During a retreat, a friend recounted the Native American story of a young boy learning about the trials of life from a village elder:
There are two wolves fighting inside us; one is love: brave, hopeful, compassionate and kind-hearted. The other is hate: cruel, nasty and lives off fear.
The boy asked which one wins the fight. The elder answered:
The one you feed.
At the time, my friend and I were talking about crossroads in life and how you approach situations of change: if you're unhappy with things do you determinedly stick on the course you are travelling, or look for a new path? This was partly due to encountering attitudes from people who try to keep things as they are because they are afraid of losing what they know and love.
It is a common misconception that familiar things are necessarily a 'safer bet' or that unfamiliar things should be treated with caution. People governed by those fears end up thinking 'the way we do things is fine, thank you', when it is really their subconscious avoiding being open to other possibilities. Or considering how to manage with things 'different' from what they know.
The answer to that is obvious; why should 'different' mean 'worse'? Why allow fear to govern your decisions? This led to the tale of the two wolves: those who focus on negative things breed fear and other negative behaviours. And seeing predominately negative outcomes leads to more fear. It is no-one's fault, just that repeated negativity means a vicious circle where the fearful see limited joy or potential, and hold back themselves and others from exploring any potential.
This therefore leaves a prime opportunity to turn things around: how much better to instead be those who breed love inside ourselves? If we are missing positivity and joy, we must seek times to be brave and hopeful of new opportunities. This might mean forging a new path in our lives, trying an interest we have long imagined, or reigniting old things which are due a second chance. Perfect themes for the start of Lent, when we reassess our opportunities.
A few days after my friend and I spoke, I read C.S. Lewis' beautiful description about what it means to love:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no-one… It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Though my friend's tale is Cherokee and Lewis' is Christian, they describe in equal measure the need to allow ourselves to be changed by the process of love. The process of love is like muscle being exercised: the trials it faces — provided they are not irreconcilably painful — cause it to be rebuilt in a form which is stronger, understands its purpose better, and is more perfect than before. As with any exercise, seeking new opportunities to become stronger through the experience of love in turn breeds positivity and joy, which makes love grow.
When that happens, fear is lost and love wins the fight.