01/29/2015 07:16 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2015

The 2 Wolves That Live Within Us

Recently, my 9-year-old daughter came to me with a struggle she was feeling within herself, about a pattern of feeling teased by some of her friends. She vulnerably exposed to me the part of her that really wanted to lash out in return, and then spoke astutely to the other part of herself that wanted to rise above the behavior, realizing her friends were acting that way from their own insensitivity and wounding.

I was inspired to share with her the old Cherokee medicine story about the two wolves that live within us. I told her about the old Cherokee grandfather who spoke to his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people between two wolves. How one wolf is anger, envy, fear, jealousy, greed, arrogance, hatred, resentment, inferiority, superiority, lying, and ill-wishing. And the other wolf is all about love, joy, peace, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. And how the grandson asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins the battle?" And the old Cherokee replied, "Whichever one you feed."

And my daughter took this story in, nodding. And then she said, boldly, as is her way: "Mama? That story doesn't totally resonate for me." Humored, I said: "No?" She said: "No." I asked her: "In what way does it not resonate for you my love?"

She said: "Well, yes, we have those two wolves. But I think the truth is we feed them both, every day. We feed the hatred and the love, and that's the way we learn which wolf is stronger, which wolf brings us happiness, and which wolf brings us sadness."

I smiled: "But that's just what the teaching story is about, beloved -- that it's a matter of which one you 'feed' more, which one you give more energy to, is the one that then becomes your life."

She shook her head again in disagreement: "But Mom -- we have to feed them both to learn. Look at our world and all the hard things? Both wolves are fat and well-fed in our world, Mom."

I took this in, slightly bewildered, then asked: "So what are you going to do about your friends teasing?"

She said: "I'm going to feel both of the wolves prancing around inside me. I am going to feed them both, and then see which one jumps out to meet them. And then I'll see what wolf inside them jumps out to meet me. And then I'll learn."

I sighed, drawing her sweet head to my chest, inhaling her precious scent deeply into me: "Ok beloved, sounds good. You're right. Just keep learning: watch, listen, and notice what follows the energy you put out there. Watch the ripples of your reactions. Learn about your wolves."

She smiled up at me, and I saw shining in her eyes the ancient grandmother spirit, teaching, always teaching as she learns.

Teaching me right then about however much I might wish to shelter her and her brother from unnecessary suffering, (and from causing unnecessary suffering for others) that they have to learn in their own ways, their own timing, and sometimes through their own experiments with mistake, with letting that wolf of fear and hatred lead in their actions and words.

She can carry the wisdom teachings close to her heart. But finally, wisdom becomes our own only as we directly taste the fruits of it. We learn compassion, and empathy from being exposed to others suffering; and from being the one who suffers: who is teased, left out, shamed, ridiculed.

We learn to choose love, grace, and forgiveness from receiving the painful slap of the alternative, and sometimes from delivering that slap, and experiencing firsthand the painful taste it leaves in our hearts.

Blessings to us all as we navigate the ways of our inner wolves, learning, in our own ways and our own timing the maturity of vigilance: how to be fiercely loving, gracious and true. How to choose wisely, moment by moment.