Feeding the Wolf
by Stephen Simmer
Many years ago I heard a talk by Bernie Glassman, the Zen teacher. He was describing the influence of an enlightened person. He said that if we were all in a room and an enraged person suddenly entered, we would all feel a surge of anger. If a person came in having a panic attack, we would all feel anxious. And if an enlightened person entered the room, before he even uttered a word, we would all feel some measure of enlightenment. Glassman was describing something that is now called emotional contagion, and a lot of research has been happening recently to account for this. Daniel Goleman reviews the research in his book Social Intelligence , where he talks about mirror neurons—the center in the brain for empathy.
Last week, I saw the film I Am , which I highly recommend. It was made by the film maker Tom Shadyac , who had directed Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and a few other early Jim Carey movies. Shadyac had a near-death experience from a bicycle accident, and after his recovery decided to change his life. He set off with a film crew to talk to some of the world’s most prominent scientists, humanitarians, and philosophers. He asked the questions, “What’s wrong with the world?” and “What can we do about it?” He reviews research—fascinating to me—that emotion has an effect far greater and more mysterious than previously believed. Emotion is radiated from us in such a way that it can affect the electrical conductivity of yogurt and can cause huge random-number generating machines to begin to spew out numbers that are no longer random. It is as if we were each walking radio towers, constantly broadcasting emotional energy to the world.
What this means to me is that the seismic shifts of emotion that happened on my training and your training can indeed initiate changes in the universe. But the training by itself is not enough, in my opinion. I am broadcasting on both shadow and gold frequencies. Part of me is still bent on serving the immediate needs of my ego at the cost of the world.
There is a well-known story among the native Americans. A Cherokee grandfather was talking with his grandson. “In the world there is a battle between two wolves. One wolf is the wolf of selfishness, meanness, and darkness. The other wolf is the wolf of love, kindness and light. They are fighting all the time.” The boy thought about this, then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The old man answered, “The one you feed.”
We know this story—it is the battle between golden mission and shadow’s mission, happening all the time. The shadow is alive and well, thank you. It gets up every morning with renewed energy and starts to work, plans out its day. It is relentless and opportunistic, and not easily discouraged. If I do what comes easily or naturally, what happens is probably the shadow’s mission, I am probably feeding the dark wolf. I need an unflinching and persistent commitment to mission because my shadow doesn’t take days off, it’s like one of those radio stations with 24-hour programming. I need to make the decision, every day, to create a world of purpose.