I have two dogs. Do you?
Part of living an examined life includes facing our dark side. It is a painful experience for me to accept that there is a part of me that I do not like at all. For example, I can be mean, petty and judgmental. The natural tendency is to push this out of awareness. But repression does not really work.
The famous Native American Chief Sitting Bull said: "Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all of the time. When asked which one wins, I answer the one I feed the most."
It reminds me of the saying that we need to keep our friends close and our enemies even closer.
I was confused for a long time about what Jesus meant when he said we need to love our enemies. Shouldn’t the goal be to have no enemies?
Perhaps we are supposed to have enemies, at least in the sense of those we oppose because of their lack of respect for equality and justice for all people. Perhaps.
But it really rang true when I think of the enemy within — the dog that is self-centered and lashes out at people. The dog that is lazy and apathetic. The dog that is cruel.
Yes, this is me too.
I imagine the darkness will always be there. I feed it with my resentments, anger and regrets.
But I can work on disciplining this mean dog, who is a good dog that has been conditioned to be mean. Dogs are not born mean. Thus, I need to forgive this dog — but not ignore it.
How do I nurture the other dog, how do I feed it? This dog needs to be fed music, dancing and books! This dog thrives on the attention provided by self-acceptance and love and the great world of ideas. This dog grows healthy and beautiful by having time to be out in nature and putting aside time for reflection and contemplation.
In actuality, I think I have many dogs. My name is legion, or as Bob Dylan sings, “I contain multitudes.” But the two dogs metaphor works for me. It is important for me to check in with my inner dogs. Which one am I feeding with my thoughts and actions?
I have two dogs. It is good to know that. It is wisdom to know which one bites and which one likes to cuddle, lick my face, and sleep next to me.