Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

In a recent interview with Doug Parks, host of the Conscious Activist teleseminar series, Bruce Lipton told a short story from Spontaneous Evolution, a book he co-authored with Steve Bhaerman:

A Cherokee elder was talking to some kids and giving them lessons. He said, “Within me right now is a terrible fight.”

“What are you talking about?” asked the kids.

“Within me I have two wolves fighting. One is the wolf of love and peace and the other is the wolf of anger and war.” And he said, “It’s not just in me. It’s in every one of us.”

The children thought about this for a minute and one child asked, “Tell us Grandfather, which wolf will win?”

“Whichever one I feed,” he replied.

Lipton took a surprising turn with the story. He brushed past the obvious conclusion that lingering over reports of war, crime, economic woes and other news feeds the angry, warring wolf and urged listeners to feed the other wolf. While he didn’t specify writing, he recommends creating new stories of love and peace rather than obsessing over the distressing ones. One way to do this is to reframe situations in the news, a subject I wrote about in Find that Silver Lining. But there's also another way.

Journal teachers and therapists have long counseled people to write troublesome stories as fiction, with new endings more to our liking. Neuroscientists have shown that when we clearly visualize something, even if it’s totally imaginary, our minds register it as a reality. Thus rewriting the story of a painful memory overwrites the old one, healing the pain in an unexpected way.

Although this may sound bizarre, I can attest from personal experience that it works. Several years ago I recalled a bullying incident from junior high school that has stuck in memory for decades. The humiliation of the moment faded from constant awareness within a day or so, but I never forgot, and occasionally it would come back to mind when I thought of certain people. On this particular day, before I knew about the scientific aspects of writing, I decided to write that story as fiction with a new ending.

I didn’t have an ending in mind when I began the story, but as I wrote, the new ending revealed itself. It’s not one I ever would have thought of by conscious effort, but it worked so well for me in this situation that now when I think of the incident, I recall my improvised ending and experience a sense of almost giddy happiness. I know it’s fiction. Even so, it warms my heart, and the original slugged gut feeling no longer activates. I’ve tried it on other situations since then with similar results.

Another aspect of this process is that time you spend writing the new story is time you spend feeding the wolf of love and peace. Since the basic food you give them consists of your time and awareness, you can only feed one at a time. Writing is a powerful way of breaking the connection with anger and war. You can read more about the subject of writing memoir as fiction in Tell It Like It Wasn't.

Write now: recall a painful memory. Write about it in story form, but write a new ending with a happy outcome. Think about all the “If only” thoughts you’ve had and draw on them to rewrite the story of your life.

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