I’ve been blessed to have met a very interesting group of people lately who are having a huge impact on my life as I find myself going through a rather transitional time and personal metamorphosis so to speak. One of these people recently shared a story with me called The Two Wolves:
There is a story about a Navajo grandmother who once told her granddaughter, “Two wolves live inside me. One is the bad wolf, full of greed and laziness, full of anger, jealousy and regret. The other is the good wolf, full of joy, compassion, willingness and a great love for the world. All the time, these two wolves are fighting inside me. “But grandmother,” the girl said,” Which wolf will win?” The grandmother answered,” The one I feed.”
Human beings are without a doubt complex creatures and our identities often get mired by societal expectations of who we are meant to be which can conflict with who we really want to be. If you look at it this way, as human beings we not only experience a range of emotions every day, but have different components of self that are always in battle with each other: the ideal self, the false self and the real or authentic self.
The Ideal Self
The ideal self is where many of us imagine we want to be. It is an idealized utopia of self we strive for. For example, the ideal self never makes mistakes and must be perfect in every way. This self has to have the perfect job. The perfect family. The perfect body. The perfect salary. The perfect husband. The perfect boyfriend. Drive a perfect car and live in a perfect house. But the ideal self, or what we imagine our ideal self to be, is really just like a mirage in a desert. It looks good off in the distance but once you get there, it evaporates because it’s not real. The ideal self or what we expect our ideal self to look and behave exists simply as a fantasy because it’s impossible to obtain and not grounded in reality.
When we try to take on and live up to expectations of an ideal self we are constantly straining to be good, perfect, and doing the right thing. You are expected to never get angry or upset at your kids. You are expected to love your job and show up everyday with a smile on your face. You are always expected to be their at the drop of a hat for your friends when they need you even if they are not their for you! Striving for the ideal self demands we be martyrs in every capacity.
The False Self
Then there is the false self. This is where most of us spend our time living. The false self is reared from conditioning at a very young age. It is the part of us that learns and is programmed to be obedient as children and seeks both approval, validation, acceptance, respect and the unconditional love we so desperately need. It is the false self we hide behind in fear sometimes to get these things.
We fail to realize that we function on so many levels to be obedient, to perform and operate like robots at work, home and in our everyday personal lives, it just somehow becomes automatic for us. Without knowing it, we have unconsciously adorned ourselves with the many social masks the false self wears in different life situations. The false self is simply a fictionalized version of who we think we should be and is fed by our ego and an attachment to outwardly things and other’s influence over us emotionally and spiritually.
The Authentic Self
The real or authentic self is the core who we really are. It is the embodiment of our values, beliefs and emotions. We often have to compromise our real selves to get ahead in life and this can create conflict and tension within us and also with others. However, it is only by connecting to your true self that you really feel grounded and happy. If you ignore your real self, you will not find peace nor happiness. These things will only come temporarily and be fleeting.
There is a saying that we don’t grow into ourselves. Our mission in life is to become the best possible version of ourselves. That said, the true or authentic self is not what you do, it’s who you are. It is your emotions and feelings all rolled into one. It is what makes you tick deep down.
For example, I’m a writer and writing is my passion. But it alone doesn’t define me. It is just a label. My real self is caring and very compassionate. In my core, I have come to realize that I want my life to have a purpose and meaning that extends beyond just bringing home a pay cheque. I want to make a difference in the world and not just be another cog in the wheel of a corporate machine. This is because at this point in my life I am connecting more and more to my true self and realizing what really matters and what doesn’t. Success looks very different to me now than it several years ago because I am slowly shedding away layers of my false self as I get older.
How do we do this? By getting in touch with our true selves through the process of self discovery and tapping into both our positive and negative emotions. By feeling and sharing what lies deep down in us beyond just the superfluous surface levels of daily living and functioning.
The true self comes out when we also put ourselves in direct contact with other people and allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of them and with them. When we are no longer afraid to hide behind the mask of fear and stuff down and shut off our emotions. When we establish rich and meaningful connections with others spiritually and emotionally. Think of it as a communion of souls.
One person also described getting to know your real self to me as “dropping into the ground of your being.” You do this my learning how to fall back and relax into your real self.
Which brings me back to the story of the two wolves.
The good wolf in each of us is symbolic of our true self. The bad wolf usually embodies our false and idealized selves (but can also represent our true selves if we’ve suffered terrible loss and pain in life). We need to however spend more time feeding the good wolf in each of us–our true and authentic selves. And more importantly honour our authentic selves by learning to love, be compassionate, and care for the world and others around us, including ourselves (self-love). This is reality in it’s purest form and the root of meaningful and life-sustaining internal happiness and peace.