The Legend of the Two Wolves


two wolves.jpg

There is popular Native American legend, a Cherokee tale, called “Two Wolves” that I come across often in spiritual and psychological literature and lectures:

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.”

I love this tale because it gives the control back to you. Whether you be fighting the demons of depression or addiction or anger or, worst of all, despair and hopelessness, it gives you another alternative.

A Christian version of this legend is found in Matthew, when Jesus says to his disciples:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house (not like The Three Pigs, though). But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act of them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house (again, but not like The Three Pigs). And it collapsed and was completely ruined.

The moral of the story? Never build a sandcastle at the beach. Or if you do, make sure it’s far enough from the water.

I know you guys are probably sick of my quoting Henri Nouwen, but the man must have spent some considerable time inside my head because his writings always contain the perfect nugget of wisdom I need to move from a state of panic to semi-peace.

Here are his instructions for building a house of rock, or for feeding the good wolf, the one who is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, yada yada yada:

The way to “victory” is not trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved. Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers.

Do not be discouraged. Be sure that God will truly fulfill all your needs. Keep remembering that. It will help you not to expect that fulfillment from people who you already know are incapable of giving it.

Photo by Allison Bailey.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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