Feed the wolf of love
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Feed the wolf of love
by: Rick Hanson
I once heard a Native American teaching story in which an elder, a
grandmother, was asked what she had done to become so happy, so wise, so loved
and respected. She replied: “It’s because I know that there are two wolves in my
heart, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. And I know that everything depends on
which one I feed each day.”
This story always gives me the shivers when I think of it. Who among us does
not have both a wolf of love and a wolf of hate in their heart?
I know I do, including the wolf of hate, which shows up in small ways as well
as large ones, such when I get judgmental, irritable, pushy, or argumentative.
Even if it’s only inside my own mind – and sometimes it definitely leaks out.
We’ve got these two wolves because we evolved them, because both wolves were
needed to keep our ancestors alive.
Until just 10,000 years ago, for millions of years primates, hominids, and
early humans lived in hunter-gatherer groups that bred mainly within the band
while competing intensely with other bands for scarce resources. Therefore,
genes got passed on that promoted better cooperation inside a band and better
aggression between bands. The wolf of love and the wolf of hate are stitched
into human DNA.
Bands kept their distance from each other, and when they met, they often
fought. For example, researchers have found that about 12-15% of hunter-gatherer
men died in conflicts between bands – compared to “just” the 1% of men who died
in the many bloody wars of the 20th century.
So it’s natural to fear the stranger – who, back in the Stone Age with no
police around, was often a lethal threat. The related impulse to dehumanize and
attack “them” also worked well (in terms of passing on genes) for millions of
Today, you can observe the wolf of hate all around us, in acts of thought,
word, and deed. For example, as soon as we see others as “not my tribe,” whether
it’s at home or work or on the evening news, the wolf of hate lifts its head and
looks around for danger. And then if we feel at all threatened or mistreated or
desperate, the wolf of hate jumps up and looks for someone to howl at or bite.
While the wolf of hate was vital back in the Serengeti, today it breeds
alienation and anger, ulcers and heart disease, and conflicts with others at
home and work.
And at a larger scale, with 7 billion people crowded together on this planet
– when a flu mutation in Hong Kong can become a worldwide epidemic, when bank
problems in Greece roil the global economy, when carbon emissions in one country
heat up the whole world – when we fear or dehumanize or attack “them,” it
usually comes back to harm “us.”
So what are we going to do?
We can’t kill the wolf of hate because hating the wolf of hate just feeds it.
Instead, we need to control this wolf, and channel its fire into healthy forms
of protection and assertiveness. And we need to stop feeding it with fear and
Meanwhile, we need to feed the wolf of love. This will make us stronger
inside, more patient, and less resentful, annoyed, or aggressive. We’ll stay out
of needless conflicts, treat people better, and be less of a threat to others.
Then we’ll also be in a stronger position to get treated better by them.
There are lots of ways to feed the wolf of love.
We can feed it by taking in the good of everyday experiences of feeling seen,
appreciated, cared about, even cherished and loved.
We can feed the wolf of love by practicing compassion for ourselves and
others, and by letting these experiences of compassion sink into our heart.
We can feed the wolf of love by recognizing the good in other people – and
then by taking in the experience of the goodness in others.
Similarly, we can feed the wolf of love by sensing the goodness inside our
own heart, and by letting that sense of truly being a good person – not a
perfect person, but a good person – also sink in.
Last, we can feed the wolf of love by seeing the good in the world, and the
good in the future that we can make together – in the face of so many messages
these days that are dark and despairing.
We feed the wolf of love, in other words, with heart and with hope. We feed
this wolf by sustaining our sense of what’s good in other people, what’s good in
ourselves, what’s already good in our world, and what could be even better in a
world we can build together.
We need to stay strong to do this, to hold on to what we know to be true in
spite of the brain’s tendency to focus on threats and losses, and in spite of
the age-old manipulations of various groups that play on fear and anger – that
feed the wolf of hate – to gain or hold onto wealth and power.
So let’s stay strong, and hold on to the good that exists all around us and
Let’s stay strong, and hold onto the good that can be, that we can nourish
and build in this world.
Let’s stay strong, and hold onto each other.
Let’s stay strong enough to take in the good that feeds the wolf of love each
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and Huffington Post, and he is the author of the best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. He writes a weekly newsletter - Just One Thing - that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.
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