Cherokee story about two wolves for musicians

Maybe you know this Cherokee story. I’d heard it before but never with this ending — until I stumbled on the post titled Beyond the Conflict of Inner Forces. Here’s the two wolves story and what it might mean for you and other musicians.

“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life . . .

‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy. ‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.’ He continued, ‘The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf will win?’

You might heard the story ends like this: The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

In the Cherokee world, however, the story ends this way

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘If you feed them right, they both win.’ and the story goes on: 

‘You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking – that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.

You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.

How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.

Jungian therapy weighs in on the two wolves

From a Jungian therapy and inner work perspective, the story is about our ego and our shadow selves. Our ego is the white wolf. The sanitized, socially acceptable version of ourselves we hope we project into the world. Us without our faults.

And the black wolf is our “shadow,” the part of our psyches that we’re ashamed of and try to hide from others. It’s the parts of ourselves we try to deny, ignore, or repress. All the embarrassing traits and habits we pretend we don’t have.

My shadow includes my pettiness, snobbery, my cowardice. There’s my comfort-level with beating myself up rather than stepping forward and taking bold action. So yep, I have plenty material for a whole set of shadows and a very big wolf.

“Shadow work” is the introspective work done to illuminate and accept these disowned parts of ourselves so that we can be more fully whole and work with our full range of emotions. Because as long as we’re denying parts of ourselves, we’re shutting down access to our true potential.

Imagine finding a way to be more fully yourself, more accepting, more courageous, and more honest on stage, in the studio, and in life.

It starts with getting to know your black wolf, your shadow, and making amends for having disowned, ignored, and denied these aspects of yourself.

For performers and composers, our shadows contain not only our frightened, resentful, angry selves with inappropriate impulses, but also the more daring, compelling, and creatively inspired parts of ourselves. My shadow is where my curiosity and leaps of imagination are. When we try to cut off what we’re ashamed of, we shut down access to the best of ourselves, as well.

In the end, we need to feed both wolves

That’s why for Jung, it was all about getting whole and connecting with our unconscious — finding a working relationship between the ego and the shadow, and ending the conflict between our two wolves.

You might not think career coaching encompasses shadow work. But I’ve found that for clients struggling to get past their self-limiting beliefs and self-defeating habits, shadow work can lead to surprising breakthroughs.

Here’s to getting whole, on stage and off.

For more tips on working with your shadow, see HERE and HERE.

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And if you’d like help  and want to explore getting expert coaching to bring more of your best work into the world—let’s talk.

Here’s to your forward motion,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well


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