There is an old Cherokee story. After September 11, 2001, it was retold in email and on the internet. Though it was told in reference to the events of those days, I believe it is much, much older.
“Grandfather,” a young man asked, “after such a tragedy, what do we do?”
“Inside me,” said the Grandfather, “I feel two wolves fighting. One wolf is angry, full of vengeance, and aggression. The other wolf is gentle, full of love, compassion, and forgiveness.”
“Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”
“The one which I feed, will be the one who wins.”
With this story, Richard Reoch began Practicing Peace in Times of War. What it means is that we have a choice. Even though we feel the embers of anger, hatred, and vengeance, we choose whether to add wood to the fire. It is hard, because anger and aggression are habitual responses. They are based on fear and the feeling of groundlessness, of unease, and not knowing what to do next. They are based in our desire to find something solid and tangible to hold on to in a world constantly in flux. We can choose to remain with the groundlessness, to dwell in that uneasy space people have been avoiding for thousands of years.
“Groundlessness never killed anyone,” Pema told us.
During Shambhala Training Level III: Warrior in the World, we learned that one aspect of The Great Eastern Sun is that of opportunity. We can choose how we interact with people. We can stop for a moment, just before we strike out or shut down in our habitual way, and actually make a decision to remain engaged and fully present. We might decide to let go of an old grudge or listen in a way that suddenly shows us something new about that person.
We are good at feeding the angry wolf, because it leaps right out at us every time, but the other wolf, who stands there quietly with the sad eyes, is actually stronger. It has endured starvation and deprivation and it is still there. That wolf is basic goodness.
Trusting basic goodness can become the point of your entire life.