Two Wolves: How to embrace your Dark Side

No doubt you’ve heard the story of the two wolves and the importance of feeding the right one. The idea is you’re meant to feed the ‘good wolf’ and the ‘bad wolf’ will wither away from neglect.

But this isn’t how the story actually goes.

Somehow, our way of telling this tale has become distorted, feeding into our false sense of ourselves as purely good people, on the side of the angels, or destined for heaven. The puritan spirit is alive and well, and nobody wants to be honest about what they really feel…

Here’s the usual telling of this tale:


A Cherokee elder is teaching his grandson about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he says. ‘It is a terrible fight 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.’

The boy gulps. That’s one bad ass wolf.

The elder continues. ‘The other wolf 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 boy thinks for a minute, then asks. ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee replies: ‘The one you feed the most.’

This seems to make a kind of sense. It sounds right. We all want to be good and honourable. Nobody wants to be thought of as a ‘bad wolf’. But the original story ends differently…

The boy asks. ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee replies: ‘If you feed them right, they both win.’


That can’t be right, can it? Do we want evil to win?

But the old Cherokee hasn’t finished speaking – if we listen, we might learn something…

“If I only feed the good wolf, the bad one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak so he can jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and fighting the good wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the good wolf is happy and we all win. The bad wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, and a strong will – that I need at times and the good wolf lacks. But the good wolf has compassion, caring, and strength and can see what is best for all.

“You see, son, the good wolf needs the bad wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that isn’t part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can hear the voices of deeper knowing that guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.

“Peace is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other, or guide them both.”

To end the wars we see raging through this world we must end the war within ourselves. We won’t achieve this by being perfect and good and holy. We achieve peace by embracing what is dark and wounded and lost. We achieve peace by becoming whole.

“If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels.” – Tennessee Williams

So don’t be afraid to throw your bad wolf the odd scrap of food from the table. He may even thank you – by not ripping out your throat…


4 thoughts on “Two Wolves: How to embrace your Dark Side

  1. Great interpretation Jessica and yes when we embrace our shadows and our light we can become whole and balanced in life. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Fabulous! The Middle Way and all that. A very helpful and well-timed reminder for me as it happens. My wolves tend to take it in turns to be overfed, which is not a sensible approach to making progress. And to think that the white man saw the American Indian as naïve.


    1. Ha ha! Yes, typical projection there, I think. My ‘bad’ wolf is a little obese so I’ve put him on a strict diet and an exhausting exercise regime. Should keep him quiet for a bit…


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