Fear, Shame and the Two Wolves

Fear, Shame and the Two Wolves
by Michelle Katz

This week I have been sitting with questions about acting from fear.  On the microcosm, this has been part of a personal experience this week, but as within so without, I find fear is clearly a theme in the macrocosm of the world in this time. 

I am sitting in the asking of what makes us act from fear, rather than love? And what are the repercussion of acting from this place? What is a way to experience something differently? Is our experience of fear a truthful and honest reflection of ourselves?  And if not, what is?

As with all questions, I took this out on a walk. And wanting so much for my daily route to be just slightly different, I took the higher ground rather than finding myself in the arroyo on my usually trail.  Something new, different and a little more exposing, all which can stimulate fear.  Then, I saw two birds, a Blue Jay and a Woodpecker.  I watched for many minutes as they did this dance of taking turns on the tree, in awe of their synchronicity with each other and their movement for getting the food they wished to obtain.  And then in a wildly primal natural moment the Blue Jay came into the Woodpecker’s space and they had in a quick moment, full of fear and aggression. The tension and reaction was felt in all us living beings. Both birds then flew away and did not return.    

Fear is a very natural experience.  And it comes hand in hand with aggression.  When fear is felt, aggression follows and vis-versa.  I think about a very human experience of being in a car and almost getting in an accident; the passenger, in fear, may scream out, and the driver in turn may get angry (mostly, at the sense of shame/inadequacy, that that individual is not providing safety for the passenger).  Dr. Steven Stosny speaks to the fear-shame dynamic particularly in heterosexual couples (if that doesn’t apply to you, read this article holding the concept of the masculine and feminine relationship in each of us.) He speaks of how fear is connected to shame and inadequacy, continuing the cycle of fear, aggression, shame, blame.  I also think of this in relation to mothers and children of all social-emotional species, when their child is in fear, a mother can respond in aggression, sometimes at the child, and certainly at the object of the fear.  This is all a primal dynamic in social animals, this is part of the human nature experience.

The greatest possible response in these moments, is to be with the fear, authentically. Come to understand that it is bringing up our fallibility and vulnerability, bringing up our utter humanity. And our utter humanity brings up shame, because we are not falling into the cultural, religious or perfectionist ideas of self.  I wonder what it would be like if we accessed our capacity to have mature impulses of projective behavior?  This would be an indication of an initiated individual.  By not stepping into aggression but by surrendering to our vulnerable humanity.

This week, I experienced lots of fear, and I feel it’s ties to shame and feelings of inadequacy.  Both tangled up like roots inside me.  And I see others around me responding aggressively and unforgivingly.  (Even though, at my core, I knew I had and was acting in complete integrity.) This experience, led me to recall a moment in my past, where fear and shame took me, and in the practice of a wilderness quest, I was called to my next initiation. I was in need of a breakthrough experience, a contained encounter with death, something needed to change, and I needed to severe from my old identity, rediscover a new senses of Self, and be held in it all.  After sharing my story with utter honesty, my guide, lovingly said to me, “I know you feel shame, but what is your truth in this story, if you take away all the people and their ideas, all the aggressive legalities and systems and institutions, what is your truth in this?”  My reply came out of me without hesitation but to my own shock, “Love and connection.”  This is when I realized something essential about who I am, especially when experiencing fear.  I tend to go toward it, tend to want to explore what scares me most, tend to want to face it, rather than move away or create distance from it.  My value is connection.

In the macrocosm, we see so much fear happening in our political, environmental and social systems. Most notably, the fear of “other” and the fear of death.  The response is aggression and shaming.  Violence can be seen in every corner in the fight of changing fear-based religious discrimination, racism, sexism, and all the other –isms.  Additionally, environmental impacts and actions from both humans and earth are also proving aggressive, from more drilling to massive mudslides.  And the call is for a truthful and honest consciousness, an authentic understanding that: I am that, and that is me, be it another person, animal or tree.  With this, maybe we can find our way to knowing our true human nature?

The Cherokee Story of The Two Wolves, comes to mind. In this story, the grandfather explains to his grandson who came to him in anger at a friend.  And the grandfather explains that there are 2 wolves inside us, one that lives in harmony with all things, and one that is full of anger. He explains these wolfs in detail and how they both try to dominate. The boy asks his grandfather, “who wins?”  And the grandfather replies: “The one I feed.”

The greatest healing in moments of fear and shame is to find a way to relate to it, and to find love and compassion, to find our deep humanity and vulnerability, and connection to community and the world that hold us.  These truly are moments of initiation into a more mature Self, toward living more fully into who we are.

What do you in moments of fear and shame?  Which wolf do you feed?  Discover yourself and heal Shame in the practice of Council and Nature Based Healing with Oaks Counsel.