The Inner Battle for Your Attention
Here's an exercise from yoga teacher Baron Baptiste, based on an old Cherokee story, to help you take a stand for an extraordinary life.
There is an old Cherokee legend that says we each have two wolves battling for dominance inside of us: a good wolf and a bad wolf. Both desperately want to win. The bad wolf represents the inner voice that speaks to us from a place of survival and scarcity—from doubt, failure, regret, envy, self-pity, false pride, and resentment. It conjures up thoughts like "It’s my fault, I’m to blame, I’m not good enough," and "I’m all alone." The bad wolf stands for our inner no of resignation and cynicism.
The good wolf stands for our yes of possibility and represents the inner voice of truth—the quiet, still place of inner knowing. Joy, love, integrity, power, peace, abundance, freedom, compassion, and generosity emerge from that good wolf. Its voice whispers from the heart, “Who I am is whole and complete.”
The lesson of this legend is that whichever wolf we feed gets stronger and wins. We could also call this a crisis between the real you and the not you. The real you exists in a state of calm empowerment; the not you doubts, blames, worries, resents, and distrusts itself and the world around it. We can make this crisis conscious and let it transform us by shining light on our blind spots and the areas of our lives where we’re hiding, stuck, shut down, and inauthentic.
When we’re standing in our power, we purposefully create an inner revolution. Rather than living from an outdated context and waiting for life to bring us crashing to our knees, we bring the floor up and cause an intentional spiritual crisis by disrupting business as usual. We give up the resignation, stir the bottom of the barrel, declare a new way, and take a stand for an extraordinary life in which we experience authentic power. This is how we feed the good wolf in us and starve the bad one.
There is a process I use in my trainings to help students distinguish between the voices of the good wolf and the bad wolf. I recommend trying this, even for just one day, to see what opens up for you:
Choose an area of your life where the energy is either somewhat stuck or totally shut down. The first one that comes to mind is usually the one to focus on, since it’s foremost in your consciousness. Now take out a piece of paper and write down the worries, concerns, complaints, or negative thoughts that are running in the background of your mind about that part of your life right now. This is the voice of the bad wolf, the survival mind. It says, "It’s my fault. It’s their fault. It shouldn’t be this way. No, never, not possible. I can’t change this—it’s just how things are. I can’t deal with this. It’s not worth the risk of failing, being left alone, or causing trouble. This exercise is stupid. I don’t want to waste my time doing it."
Don’t judge your thoughts or filter them in any way; just tell the truth, and get it down on paper. You’re listening not to empower them, but instead to notice their presence so you can begin to separate them out and dissolve them.
Next, look for any positive inner sense or thoughts. Get really calm, notice your feet on the floor, and observe if there’s even a tiny sense of “something new is possible” percolating up from deep within your being. Write those thoughts down, too. This is the voice of the good wolf, your inspired intuition, the real you. It says, "Yes. Go for it. Take the risk. I can do this even if I don’t know how right it is at this moment. Game on." There is the presence of an inner yes, a sense of being okay even if all outward signs indicate otherwise. This voice has energy and aliveness. It feels expansive and peaceful, even in the presence of fear.
As you observe your inner reality, you may notice that the bad wolf is there—a lot or a little—nudging you to stay in the shadows. But the good wolf is also there, encouraging you to come out into the light. The bad wolf whispers, "Don’t trust. Don’t reveal yourself. You’ll look stupid. You’re not good enough. Hide, lie, pretend." Yet at the same time, the good wolf is communicating to you in the wordless language of the heart, "Why be afraid? You are loved. Be courageous. Be real. Be of power. You are worthy. Take a stand. Have faith. Trust."
By paying attention for a day, you‘ll see that the head has its own voice, as does the heart, which asks questions like, “What really matters to me in life? Who do I aspire to be? What do I value?” and “Who am I choosing to be for others and for myself?”
The head is not at all engaged in that kind of inquiry. It’s always listening to the sea of its own opinions and saying, “What’s in it for me?” It hears through the filters of what’s familiar and has kept you safe in the past. It tells you all the reasons why you cannot do what you dream of doing. It says, “I’m tired, and I don’t even care whether or not I have an empowered life. Maybe I will someday.”
To this day, when I am having a conversation with someone or leading a training, I work at staying conscious to the questions such as, “Who [or what] in me is talking right now? Who is listening right now?” With practice, we get clearer about which wolf is present as we speak and listen, and we can consciously choose which one we want to feed and strengthen.