Which wolf are you feeding?

One day an older man sat down with his granddaughter to share a life lesson. 

“A fight is going on inside of me,” he tells the girl. “It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – full of rage, jealousy, arrogance, greed, sorrow, regret, lies, laziness, and self-pity.”

He continues, “The other is good – filled with love, joy, peace, generosity, truth, empathy, courage, humility, and faith. This same fight is going on inside the hearts of everyone, including you.”

The granddaughter thinks about this for a few minutes and then asks her grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

During my recent retreat, which I shared last week, I thought about this story because we picked a spirit-animal tarot card on the first day. 

I should say that I believe that there’s nothing special about tarot cards – they’re paper and ink – they are just cards. But either due to coincidence or our subconscious, we all picked the card we needed most – now, I believe there is something special about that. 

With the deck spread face-down across a table, I pulled the wolf. 

On Monday afternoon, we came together for a holotropic breathwork session, a technique that became an LSD replacement after the drug became illegal. It can be a little trippy, as you might guess from its origin story. 

During my experience, I visualized this fabulous farmhouse amongst rolling hills, and everything within me sensed that this was our next home. I could picture my wife and our daughters there; emotionally, it felt like love. It was pretty cool. 

Afterward, we spent time journaling about our experience, and when I finished, I looked up and saw this gorgeous villa on top of a nearby hill and thought, “Well, this is freaky – maybe this is our next home? There’s plenty of time before dinner, so let’s check it out.”

So, off I went.

“Our” new villa

“Our” new villa

The forty-five-minute hike up to “our” villa passed through olive trees as the path climbed to the top of the ridge. Although I might change a few things to make it our own, it was beautiful. It was now 5 pm and time to head back down and get to dinner. 

As I was walking, I thought about how to share the news with my wife that we were moving to Italy, and before I knew it, I was on an unfamiliar path, but I wasn’t worried because I was exploring our “new backyard” and I thought all paths would converge. 

And then I heard a rustling in the woods. 

Back home in New Jersey, you might expect a deer or a little fox, but here in Italy, it was a family of wild boars, and momma didn’t sound friendly…gulp. Now I was worried. 

But then I remembered that I had pulled the wolf card – heck yes, I thought, I’m a wolf! So, I tried to embody some wolf attitude, but it didn’t work. I was freaking out, but they were more scared than I was and ran off. 

It was clear I was heading away from my hotel, Google Maps wasn’t working, and there was no way I was going back into wild boar territory, so I kept walking. Eventually, I reached the nearest town and asked many for help, “scusami, sono Americano, parli inglese.” 

But nobody spoke English, and they didn’t know where I was staying, so I kept walking the narrow, twisting asphalt road without a shoulder and only a “suggested” speed limit that the Italians were ignoring – good times.

The Wolf Description

The Wolf Description

As I kept walking, I thought about my wolf card and what wolf I was feeding. What did I need to let go of, and what did I need to nourish? 

Growth only happens if we are willing to shed, like a snake and her skin, our assumptions about how things are or should be, societal expectations, and limiting beliefs. As I’ve shared, letting go is like unpacking the rocks in our backpacks which opens us up to new possibilities. 

It isn’t easy. We love to cling to old stories, relationship dances, and ways of living. I’ve gotten good at removing my rocks, but I often leave behind pebbles, stones, and some gravel for protection. They can feel like Sisyphus’ pet rock when the conditions are right. But when I’m mindful, I can find the courage and wisdom to open my heart and accept that letting go is the path to something new. 

After two-plus hours and thirteen miles, I finally made it to dinner. When I arrived, I probably wasn’t smellin’ fresh, and the only seat was next to the host, Rich Roll. I was both excited and thought, you must be kidding. 

I was going to keep my “little” walk a secret, but we were invited by Rich’s wife, Julie, to share our holotropic breathing experience, and based on where I was sitting, I was up first – crazy, right? So, I shared this “lost but wasn’t lost” story. 

My walk provided me the time and space to process, feed my wolves, and let go of small-ball beliefs holding me back. And here’s what’s crazy, once I did, new doors opened up during the week to help me fully embrace what I’ve visualized for Pause Breathe Reflect. 

The typical answer is that the wolf that wins is the one you feed, but I prefer a different perspective – they both win if you provide for them in the right way and at the right time. 

Consistent with yin and yang, light and darkness, and earth and space, feeding both wolves invites harmony and what Buddhists call the middle way. 

Here’s the thing, when we starve one wolf, life is out of balance. It’s living on the edge, but by feeding both, there’s space for them to co-exist, giving us peace and freedom because we can finally raise the white flag on our internal battle. 

Aqueduct near Bucine, Italy

Aqueduct near Bucine, Italy

With today’s constant striving and “everything is awesome” positivity, it’s easy to believe that we should only feed the good wolf, but if we do that and fail to acknowledge our shadow wolf, it doesn’t go away. What we resist persists and grows and has a way of showing up at the worst possible moment.

We need space or a long walk to help us slow down and contemplate what wolf we’re feeding or what can be released. It’s the path toward harmony and growth, and it’s impossible to achieve if we rush through life.

Until next week, have fun storming the castle, and if you want to join us at our new villa, let me know. I promise not to get you lost – I know the way now – it’s right down the middle.