One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee replied simply, “The one you feed.”
My writing hasn't focused on specific memories, if you will, about this trip. It's focused on things I want to write about, which don't so much have a time and place attached but rather a feeling or a paragraph. I felt bad about this for a few seconds the other day and then remembered that: a) travel and life have to be lived forward but often reflected and experienced backwards; and b) this space is mine, and if all I feel like doing is copying and pasting lyrics from Phil Collins' greatest hits, then that's spectacular. Even so, I look forward to telling those stories in time. They often involve monkeys and translations lost and Austin talking in a southern accent and they make me very, very happy.
I have one more week left of this journey before heading back to another: a new city with a new job and new people and a new way of relating to my family. I've decided to come back early for a job opportunity, and Austin will stay in Spain fulfilling our commitment to the farm and fulfilling his dream of becoming fluent in Spanish. It was a trying and highly emotional decision to make those flight arrangements last night; extra water was needed for tear dehydration and everyone was called for advice, for groundedness. This time has been such a gift in the challenge and the relief of it, and though I never want to assume that I ever deserve a day more, to choose prematurely to come back for job reasons was hard- like maybe I was giving up, unable to attain this goal of a finished and whole trip, like I was letting my anxiety about the future get in the way of myself and the progress I had made. And so in the deciding of whether or not I was prepared to transition, a dear friend was asking me to consider the utter tranquility and balance this past month on the farm in Spain has offered me. "This is the time", she reminded me. "Are you really ready to give that up?"
And the truth is that I'm about as ready to give it up as much as I'm willing to become a cat breeder. Which is, you know, not so much. But I've been thinking a lot about the two wolves, and how true it is that the messages, activities, words we take in manifest in how we think about ourselves, and therefore, how we are to everyone and everything around us. And moreover, how much of a teacher it's been to have the most expansive break in the hustle, the to-do lists, the responsibility, to cultivate and foster the good wolf and to see more clearly than ever where I feed the bad.
I'm not sure there's a greater lesson than that– how my defaults and habits so often translate into negative self messages, how my most true and free self feels the most permission to emerge. Social media comes to mind as the main culprit; a 2 minute escapade down the instagram cesspool catapults me into a despair of comparison and doubt without fail, wherever I am. How a golden light walk outside is the perfect antidote. How reading can sometimes inspire and sometimes bring me down, and how writing even just half a page lets my stories breathe and find ownership.
We can feed the wolves wherever we are, with whatever we have. We can practice the next right thing first before we need to believe it, which I believe is the ultimate secret: that belief follows action.
John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charlie, talks about how some people leave their voyages before they even get home- checking out in their minds and actions, there but not really there. And then there are some who take it with them; maybe a part of themselves is still in Spain or Bali, for example. They're at home, being a friend and contributor, taking walks and having a commute, but you can still see siestas in their eyes or the sound of the sea in their sway.
And so I suppose, it is with me. Or at least, that is my hope, which is good and true in and of itself. I do not believe there is a 'real life' there and straight vacation here; I believe it can all be real and it can all be moments of quiet if I can fight for and hold onto the things I've learned to feed the good. And, if I can reflect honestly on why I felt so strapped before, what took up my time that didn't serve me, what brought me down.
Reading over my journals in the past months, I keep using the term 'holy ground', which I love. I first held onto that term while in Cappadocia, about early Christians and the mystics that emerged and all the people who found refuge, safety, and time in those caves. God anointed this place, I thought, and it still feels holy. And it turns out that so does Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Bali, and Western Europe. So does Seattle and so does Burlingame. So does my most free heart, and so do my biggest failures. And when faced with that reality, the most simple prayer and love song seem appropriate: thank you, thank you, thank you.