Though it may sound like a bad science fiction movie, “The Duck With the Human Mind” is a chapter in Eckhart Tolle’s book, A NewEarth: Awakening to Life’s Purpose. In it, Tolle contrasts how ducks work out conflicts quickly and efficiently while conflict among human beings can last a lifetime, or beyond. In fact, over one hundred years ago there actually was a conflict in U.S. history known as the Duck Wars. The Duck Wars were waged for over a generation in the Big Lake region of northeast Arkansas, the Boot Heel of Missouri and West Tennessee. It was fought between Americans over control over nature’s limited resources of ducks and wetlands.
The story below, shows the importance of staying grounded in the present as well as letting go of the past and the future and the negative mental outlook that goes with them. It is very much like the Buddha’s admonition that it is better to encounter an angry elephant than to be angry with a friend. The danger of the elephant is temporary and may be forgotten. But anger with a friend may smolder, fester, and echo even for a lifetime, if allowed. The story is a thought experiment showing the value of letting go.
The Duck With The Human Mind by Eckhart Tolle
This story illustrates the uniquely human ability to cling to the past by holding on to our stories.
When two ducks get into a fight, it never lasts long — they soon separate and fly off in opposite directions. Each duck then flaps its wings vigorously several times. This releases the surplus energy that built up in him during the fight. After they flap their wings, they fly on peacefully as if nothing had ever happened.
Now, if the duck had a human mind, this scene would go very differently. The duck may fly away peacefully, for a moment, but he would not put the fight behind him. He would keep the fight alive in his mind, by thinking and story-making.
The duck’s story would probably go something like this: “I can’t believe what he just did. He came within five inches of me. He has no consideration for my private space. He thinks he owns this pond. I’ll never trust him again. I know he’s already plotting something else to annoy me with. But I’m not going to stand for it. I’m going to teach him a lesson he will never forget.”
And in this way the duck’s mind spins its tale, still thinking and talking about it, days, months, or even years later. He man never see his adversary again, but that doesn’t matter. The single incident has left its impression and now has a life of its own deep within the duck’s mind.
As far as his body is concerned, the fight is still continuing, and the energy his body generates in response to the imaginary fight is emotion, which in turn generates more thinking. This becomes the emotional thinking of the ego. The emotions feed the story and the story feeds the emotions. Endlessly. Unless the duck chooses to recognize that the fight is over, unless he drops the story, he will suffer from the endless cycle of his mind’s creation.
You can see how painful and troublesome the duck’s life would become if he had a human mind. But this is how most of us live all the time. For the average person, no situation or event is ever really over and done with. The mind and the mind-made story keep it going.
Unlike the duck, we are a species that has the power to remember, which is both wonderful and problematic.
Our duck has an important lesson to teach us and his message is this: Flap your wings, which means “let go of the story,” and live your real life — here and now, in the present moment.”
Listen to Eckhart Tolle explain:
The origin of “The Duck With the Human Mind“
How “The Past Has No Power” and