Paying Attention: Learning from the Ducks

[This continues the meditations from December 9, 10, and 12, 2014, reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.]

What can I learn from ducks?

It is now Thursday, on this several day sojourn in the wilderness, what I now call my Soul Quest. It will become a momentous day for me, but here I am going to focus on just one piece of the gift of paying attention.

The sun rises, I pray to the four directions as Tomas, our shaman, has taught us, and I seek a spot to sit. It is not easy; the rocks are hard and still cold in the early morning. I feel a little wobbly, having had no food since Tuesday evening.

2014-09-10 17.44.31But the day is bright and my tree friends are looking grand. As does the lake. Oh, right, the lake. I am committed to going in to its frigid waters later in the day, naked as a newborn babe (and with probably as much sense, I say to myself).

But for now, I sit and look around. I seek to clear my mind and just experience the stillness that underlies the wind and the sun and the birds flying and squirrels busily moving about. After a while, I walk to the lake, not yet ready to take the plunge but wanting a preparatory look, and to dip my hand in and filter some water for drinking.

As I approach the lake, I see ducks, five of them, swimming slowly and sometimes just sitting in the water. I find a perch and watch them for what feels a long time. I am enthralled by the pattern of their group dynamics. Four of the ducks congregate, one stays apart. At first, I think that the separate one is being shunned by the group. But then I note something else; they are connected, and he is the leader. He moves a little and they move a little. I mean a little, it is subtle but clear. In my mind, I begin to call him LD (Lead Duck).

Then one of the four moves out, a little away from the group and LD.  After that ones stays put a little while, LD begins to move ahead in the same direction the other one was moving, and they all follow LD. It is an interesting dance of leader and follower, what I interpret as their being two leaders, one who is clearly part of the group–like a lieutenant or Vice-Lead Duck–and whose consent is required for Lead Duck to move out, followed by the others. This causes me to want to reflect on this in terms of being a leader.

The day is warming fast. I remove some clothing, and find a rock on which to sit and make notes in my journal.

mallard duckWhat I notice in this movement of the ducks is that they cannot be led unless they are willing to follow. It is a lesson I still need to learn. I am always moving to somewhere or something, but not always very concerned about whether anyone is actually following. I just expect people to follow. I certainly have not been very conscious of gathering people before attempting to lead them.

As I write in my journal, I note that not a lot of people are following my lead in People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. We are not building a substantial network. I wonder if perhaps it is because I don’t know how to gather them together and help us move together. I think of my ten-year pastorate, and realize that may have been true there as well.

Watching these ducks reminds me that leadership, like much of life in communities and families, is a dance. It takes partners, because it is not a solo.

I conclude that LD is a very wise duck indeed. Whether I can learn what he and the others teach is another question. But they have shown me wisdom today. As I have been told, wilderness can teach us much. I am grateful to be here.

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