Feed Your Mind: How to Shift From Negative to Life-Affirming Thinking in an Instant

“My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.” Anne Lamott

Life is filled with paradox: praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain. Within each of us is the capacity for creating heaven or hell. This story about two wolves reminds us that in every moment that choice is up to us:

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life.

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me…  it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.  One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee replied simply, “The one you feed.”

At the recent Silicon Valley WITI conference Randy Methven from On Your Mark presented a distinction that addresses this paradox inside each of us.* She explained that there are two basic orientations to life- reactive and generative, each resulting in very different outcomes.

It’s easy to sleepwalk through life, automatically feeling, saying and doing whatever our conditioning has programmed into us. This is the consciousness of the first wolf – a reactive, ego-orientation to life that results in a mind filled with suffering.

A CEO I met recently at a fundraiser expressed it beautifully when he jokingly disclosed his own daily torment. “One day I’m a king and the next day a chump.”

Peace of mind and ultimately quality of life, depends on our ability to not react. Whether it is to another person, a situation, or to the ever-changing thoughts in our own mind.

The Buddha taught that the source of everything is mind, and that the cause of all suffering is the mind’s automatic tendency to crave what we don’t have, or to push away what we don’t like.

We all have “lack” thoughts. It’s when we give them our attention that they become intentions that the Universe responds to. If I focus on my problems, resentments or what’s “missing”, the Universe will send me more of the same.

When we shift our focus to the positive we raise our consciousness. Just by thinking a thought that is a little bit higher, or a little bit softer than the one before, we transcend the small-mindedness of the first wolf and return to the largesse of our hearts. It only takes a second to rise above self-absorption by considering what we might contribute or what we are grateful for instead. This is the magnificence of being human. At our core is an ever-expanding capacity for compassion, wisdom, understanding and love.

The great sage Krishnamurti was asked, “Why is there evil in the world?” He replied, “To thicken the plot.” We cannot expect life to be static- all light and no dark or only sweet and no sour, but we can remember that it is all training. And above all, we can remember that this crazy, mixed-up beauty is what gives our lives depth and meaning.

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