I heard a story recently, and wanted to share it with you. It goes something like this:
Once upon a time...
The chief was sitting at the edge of the village, obviously deep in thought. He sat there for hours and hours, seemingly unmoving. The tribe was beginning to get worried and restless, but nobody wanted to disturb him. An elder eventually got up his courage and walked over. 'Chief,' he asked, 'what's going on? You look so troubled!' The chief just sat there, and the elder thought that he had not heard. Finally the chief spoke.
And he said:
'You know, it's like there are two dogs fighting inside of me all the time - a white dog and a black dog. The black dog is mean and angry. The white dog is good and kind. And the black dog is constantly fighting the white dog.'
The elder looked at the chief and said quietly, 'Chief, so which dog wins?' The chief sat quietly for a moment, and then replied: 'the one I feed the most.'
The black dog
All of us have some version of that story going on inside us all the time, on some level. Our 'black dog self' is mean, irritable, and angry. It is driven by fear, and has us look at the world through the lens of shortage, struggle, and judgment. This is how we are when we're feeling small, anxious, and spiritually disconnected.
We act from this place when we honk at someone in traffic, worry constantly about money, snap at our families, friends, or coworkers, or respond in a way that is defensive, irritable, or anxious. Unfortunately, it is all too common for many of us to choose to relate with the world from this part of ourselves.
And the white dog
Yet we, each of us, also have another part of ourselves, at our core, underneath the loud yappings of the 'black dog self'. This is, to continue with the metaphor, our 'white dog self', and it is guided by love and kindness. This is the part of us that longs to live with purpose and to have an impact on the world. It is our authentic self, our essence. Our creativity lives here, as do our intuition, faith, and sense of connection and compassion.
There's a sense of ease and joy in our life when we approach things from this 'white dog self'. We are honoring this part of us when we indulge our creativity, do something nice for someone else, act from a place of compassion, or sit in quiet meditation. The more we learn to recognize, honor, and use this part of ourselves, the more joy and fulfillment we'll feel in our daily lives.
It's feeding time
There's a lot of wisdom in the chief's answer. 'Feeding the dogs' is a metaphor for how we direct our thoughts, what we choose to focus on. Have you ever found yourself re-hashing an angry conversation in your head? Or dwelling on a mishap? Yup, that's feeding the 'black dog'.
And what about times when you felt at ease, said 'hi' to and smiled at people on the street, connected with a vision of where you want to be, or sat in quiet meditation to clear the clutter out of your head? Those are some possible ways to feed the 'white dog'.
You have the power
The best part of this story, the 'happily ever after' bit, is that you have complete choice of which of these aspects of your self you want to bring to the forefront. They are both a part of you, and you get to decide, moment by moment, how you want to react, and where you want to direct your thoughts and energy.
Plant the Seeds:
Now it's your turn. Take a couple of minutes and try these exercises. Really. Try it now. You never know - hey, what's next...?
1. Take a minute and connect with your 'black dog self' - the one that's fearful and irritable. See what it feels like - what are the sensations in your body? What are the messages you're telling yourself - and projecting into the world - when you're in this state? Write these down.
2. Now, shake off that black dog, and connect with your 'white dog self' - that kind, loving place. Breathe into it - what are the sensations in your body from this place?
3. In your daily life, what proportion of the time do you live from each of these parts of yourself? Start noticing. Play a game with yourself - carry a little card in your wallet, and make two columns on it. Each time you notice you're acting from 'black dog self', place a check in the 'black dog' column. Ditto for 'white dog'. Soon you'll gain a richer awareness of your automatic responses, and be able to more actively choose how you react.
4. What does 'feeding the dog' mean to you? How do you feed your black and white dog selves?
5. Think about a recent situation where you acted from your 'black dog self' - a fight, altercation, or other unpleasant situation. Really put yourself back there, into how you were feeling at that time. Now ask yourself - what could be different in that situation if you chose instead to come from love and kindness?
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and insights. Drop me a line at mailto:in@heyWhatsNext.com .
© 2004 Inna Nirenburg
About The Author
Inna Nirenburg is a powerful life coach and workshop leader. She uses her deep wisdom and intuition, as well as a concrete actionable process, to help you answer the question 'What's Next?' in all areas of your life. See http://www.heyWhatsNext.com for more information, or to subscribe to her monthly newsletter, 'Inklings: Your Guide to a You-er You'.