One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson though about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “which wolf wins?…” Grandfather answered, “the one that you feed”
I used that story last weekend at a wedding. It seemed to me that it could be useful thing for the couple to ponder, as they continue sorting out how to make their life together.
The story points to two basic human urges- the one that is all about our survival, and putting our own needs first, and the one that is about love, the mystical one-ness, and connection to all things.
Has anyone here heard of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor? She is a neuro-anatomist, a brain scientist, who worked at Harvard. She got interested in the structure of the human brain, and in looking at what the different parts actually do, how they function, how they relate to each other, and how they help us relate to the world. She has a brother who was diagnosed with the brain disorder schizophrenia, and she wanted to understand what that meant and look for ways to be of help to him.
In 1996 she had a stroke, a massive brain hemmhorage that interrupted the supply of blood to the left side of her brain. She wrote a book called “My Stroke of Insight”, which describes her memories of the actual stroke event, and then what she experienced as she lost the function of the left half of her brain, and relied on the right hemisphere.
Dr. Taylor has also done a TED Talk, in which she describes her understanding of how each half of the brain works.
It seems like we are made, the our brains are actually hard wired to do the things the Cherokee grandfather was telling the little boy about. Part of us needs to take of ourselves, and make sense of the world, and make rules, and think of ourselves as separate from everyone, and everything else. Part of us contains the mystical view of things, and knows that we are all connected, and that your existence and my existence are inter-dependent, that we need each other.
I think the mystical loving side of my brain is the part that is activated when I see the photos of the Syrian refugees desperately seeking a safe place to live. It is the part of me that collapses in sorrow when I see the photos of children who have died, or who are suffering because of the violence, the warfare, the human cruelty.
The logical, protective, orderly part of my brain is the one that responds to the messages of fear, and protectiveness. How can we help those people? We barely have enough for ourselves! What if some of them are terrorists? Won’t they just come to our country and ruin things here for us? Won’t they take my place in line for health care, or cause my taxes to go up?
If God has made us with these two brain halves, then we obviously need them both. But in the world we live in, which half gets listened to most often?
Jesus came to teach us to not be bound by fear, and to open ourselves to love. To remember that there is more to us, than what we can grasp and hold tightly. That we are mystical, spiritual beings as well as flesh and blood. That the wellbeing of every person is connected to the wellbeing of every other creature, every living thing, every part of God’s amazing creation. That we are all one. Amen