Not all ducks are white

Long ago in Medieval Europe, so the story goes, all ducks were white. Or so everyone believed.  White ducks filled the rivers and the ponds. They paddled on lakes and migrated overhead. Naturally, people assumed that if you saw a thousand white ducks, all ducks were white.  This is what we call an example of inductive reasoning.

For most of us, whether we are suffering from depression, stress, addiction, or pain, it may seem that all our ducks are white; that is, our current problems seem like they will never end and happiness or personal fulfillment will always be out of reach. We sink deeper into a kind of demoralized despair, isolating ourselves from our friends and family, maybe even turning to drugs to numb the awful thoughts and feelings we can’t escape.

Back to Medieval times. One day, the strangest thing happened to lowly serf:  he looked out across a river and saw a black duck. The news spread throughout the village, then the kingdom, then Europe itself: the sight of a single black duck created a paradigm shift in the collective consciousness. No longer could the Western world cling to the belief that all ducks were white.

What about you? Have you found any black ducks in your life? A black duck may be a moment of spontaneous laughter in which all thoughts of pain are forgotten. It may be that recognition, after getting so caught up in a drama on TV or at the movies, that you were able to set aside your problems for a little while. Or better yet, that you gained a new perspective on your problems that makes you feel better. Black duck moments are those moments in which we engage fully in a present-centered activity, when we nourish self-acceptance, when we let go of suffering and discover in our lives a bit of greater meaning and purpose than we could have imagined for ourselves.

Can you become a farmer of black ducks? I ask this of my patients all the time. What can you do to nourish the ugly ducklings you find in a moment’s relief from distress or suffering, so that those ducklings may grow into beautiful swans? These black duck moments in which we cope successfully with pain (or cravings and urges) serve, ultimately, as internalized reminders that thoughts and feelings are more transient than permanent and that black-and-white thinking can be replaced by greater spiritual and emotional flexibility.

Seeking the black ducks in our lives is but one of many ways that we can cultivate acceptance, resilience, and gratefulness in order to achieve greater happiness. If you would like to find out more about how to change your relationship to your thoughts so as to discover your own precious black ducks, Dr. Stephen Hayes book on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life, is a great place to start. Or check out this informative ACT website.

Remember, your black ducks are all around, if you but open your eyes and invite them into your heart. Here’s wishing you a black duck moment just for today…