an Integral Enneagram of Consciousness; a model of consciousness, including
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Where crazy and conscious collide
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
"The Owl, the Ostrich, and
The Wolf You
The Cherokee Legend
Although attributed to the Cherokee people, Joseph
Campbell pointed out that mythology transcends geography or
nationalities. There are many forms of this legend around the world. If
anyone isn’t familiar, let’s recap.
It begins where an old man is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight
goes on within each of us. It is a fight between two wolves. One is
evil.” He then goes on to list the aspects of being and behavior his
culture saw as negative. “The other is good.” And this time he listed
the attributes his culture exalted. His grandson thought about this, and
asked, “which wolf will win?” The grandfather simply replies, “the one
This story has lost its novelty, and doesn’t get paid much serious
attention anymore. That’s unfortunate, because whether we pay it heed or
not, the dynamic is still in motion, licking its chops. Perhaps it’s
time to take a new look at an old idea, and see what our current world
has to offer toward increasing this concept’s relevance.
Neural Wiring and Plasticity
Recently, neuroscience has made enormous leaps that throw many of our
previous notions out. Where we used to think the brain was physically
static, we’ve learned that it’s incredibly plastic, and we can build
neurons and new pathways.
In fact, the brain works remarkably like most muscles in the body. When
you regularly need to lift something, your body sends nutrients into the
area to build that muscle. With each repetition of that task, your body
becomes more and more adept and able to perform. If on the other hand,
you don’t use a part of your body on a regular basis, your brain’s smart
resource allocation system doesn’t waste nutrients, and that part
This is exactly what happens in your brain when it comes to neural
pathways. Habits are merely well worn neural paths. When we repeatedly
send neurotransmitters down the same pathway, those neurons anticipate
the communication, which becomes faster. Since most of the chatter going
on isn’t conscious, we’re doing all kinds of wiring that may not be in
our own best interest. By increasing our mindfulness and approaching all
this wiring from a more intentional position, we can have a vast impact
on our own thinking, thus our lives.
Choosing Who To Feed
Bringing neural plasticity into the Legend, you can see that they were
onto something, even if they didn’t realize it was neuroscience.
Simplifying things to the dualistic good and evil helps, but we know
that life is more complicated than that. If we develop criteria that’s
more about serving the greater good, self included, we can remove all
the peripheral noise around shame, blame, righteousness, and so forth.
Those stir up silt from the bottom of the stream, obscuring a clear
Instead, we can focus on building the strongest, healthiest, and most
useful brains possible. As an example, let’s talk about the two wolves
called Optimism and Negativity. The battle between these two wolves
ranges from our conscious to our subconscious mind. As always, when
we’re about to embark on a new exercise regime, we begin with extra
Mindfulness. We need to pay extra attention, so we can be on top of
what‘s going on, and make sure that we’re doing what we mean to be
Some of us naturally lean toward the Optimistic wolf, and some of us
toward the Negative one. Regardless of our “starting fitness,” we can
always improve by doing our exercises regularly, mindfully, and without
cheating (talking about them, without doing them.)
First, we need to focus on the Optimistic wolf. Get to know him or her;
what does he or she mean to you, and how does that connection feel in
your body. Get to know that feeling. If you’re not familiar with how
Optimism feels, you can’t know when you’re in that state. What’s your
posture like? Feel that and “memorize” the feeling. What’s your language
like when you’re Optimistic? How do you say things? What’s your response
to a challenge when you’re Optimistic? Make note of this. You’re getting
to know the wolf you want to feed. Now, focus on the Negative wolf. Do
all the same exercises we just did with Optimism. Feel your posture.
Hear your tone of voice. Know this wolf too. Now you’re ready for the
Every time you hear or feel any Negative wolf cues, catch yourself and
stop. Focus on the Optimistic wolf cues, and consciously shift your
attention there. Focus hard on the Optimistic wolf, and follow the
feelings, thoughts, actions, and language that fit him or her. Your mind
may wander, sliding into negativity. Catch it, stop, and re-aim your
focus. Each time you take it from one to the other, you’re doing another
“rep” with the barbell of your brain. The neural pathways to the
Optimistic wolf get fed; enriched with neurotransmitters and nutrients.
It gets easier and easier, until it becomes a habit.
Remember, this example is only one of hundreds of shifts that you can
create in your brain. As you determine what serves you and others, and
what doesn’t, you can devise this same shifting practice. The wolf you
feed is the one that thrives. This is a big part of Integral Coaching.
When we deconstruct the two states each wolf represents cleanly enough,
you gain powerful understanding from the inside out. You know exactly
what’s going on, why, and how to impact it to achieve your desired
Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible?
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- Ian J. Blei
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