Ducks and Russians


By Donald C. Babcock

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
No, it isn’t a gull.
A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over.
There is a big heaving in the Atlantic,
And he is part of it.
He looks a bit like a mandarin, or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree.
But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.
And what does he do, I ask you. He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity—which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.
He has made himself a part of the boundless, by easing himself into it just where it
touches him.


I have heard this poem a few times by several speakers while listening to talks on meditation, stillness, compassion, etc., and it struck me each time. It was so notable to me not because it is a “duck” poem by a guy named “Donald” (although, that’s good enough to enjoy), but because of how many instances of similarity I have noticed played out in themes of oceans-waves, knowing-unknowing, silence-raucousness, stillness-chaos…

Some guy named “Babcock” seems to notice something about being-in-the-world that many others have too. Something about the stillness in motion and the silence in sound that is always there and yet always elusive. Knowing one’s own experience comes in waves and depths like this, and finding ourselves in the middle of that oscillation can be bewildering – and it can be much easier to ignore…

Settling into the wave – incessantly rocking and rhythmic.

Knowing the expanse of the sea – making room for the dissolving of all things.

These seem like two options of skill and wisdom; but how?



Here, Christ gazes into God; God and Spirit share a reciprocal receptivity and surrender; Christ’s body turns toward Spirit as though in preparation for embrace; Spirit looks down, acknowledging and worshiping the chalice [the vessel of Being, the empty process of Life, the Way of existence, the Logos, Dao — “Christ”]

Spirit reminds us that it is “HERE” – touching the ground as a solid example of lived, breathed life [“pneuma”/”spiritus” = breath]; Christ is showing with his hand [“2”] the intimate nature that Christ shares with both the Divine and Matter – Spiritual and Physical – Universal and Particular.

This “3” is non-dual: it is the way to live dynamically as wave and ocean; it is the means by which all phenomena can be known at once as “everything and no-thing” – “emptiness and fullness” – “everywhere and nowhere”.

The trinity is a blissful design of knowing by not-knowing and being fulfilled by self-emptying…

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery [“harpagmos”: a thing to be clung to] to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation [“kenosis”: self-emptying] and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men

Phil 2

Unless we practice self-emptying and release the “things to be clung to”, the waves will desolate the us that we think is there swimming and the sea will swallow with merciless force the us that we think is so scared.

The duck still floats and the Russian still paints, but this duck and this Russian seem to have understood what that means to some degree.

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