The One You Feed

Wolf Image with text of cherokee legend.

This short telling of the legend, within the graphic above, strikes a deep chord within me. It’s merit is in the simplicity of the mental image, and the ease with which it illustrates a concept that is very easy to forget or miss: every act, every thought, every choice feeds some aspect of ourselves. And starves others.

We’re not just beings, we’re becomings, and who we are becoming flows from every choice we make, whether consciously or without consciousness. Every choice is self-creative and self-destructive at the same time. For me, the wolves are symbols of virtue and vice, behaviors that are in some way natural, but may be healthy or unhealthy.

For example, it is difficult for me at times to remember that every news story I read makes me aware of more things I care about, yet are totally outside my control. This is a potent way to feed worry. And feeding any worry gives power to worrying as a general feature of your mental life.

I have come to regard worry as a personal vice. It is natural to worry, but it is not healthy.

There is, of course, a corresponding virtue, called conscientiousness, both natural and healthy. This is being concerned about, mulling over, staying conscious of, even obsessing a bit at times, over things we do have control over–this is how we successfully live in accordance with our values.

When I worry, I’m using that capacity to seek solutions to matters of concern on things I do not have control over. And so the capacity is deprived any opportunity to add anything positive. It’s completely frustrated, and so it does not wind down. It keeps running. Each additional worry of this kind uses additional mental resources in unending and futile searching.

So I treat news a bit like a person on a diet might treat chocolates: an occasional indulgence.

Being aware of the distinction in my life between healthy conscientiousness and excess worry is a key to managing the naturally anxiety-prone nervous system I brought with me into this life. If I’m feeding worry, then it is as if unattached, psychologically pure energy becomes colored by that worry, and it takes the form of anxiety. If I’m instead feeding creative awareness, that energy is colored by creativity.

It’s the same energy, it will energize whatever is going on in your mind.

When I notice the feeling of worrying, I take a moment to consider how much control I have over it, what can I do about this? Can I find a productive approach to resolving this? If so, I take a moment to do so, or make a note to take some time to further consider the matter. If not though–and it is often the case that it is something I cannot, no matter how I would like to, control–I practice once again at the skill of setting that worry aside, of defusing it, letting it go. In this way, I try to feed the wolf of virtue and starve the wolf of vice.

This approach is applicable to a broad range of becoming. As you practice becoming more conscious of what you are thinking, choosing, saying and doing in the course of each day, you may find it helpful to think about what you are feeding in yourself, and what you are starving. If this thought or action does not reflect your values or desires for yourself, exercise your veto.

The cumulative effect of this has the power to completely change your mind, your experience and your life.

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