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  • Writer's pictureJaelle

Individuation on the ash heap

Updated: Jan 2, 2019

There is a legend from the Cherokee nation about the war within our being and the potential for profound spiritual growth.

A Grandfather was telling his grandson. "A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil, unhappy, and ugly. He is anger, envy, war, greed, selfishness, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment, false pride, coarseness, and arrogance. He spreads lies, deceit, fear, hatred, blame, scarcity, poverty, and divisiveness." Grandfather paused. "The other wolf is beautiful and good. He is friendly, joyful, loving, worthy, serene, humble, kind, benevolent, just, fair, generous, honest, grateful, compassionate, brave, and inspiring, resting wholeheartedly in deep vision beyond ordinary wisdom.” The grandson thought about it for a minute then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?" The elder Cherokee replied, "The wolf that I feed."[1]

In the days ahead, what will we feed? Who will win inside us? When will we rest wholeheartedly in a deep vision beyond ordinary wisdom?

The first wolf inside us that is full of greed, arrogance, and so on that spreads lies, deceit, fear, blame, scarcity, divisiveness is a worthy opponent to teach us to grow into our potential. We have given ourselves an opportunity. We can feel it. It’s like fine china between sandpaper. We’re probably going to scratch things up a bit. Growth is difficult. It’s okay to make mistakes. They are signs of courageous risk-taking, not incompetence.

Unfortunately, we’re in a hurry. Mark Twain said, “Hurry isn’t of the devil; it is the devil.” Urgency contracts the mind. It is visceral. We can feel it in our heart and it makes us shrink back in fear and stops solutions from coming forward. When we’re contracted in fear, we react instead of act.

Urgency is not what we need but expansiveness; expansiveness of the mind and heart, so that raw, new energy floods in to our consciousness with ideas, solutions, and ways of being that feed our soul; new ways that lift depression, kick shame to the gutter, and stop suicidal thoughts.

Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien[2] informs us of another culture’s way of dealing with fear. When a child of the Maasai people of Kenya and northern Tanzania becomes frightened, an adult gently reminds the child, “Go deeper. Get Bigger. Not smaller.” Fear makes us smaller. To expand, we need to go deeper, get bigger. When we experience, hear and/or see the problems of the world, see our own personal problems, it does no good to go to a place of fear. Instead, go deeper inside to prayer or meditation and bring the expansiveness of love to the situation. How we can find God[3] if we go smaller? God is the unfathomable, the infinity, and the ineffable.

You can only experience that that you become.

In Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism, Judith Simmer-Brown writes, “Pay less attention to the antidote. Devote your attention, thoughts, feelings and actions to the service of that which you admire and adore. Then the difficult pattern will atrophy and disappear.” Expansion of the mind provides us with a broader perspective on the human experience, on our experience, and enhances Truth, therefore the solutions to our problems are in us, waiting to be discovered.

We live in an individualistic society. On Geert Hofsteade’s Model of Cultural Dimensions that measured five dimensions: 1) Power Distance, 2) Individualism, 3) Masculinity, 4) Uncertainty avoidance and 5) Long-term orientation, there are only seven countries whose highest scored dimension was individualism. The U.S. scored highest of all at 91 out of 100. Individualism is “the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. The ties between people are loose.”[4] In an individualistic culture, a person is expected to look out for themselves and their immediate family members. “Behind closed doors”, “pull yourself up with your bootstraps” and “go it alone” are common sayings indicative of an individualistic country. The “lone wolf” metaphor provided us with what was once thought of as valiant and courageous, even–mythic; demanding nothing of anyone nor expecting anything, and not expecting anyone to ask for anything in return. It stood for the ultimate freedom.

However, as Hopi Elders told us, “The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves.”[5] We aren’t, nor ever were, lone wolves. Historically, we’ve had to live in groups to protect ourselves. It was interaction with others that created a dynamism that helped our brains go from lower level thinking to higher cognitive functioning. Living in community made our brains work. We had to figure out who were the best hunters, the best fire starters, and the best healers to survive. Then as now, we didn’t want separateness, we wanted, even needed, community. We sat in circles around campfires and shared food and stories. The perverted portrayal of individuality is a modern-day concept perpetuated by the movie industries’ idea of the Western cowboy riding his horse on the high plains––alone. But even in the days of the “Wild West”, cowboys didn’t travel alone, that would have been risky business. Even the notorious Tom Horn[6] had a sidekick.[7] They needed and had each other.

For a while on our evolutionary projection, we needed healthy individuality. Individualization was necessary for our development spiritually, mentally, and physically. Spiritually, this individuation was a way to experience ourselves separate from the group and recognizing our separateness from each other, we also recognized our separateness from our Creator and this longing we feel inside ourselves is our own soul asking to be reconnected. Once realizing this disconnectedness and striving for it, individuation helped us develop and express our individual relationship with God and nature. Creating new pathways to the universal life force enlivened the universe, the earth, and us.

Physically individuated we developed the desire to be faster, stronger, more intelligent and so forth. We found ways to accomplish this. It also created the deep need for competition rather than collaboration.

Individualization of the mental helped us to perceive and appreciate our individual traits and creativity. Scientists and forensic investigators have found that our fingerprints are sometimes indistinguishable from others, so much so, that innocent individuals have been called into question, but with scrutiny and using new technology, we find that our fingerprints are each uniquely our own. In addition, neuroscientists have concluded that everyone’s brain is different and unique to the individual. There are common structures and functions but how these areas of our brains interconnect and perform is highly variable from one person to the next. Everything about us is unique including our experience of being in this body, on this planet, at this time. It’s obvious that Mother Nature abhors not only a vacuum, but also redundancy. Each of us, with our uniqueness revitalizes the very universe we live in.

However, we took individualism too far. “Behind closed doors” came to mean that we turned and looked the other way when it came to spousal and child abuse in its many forms. It also led to turning away from those who suffer from sex trafficking, that is, slavery and rape. And we turned away from hunger and homelessness. Blaming those that didn’t have a full stomach before going to bed. Rape became something that we hid. People stopped asking for help from anyone, including God. The safety net of communal living disintegrated. We lived, and still do, surrounded by the contradictions between values and behaviors. When we uncover the conflicts inherent in our society and our outer choices match our values, energy formerly tied up in contradictions becomes available for creative problem solving.

Our livelihood, our ability to put food on our tables, and our spiritual lives depend on collaborative, collectivistic living. Collectivistic cultures are defined by cultures in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” Collectivistic cultures too, suffer from their own lack of self, individuated from the collective. An integration of collectivism and individualism is the balance we are looking for.[8]

W. S. Merwin[9] said it all; "The great arrogance of ourselves as individuals is to cling to separation."[10] When we throw our individualistic society on the ash heap of evolution, we will once again ask for God’s help with everything. And we need it.

[2] Jean Houston Foundation Social Artistry Conference, 2007. Ashland, Oregon. Angeles Arrien presented her work the Four-Fold Way program.

[3] The term “God” includes Great Spirit, Allah, the Tao, Universal Life Force, Infinite Wisdom, the Source, and so forth. In this book, the interpretation is not limiting.


[5] This is part of a longer speech that is attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder from the Hopi Nation in Oraibi, Arizona.

[6] Horn, Tom, New Edition, 1964, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter, A Vindication. Tom Horn (1860-1903) was an American Old West lawman and an assassin. He was, some think unfairly, tried and hung in Colorado the day before his 43 birthday.

[7] Tom Horn traveled with an African American cowboy and visited Frank Hughes and family on the plains of Wyoming. Personal interview for the Wyoming Historical Society, 1989.


[9] United States Poet Laureate (2010-2011).

[10] Personal conversation.

Burning Man

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