Embrace your two wolves

Photo by Luemen Rutkowski / Unsplash

I have two wolves tattooed on both of my forearms. If you glance at them, you wouldn't perceive any difference. But looking at them in detail, you'll realise that while similar, they are not identical.

The wolf on my left arm, the side of the heart, uses lighter shading and has a gentler face. The wolf on my right arm, my guiding hand, is darker and looks slightly meaner, stronger.

The idea for these tattoos came to me in a dream I've had several times in the past: In this dream, I was standing on a vast field with both a white and a black wolf to my left and right.

I believe the inspiration for this dream came to me because of a story I've read when younger.

It goes as follows (here is a great comic version):

“A fight is going on inside me,” a grandfather 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.”
While this parable is often attributed to the Cherokee, it is unclear if this attribution is correct. It is sometimes also attributed to American evangelist Billy Graham (Which would make it much more racist in its origin).

The lesson in this parable is something along the lines of "you have to feed the good inside you yadda yadda yadda". But I don't like that.

That lesson is boring. Too obvious. Too ehem "seeing the world only in black and white". And I wouldn't be me if I didn't put my spin on it. But first, we need to make something clear:

I don't like that one wolf is considered evil. Wolves are not evil. They are simply wild animals. While I was in kindergarten, our teacher read us some random Brother Grimm fable, where the antagonist was a "big, bad wolf". My parents, at the time proud owners of two huskies, absolutely hated this story.

They went so far as to show their disdain for the "wolf = bad" lesson. How? By bringing both dogs to my class and showing the other children aged 3 to 4, they had no reason to be scared of the "wolves". Though, honestly, there was nothing scary about the Kali and Yasko, they were big lap dogs, and cute as fuck!

In my version of the story, no two wolves are fighting. There isn't even an evil wolf, to begin with. There are simply two wolves inside me, one representing love, friendship, empathy, etc. The other represents raw strength, grit, courage, resilience, ambition, etc.

But I'm human, and I am not perfect. Neither are the wolves.

The white one is overprotective, sometimes jealous, tends to be suffocating to those he loves.

The black one is sometimes aggressive, angry, narcissistic, temperamental.

Then, which one do I feed? How can I feed anyone if they show negative traits? Wouldn't it be better to starve them and replace them with lambs, chickens, or cats?

I feed both. Because they are both a part of me.

See, I don't believe in extremes. I try to live life in the middle lane. According to my world view, there is no black and white in life (except maybe for the colour of the wolves). There are only an infinite amount of shades of grey (definitely, more than 50!). Being extreme in your thoughts, has the tendency to close you down to other points of view.

Which doesn't mean I don't have opinions. I'm very strongly opinionated. Not having opinions means you lack a spine. But I follow the mantra "strong opinions, loosely held".

I will voice my opinion, but I am willing to replace it if someone shows me a better one. There is a French saying I like: "Il n'y a que les cons qui ne changent pas d'avis." ("Only fools don't change their minds.")

And so far, it served me well. I believe (I hope) I have been able to keep an open mind.

I feed both wolves because I try to embrace my dark sides – the inner shadow, as Robert Greene calls it.

This is hard. Because early on, we are taught to hide this side of us, to mask it, to become a saint-like caricature of ourselves. But in the hard times, if you lack the proper training, the mask will fall. Your ugliness will show its face, shocking those around you.

Embracing your shadow teaches you to be fully self-aware. To know your limits and weaknesses. Don't hide them from others and yourself from them. It can only lead to suffering.

Knowing I can be so overprotective to the point of suffocating, or so full of myself that I have a tendency to look down on other people (mixed with the few misanthropic traits I have) certainly isn't fun.

But knowing my weaknesses, knowing what I don't know, I can work with it. Use it to my advantage. I can use my aggressiveness with resilience and grit never to give up and pursue my goals.

My jealousy, mixed with ambition and empathy, will help me understand how other people succeeded and emulate them instead of hating them.

My overprotectiveness, combined with my ability to listen and be compassionate, allows me to be present for other people and share their suffering (and maybe take some of that pain onto myself).

Next time you lose your temper and one of the wolves shows its teeth, don't simply classify it as a faux-pas and try to cover it up.

Look at it in detail, try to understand what happened there. Pet the damn wolf, and learn to share your inner world with it. You'll be a much more complete human being and can use what you perceive as a weakness to your advantage.

And you don't even need tattoos to do this.

Did you like this post? Then you should know I have a newsletter called the Letters of Clio.

It's weekly, published on Thursdays, sent to your inbox with love, sweat, sometimes blood, and a lot of self-irony. Click here to sign up.