Contributed by Jody McVittie

There is a Native American parable about an elder talking to 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 full of hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, criticism and arrogance. The other is full of peace, love, hope, gratitude, humility, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about this for a while and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” To which Grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

My guess is that most of us would like to be feeding the “wolf” of love and compassion – and if we are honest there are days when the other wolf gets more food. (I almost wrote ammunition.) This is not about intent. It is about practice.
jbtello2 wolf
For me the challenge is that I get impatient with practice. I get impatient with baby steps. What I really want is a magic wand where I can help myself be more compassionate (and make sure that everyone else does the same thing!). It doesn’t work that way. Too bad, eh?

In this, the season when our North American communities tend to rev themselves up into a flurry of holiday preparations how can we keep our compass and grow our ability to be compassionate, loving? How can we create what we long for: a family that is connected, generous and loving?

Baby steps. Practice. Here are a few ideas.

Practice listening. Can you listen first for the feeling behind the words? Can you listen without thinking of how you are going to respond? Is your mother in law is hard to listen to? You can pick her to be your “practice partner” where you challenge yourself to listen. Ok, maybe that isn’t a baby step.

Take a break from being your child’s “teacher.” Of course you want your child to learn how to be an adult, but what if for 2 weeks a year you practiced just listening and didn’t offer advice or “wisdom” about what he or she should/could do. You have 50 other weeks of the year to play teacher. Try the experiment and see what kind of connection you grow with your child.

Take a break from being your own worst critic. There is a part of us that seems to be afraid that if we don’t constantly comment on all of the many mistakes we make that we’ll take some kind of detour into being a horrible human being. That part hasn’t had a vacation in a looong time. How about a two-week vacation for that voice? If the voice decides to keep checking in by voice mail or texting you, you could respond like you might to your mother. “Mom, I know you really care about me being a great human being. I care too. I make mistakes, I fix them and I’m okay. You can let go enough to enjoy your two-week vacation.”

Practice gratitude as a family ritual. Take a moment before beginning a meal to share what you are grateful for. Make it a bedtime routine. Use technology and text gratitudes to each other. Play with it!

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