As we enter the new year and the renewed commitments and new plans for who or how we want to live this year, I am reminded of an old Native American parable:
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.”
What is darkness and what is light can be gleaned from this simple story. We are all embedded with both these capacities. The light within us, let’s call it an organic and natural wisdom that we inherited from millenia of living interdependent with each other and nature, is available to us at any time. As is the propensity at any given time to fall in to the world of illusion, this dark place we can go, where hopelessness and disappointment can hardened us in to a rigid belief in the world’s being unworthy of our vulnerability, trust and openness.
We are indeed living in turbulent times where I find many people struggling with their faith in our goodness, in society’s capacity to overcome strife, blame and violence. In the place of wise elders we see childish and cynical national leaders. In the place of real, felt presence and connection with our relationships, we are so often too busy and subsumed in a growing life online, divorced from the natural, rhythmic experience of being embodied in community and in nature. We are both the richest society in history, and the most mentally ill, where psychoactive medicines, thought to be a cure, have coincided with a tripling in disability since there introduction 30 years ago.
Yet I am of the belief that the darkness brings out the light. This month we saw the most ethnically diverse and female class ever sworn in to the U.S. Congress. This evidence of a rising sense of action and activism in the face of the utter debasement of politics speaks to the spirit that rises within us when we open our hearts and uncover our deeper capacities for bravery and courage. While I see people so often lost in their phones while sitting at a meal with others, I also hear more and more people choosing to leave their phones home, or off for long stretches, choosing new habits to secure a way of life that nurtures our soul.
Sometimes things have to get really bad before we wake up and take action. Evolutionarily we could actually say that crisis is our natural state. In the wild we must be on guard and attuned to each other. If we bickered as much as we do in modern times, or were as distracted as we can be today, we would easily be prey. Mindfulness, a buddhist meditative practice to cultivate presence, openness and objectivity, actually brings us back to our natural state of pure awareness and readiness for action, compassion and love.
Without pain, how can we know joy? Without suffering can there be meaning? As we enter this new year, may we come together in support of this age old wisdom known to all spiritual traditions, to fight the good fight and bring renewed purpose and beauty to our creative goals.