The Zen of Hudson River Ducks

Hear me out.

During my morning COVID-19 walks to the Hudson River, I look forward to three moments of pause – the first bench that faces lower Manhattan directly, the next bench that looks uptown towards the George Washington Bridge with the full length of Manhattan to my right, and then my final lookout facing the Statue of Liberty and south towards Staten Island and Brooklyn.  I see tons of sky, water, and world.  My morning walks are my favorite time of day.

This morning, per normal, I am watching some mallards (fancy for duck, the ones with the green choker necklace) bobbing on top of the water edge by my third lookout. Up and down, up and down, their bulbous forms following the waves as the waves come in and out of the rockbed.  Once in a while the ducks would dive their heads down searching for food while their feather butts jut out above the water. Up and down, down and up.

Silently to myself I say, “You have no idea what’s going on in this human world, do you?  You’ve also probably never had a body image problem your whole life right?  Or had to go to therapy to deal with mother issues? Or had to worry about your “career”?”

And like that, like the proverbial lightbulb, I figured out what deep, deep inner security means – my great quest.

The monk Thomas Merton said God made the tree to be a tree.  Here’s the duck being a duck.  What’s keeping me from being me?

Somewhere between the garden of Eden, original sin, misogyny, the mother wound, patriarchy, high school, racism, classism, fashion magazines, and more, people/women/the marginalized get mugged of this essential security.  It would be as if the geese told the ducks that they suck and are inferior, go back to where you came from.  Or the seagulls then telling the geese and ducks that they are lazy and dangerous and therefore less than.  And then the pigeons jump in telling them all that pigeons are all powerful and seagulls, geese, and ducks are low class nothings.  And the ducks, geese, seagulls, and pigeons all develop depression and hashtag movements. 

No.  The existential point here is you were whole and perfect and divine from the beginning.  Everything else – emotions, reactions, thinking – is a choice, your choice.  Reclaim it.

I think Peter Block said it: self-development is an act of violence.  Meaning – deviating and twisting yourself to be anything but what you were meant to be is an act against nature.  Other people’s “feedback”, intentions, wants, and wishes really don’t matter when you get down to it.

And just like that, like James Baldwin described, I vomited up all the garbage that I had been given from the world about how I don’t belong.  The fiction, struggle, self-gaslighting, shrinking vanished. In its place, deep, deep inner duck security.

Duck security.  The zen of the Hudson River ducks says judgment is no way to happiness.  Be free. Just be a duck.