Friday, April 3, 2009
The Wolf at the Door
"A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And the grandfather answered, "The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed."
So this is our challenge, the challenge for our spiritual practice and the challenge for the world--how can we train right now, not later, in feeding the right wolf?"--Pema Chodron, from Taking the Leap
I sometimes confuse kindness with weakness. Maybe it's because my tendency is to be non-confrontational, which means I go out of my way to please people, sometimes to my own detriment. When insulted, I pretend to turn the other cheek, while inside I'm fuming and wanting to fight back. I haven't yet mastered the art of defending myself in a way that doesn't infuse more anger into the situation. But when I pretend to turn the other cheek, or smile in the face of my critic, I feel weak, defenseless, small. Later I go over in my head all the things I WOULD have said, but even those retorts seem petty and apt to escalate the situation.
In a larger context, I think of people who are able to forgive others for unspeakable acts. Are they weak? Or are they strong for refusing to give into anger and the desire for revenge? I read news story after news story of people hurting one another, and I wonder how many of the victims forgive, and if so, how? Do they not want to contribute anymore hate in the world? That's pretty noble. I have said here before that my basic motto is an eye for an eye. Can I get beyond that? Is that the right thing to do?
Of course, it feels so much better to feel goodness toward others. If I see a father holding his daughter aloft on his shoulders I smile to myself and send them warm thoughts, remembering when I was a little girl and my father carried me in the same way. When I see an older woman in an electric wheelchair speed by me on the sidewalk, I think, good for her, even in the chair she whizzes right by me! And I wish her luck. These are nice moments, moments when I feel connected to others and when giving away kind thoughts is easy. But when confronted with ignorant people, or selfish people, or indifferent people, that's when being kind feels false. It's been said that trying to please people in every situation is a form of manipulation. I want things to go my way, so I'll try to control the situation by being "nice." But there are some situations that I can't control.
Ultimately, it's kindness and understanding that I strive for in my life. Why bring more anger into an already boiling-over world? But I want it to be genuine, not a means to get my own way or to protect myself from hurt.