Suffering and Polyvagal Theory

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John D. Mudie, Ph.D.,

Erudite Quotation

A Cherokee elder speaks to his grandson about life. “A battle rages inside me,” he says. “It is dangerous and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and faith. The same fight goes on inside of you and inside of everyone else as well.” The grandson pondered his words and asked, “Which wolf will win?”

For the black wolf has qualities that I need and that the white wolf lacks: tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strength of will, and resourcefulness. The white wolf instead provides compassion, caring, heart, and the ability to value the needs of others over my own.

You see, the two wolves need each other. Feeding only one and starving the other will eventually make both uncontrollable. Caring for both allows them both to serve you, so that you can do something greater, something good with your time on earth. Feed them both and you will quiet their internal struggle for your attention, and, when there is no battle inside, you can then hear the voices of deeper knowledge that will guide you in choosing the right path in every circumstance.

Peace, my son, is what we must all strive for in life. He who has peace inside has everything. He who harbors a storm within his heart and soul has nothing. How you choose to treat the opposing forces within you will ultimately determine how you live.”

From the Chipmonk Baking Company. After reading this. I ordered some cookies from them as I recognized that my black wolf may be my Sympathetic Nervous System and my white wolf my ParaSympathetic Nevous System/


Polyvagal Theory

Porges (2011) proposed Polyvagal Theory to describe the workings of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), the involuntary nervous system which controls heart, lungs, stomach etc. and emotions.

According to Dana (2022 pg.14) the ANS has two major branches, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) . The PSNS has two branches, the Ventral Vagal Branch (VVB) and the Dorsal Vagal Branch, (DVB).

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)“System of Action; filled with chaotic energy, mobilized to attack, driven to escape, anxious, angry” (Dana 2022, pg. 6)
which can be viewed as being self-centered (Me me me, I want what I want and it’s especially important I get it NOW.) or ” I am in danger and need to get out NOW”
Parasympathetic Nervous System): Dorsal Vagal Branch (DVB)“System of Shutdown: just go through the motions, drained of energy, disconnect, lose hope, give up” (Dana 2022, pg. 6)
Primitive reaction of freezing to avoid predators, no action. (Like a tortoise retracting into shell.)
Parasympathetic Nervous System: Ventral Vagal Branch“System of connection: meet the demands of the day, connect and communicate, go with the flow, engage with life” (Dana 2022, pg 6)
Feelings of calm, safety, connection with and caring for others, acceptance of whatever is happening. (a place I like being in!)
The various states of the Autonomic Nervous System


Living life

A lot of times I (ego sharing SNS active) wants something to happen (aka gets into desire. )
When and if it doesn’t happen the way “I” wanted (which happens only too often for this writer) I may see only two choices….
a/I can get into anger, frustration and fight or flee i.e activate my SNS
b/ I can get  into acceptance, try to understand ths situation (connection) etc. .and try to activate  my PSNS.

Choosing path a gets me into SUFFERING, the pain of experincing the unwanted emotions of anger and fear
choosing to take actions that activate the PSNS (humbling actions like praying


Dana, Deb, 2022, Anchored, Sound True, Boulder, CO
Porges , S, 2011, The Polyvagal Theory, Norton, New York, N.Y

The old Cherokee smiled and replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” The story goes on. “You see, if I only feed the white wolf, the black wolf will hide in the dark waiting for me to falter so that it can pounce and get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and will always be fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, both he and the white wolf can be satisfied, and we all win.

This page is part of mansuscript of a book called Applications of PolyVagal Theory which can be found at