Feeding the Right Wolf

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This post is dedicated to spiritual healer, David Johnson, author of Moonride.

I rarely finish my morning coffee.  This might be a subconscious habit.  I have use for what remains in my mug.  I pour the cooled liquid around my hydrangeas.  Yes, they like coffee too, or rather they like the acid in coffee.  So, each morning my leafy hydrangea bushes, with their rounded bunches of blue puffs, get their java-jolt. Acidic soil produces flowers with deep bluish tints. Less acidic soil will produce white-pink blooms and very often, with spotty amounts of acidic soil, one might see varied clusters of pink, white, lavender and blue on the same hydrangea.  It’s all a matter of the right feeding.

Hmmm.  The right feeding.

There is an old Cherokee story about the right feeding. A grandfather tells his grandson about an inner, ongoing clash. It is a battle of two wolves: one wolf is very positive, full of good and kindness, peace and love.  The other is negative, full of anger, envy, greed and sorrow.  The grandson asks, “Which wolf will win?”  The grandfather replies, “The one that you feed.”

I have championed this story over the years, surrounding myself with nature’s bounty, positive people and sacred light. But recently, I felt an urge to probe deeper into the story, thinking more about that other wolf. Do we merely disown it, deny it, cast it aside and suppress it? Suppressing powerful thoughts is hard work and often is a recipe for failure.  Repressed feelings have a way of erupting at inopportune times.  So, I wonder, are we forever stuck in this battle?  As with the hydrangeas of many colors, are we rooted in underfed soil, producing variations of thoughts and wondering which wolf is being fed?

I looked for more on this topic and found some answers. Researchers have studied that other wolf, specifically, the human propensity for negativity. In his best seller, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, noted neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, helps us understand the workings of our brain. Blame it on the amygdala, our alarm bell, that other wolf.  The amygdala alerts us to negative experiences and negative notions and then quickly stores them.  Hanson describes the amygdala as a magnet for bad news. On the other hand, positive events and experiences need more time and more inputs, to be recorded in memory. In a real sense, we must work harder to feed the positive wolf. Hanson says the brain is like “Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones” (Hanson, 2013).  Why are we wired this way? Perhaps survival of the species was at stake. He surmises:

“To keep our ancestors alive, we evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life”.         (See link below for more on Dr. Hanson’s work).

Are we stuck with this hardwiring?  (NO!)

Scientists used to think our genetic codes were fixed and unalterable, but a new branch of neuropsychology, known as neuroplasticity, finds that the brain is malleable. Simply put, our brains can change, given new thoughts, events and experiences.  In her book, Switch on Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leak explains the mind’s ability to change the brain. And this change can affect the next several generations.  Dr. Leak explains intricate and complex brain functions in everyday language, as she artfully scaffolds her findings with biblical truths. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Romans 12:2)

So how then, do we renew our minds, feeding the right wolf?  I did ask my garden-angels (a twist on guardian angels) that very question, and the response was abrupt.  A text message pierced the silence, and like Pavlov’s dog, I responded.  A few shorthanded phrases left me with a wounded heart. Feelings of being left out, marginalized, and forgotten ran through me like a runaway train. My head ping-ponged emotions back and forth.  There was the initial hurt, then understanding, back to revisiting my wounds and ultimately, how could they do this to me?

A few elevated heartbeats later, my hurt feelings shifted into anger, pushing away any previous movement toward understanding. I mentally conjured up some harsh responses.  I had the right to be angry, didn’t I? But before I went to the point of no return with a snarky knee-jerk reply, I quickly thought about my two wolves.  Oh dear.  Feeding time.  

I imagined my two inner wolves.  I saw a well-fed and ferocious one and the other smaller and weakened.  I was faced with a clear choice: which to feed.  And then, I remembered what Dr. Hanson said about our brains tricking us into overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities and underestimating resources. I was doing all three.

Putting my inner resources to work, I decided to disown the overfed wolf. I said aloud, “I do not claim you.” Then, ala Dr. Hanson, I made three self-declarations.  

I was not threatened.  

I was going to accept this challenge as a learning experience.

I was going to use my inner resources.

It worked. 

While I am not drawn to writing fiction, my brain can be tricked into creating it. I think this is a human condition. During our most fearful and defensive times, we can conjure up what I have come to think of as negative fiction.  In my case, I ran away with the notion that I wasn’t valued, that my family didn’t care about my feelings. Thankfully, I stopped for a reality check.  I did not want to live in that hurtful scenario.  I knew I needed to counter the impulse for negative fiction. Spawned from my more rational brain, I allowed this truism to sink into my mind: I am loved by my loved ones. (It needed repeating.)  I am loved by my loved ones.  I gave my mind time to absorb this renewing thought.  

God has blessed us with powerful and sound minds. (2Timothy 2:17)

He gave us the power to cancel negative fiction. We can shift into healthier gears of thought.  Feeding the angry wolf will never produce the harmony we seek. We can reject negative fiction and move into the realm of proper wolf feeding.  We have the mechanism to store positive thoughts, and as stated by Dr. Hanson, we can rewire our brains toward happiness.

The Hypothalamus: An Album of Our Greatest Hits

With proper feeding, the hypothalamus stores our greatest moments of joy and contentment.  It is the part of our brain that connects us to our positive emotions. When you see a baby smile, smell grandma’s cookies baking, find a favorite photo, or when you hear, “They’re playing our song”, the hypothalamus, among other intricate functions, releases serotonin, lowers blood pressure and returns us to homeostasis.   The sweet scent from Lily of the Valley, fields of colorful tulips waving in the wind, and the fresh morning dew are stored in my own album. It’s no wonder, that in times of despair, I have been empowered by a simple walk in the woods. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “There is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”

I feel that magnetism, being drawn to nature’s restorative balm.  She feeds me.  She stimulates me.  She teaches me. And now, as I sit at my writing table, I am catching a glimpse of goldened eyed Shasta daisies playfully beckoning to me from outside my window.  They are the newest arrival to my June garden.  They add a giggle of youthful innocence.  They dillydally next to the more worldly, sophisticated hydrangeas, their blue-blooded heads held high.  With their contrasting personalities, I wonder, is their proximity an oversight or did I need them to teach me something about tolerance? As with parents of dissimilar children, I loved them equally, but differently.  Today, the daisies have captured my fancy.  I see hundreds of tightly bound new buds ready to claim their place in the sun. 

It is the next morning and summoned by the new day, with a steaming mug of coffee, I step outside.  The first lungful of fresh dawn offers me a portal to burgeoning life.  I can strangely lose and find myself when I pass through that gate.  Tangled thoughts, now shredded, are tossed aside and I find new spaces for my own rebirth.  My daisies add to this revival.  The once tightly bound ivory fists are loosening their protective grips. Greeting the rising sun are delicate, creamy-white fingered petals, ready to unfurl.  A glint of their golden centers wink at me.  Even the name daisy, this happiest of flowers, hints of glorious daybreak.  From early Saxon for Day’s Eye, the daisy sees all. And later, after returning to my writing table by the window, they will continue their steady gaze, unabashedly gleeful.  My hypothalamus runneth over.

Feeding the Soul, Creating Albums, One Generation After Another

Little things like a movie scene or a certain fragrance can pull us back into a reverie, but however familiar, we cannot quite recall why. True, I cannot retrieve every wonderful event that is stored in my memory. But some scenes are vividly recorded. Pages of my dad, the gardener, are etched in my album. His annual spring routine of nursing tiny fragile plants sprouted from seeds saved from the previous harvest in the window well of our garage, took me a few years to sequence.  While he did not explain the plant cycle of life to me, he saw that I quietly watched. It was at the dinner table, where he would teach us the connection between the food we grew and the nourishment to our bodies.  My mom would transform bounties of wholesome garden grown vegetables into delicious meals to feed our family of six. This simple yet powerful memory, connected me to the earth and rooted my lifelong love of the natural world.  I cherish that connection, given to me, a connection to gift to others.

Having shared this love of the earth with my daughter, I now enjoy watching her teach her children, the wonders of nature.  We have our own spring planting ritual.  Every fall we visit orchards and pick apples and cherries. Between the seasons, we feed the geese who have returned to my backyard pond. And, most cherishing of all, is when my grandson and I visit what he calls his special place, down a lush ravine in the nearby woods. I watch him take in nature’s healing salve, creating his own album of memories.

See related posts:

The Mighty Oak   https://gloriasstories.home.blog/2019/01/27/the-mighty-oak-balancing-mind-body-with-the-spirit/

Finding Presence    https://atomic-temporary-151792464.wpcomstaging.com/2018/09/29/finding-presence-2/

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Know Yourself From Spirit’s Perspective https://www.moonride.com.au/

https://drleaf.com/media/switch-on-your-brain/

Good Read:  Louv, Richard. 2008. Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books.

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