Two Wolves: The Psychology of Love and Hate

There’s an old Cherokee proverb that tells of two wolves that are constantly at battle inside each of us: a Good Wolf, representing courage, love and generosity and a Bad Wolf, representing fear, hatred and greed. The proverb says that the winning wolf is the one we feed. 

From an evolutionary psychological perspective, this analogy provides an accurate description of our biological programming. Competition for scarce resources led our species, Homo sapiens, to evolve a Bad Wolf. On a neuroanatomical level, our Bad Wolf is driven by instincts that relate to the limbic and endocrine systems. Simultaneously, we evolved a great capacity for Good Wolf behavior due to our necessity to band together in social hunter-gatherer tribes.

Therefore, the challenge we all face daily is to “feed the Good Wolf” in order to achieve a state of mental harmony. Meditation seeks to purify the mind of the negative biological programming, allowing us to resisting the Bad Wolf. It cultivates an awareness that gives the more recently developed, rational part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) control over our more primitive parts of the brain (limbic and reptilian). Of course, this is oversimplifying the complexity of our brains – but it gives you an idea of the tremendous power that the right mental conditioning can provide us.

The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. – Pirsig, Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 

We each have a deep responsibility to choose which parts of humanity to reject (maladaptive behaviors of the Bad Wolf) and which to keep (motherly love, kindness, etc. of the Good Wolf). Meditation gives us the power to make these choices consciously. By understanding how we’re programmed in this way, it becomes a lot easier to override the program where necessary. 

As we meditate, the world around us becomes clearer: what causes suffering, how we are impacting those around us, how we can find inner peace. If everyone were to adopt this practice seriously, the world would be a much more harmonious place.

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[1]Brewer, Judson A., et al. "Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.50 (2011): 20254-20259.

Liam McClintockComment