in order to create
big changes, we have to begin with small steps. We must become
aware of how strong and powerful each of the two wolves
within us is; we must own the fact that our choices and
actions have created this dynamic; and finally, we can choose
which wolf we feed, and which wolf we starve.
Each time we react in anger instead of responding
from love, we feed the angry wolf and make it stronger. This includes
every time we’re cut off in traffic and every time we yell at
the television because we’re frustrated with our politicians and
elected officials. Every time we respond to any situation, we’re
feeding one of the wolves within.
The smallest choices we make in our lives can have
the greatest impact. The more we choose to forgive, the less we
choose to take things personally, the more we feed the peaceful
wolf within. As the peaceful wolf grows stronger and the angry
wolf grows weaker, it becomes easier for us to make the loving,
non-violent, peaceful choice, even in more challenging circumstances.
And, because the past does not influence the future,
it doesn’t matter how well-fed the angry wolf is right now. If
we stop feeding it, it will weaken.
As the voice of the angry wolf dies down and the
angry wolf grows weak from neglect, it becomes possible for us
to forgive the older grudges and heal our deepest and oldest wounds.
Kevin B. Burk is the author of
Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every
Relationship in Your Life.
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