Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Allen Hackworth
"The Gull Sees Farthest Who Flies Highest" or The Higher You Get, the HIGHER You Get.
In Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Bach dedicates the book to "the real Jonathan Seagull who lives within us all." Alhough it does not have a strong plot, or well-developed characters, or artful descriptions, I enjoyed this little book.
But it is worthwhile as an analogy which teaches many true principles. Of course, the story is about people, not birds. It teaches men and women about the meaning of life, that we are put on earth to strive and to reach for perfection in whatever we choose to do.
Flight is a symbol of any human activity that enlarges the personality. Eating is a symbol of activities which only gratify the senses. Such activities maintain the status quo. These activities (eating) could be engaged in for thousands of years and as a result, no improvements would come to the race. Bach writes, "Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight — how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight."
We learn from Jonathan the price which must be paid for excellence. Excellence requires leaving the flock, being alone, and practicing. And the practice requires "fierce concentration." Yet for all people who try hard tasks, there is temporary failure. Jonathan failed also. One night when he crashed into a brick-hard sea, Jonathan decided to forget his dreams. The weight of failure broke his spirit. A strange, hollow voice told him to forget his foolishness. The voice was strange and hollow because it was not his true nature. It was something false. It encouraged Jonathan to be ordinary, to forget his pursuits of excellence.
Jonathan soon disregarded the hollow, false voices and experienced a breakthrough in speed and flight maneuvers. But this night, even more than learning about speed, Jonathan discovered his purpose for living. He discovered that he could become a creature of excellence and skill and intelligence.
He realized that such a condition leads to freedom. But because of a misunderstanding with the flock, Jonathan was banished to the Far Cliffs where he lived out his life. There he continued to learn. His greatest sorrow was not solitude, but that the other gulls refused to open their eyes to see that there was more to life than being ordinary.
Eventually, Jonathan died and moved to a higher level of consciousness. He discovered that in his new location, Heaven, that learning also takes place. He found that great efforts were still required for achievements. A new friend, Sullivan, taught Jonathan some ideas similar to the Hindu belief of reincarnation.
The nature of our next world is determined by what we learn and do in this one. If we learn nothing, the next world is exactly like this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome. (One variety of this situations was shown in the movie, Groundhog Day.)
I like to think of each day as a world. When we wake up, we are born; when we go to sleep, we die. We experience 365 worlds, births, and deaths per year. If we don't learn to overcome our limitations today, we are faced with the same limitations tomorrow.
Soon Jonathan meets a powerful, kind, elderly bird named Chiang. Chiang taught Jonathan that heaven was not a time or place but a state of being. To the extent we touch perfection, we touch heaven. Consequently, we can have heaven on earth; we can have heaven in our families.
Chiang continued to teach. He pointed out that the gulls (people) who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, quickly. If students will forget the fun and games, if students will learn well their lessons, they will find jobs which provide economic freedom and opportunities for travel and fun. Those who scorn their studies and scholarly preparations end up with menial jobs. They remain poor for years to come.
Chaing also taught Jonathan that the chains of our thoughts are what keep us in bondage. We must have faith in the excellence which exists within each of us. To show forth that excellence, we must work and practice. Finally, Chaing taught Jonathan about the most powerful, fun, and difficult lesson to learn: the meaning of kindness and love.
As Jonathan practiced his kindness lessons, he wanted to return to the earth to teach others who would be willing to listen. Although Sullivan talked against it, Jonathan returned to the earth. In time, he found several good flight students.
One particular student, Fletcher Gull, was quick and strong. But far more important than this, Fletcher had a blazing DESIRE to learn to fly. (Beware of what you want, for you will get it.) Bach teaches us that desire becomes the most vital ingredient for achievement.
Jonathan teaches Fletcher the same ideas that Chaing had taught him. He taught that precision flying, that is, reaching perfection in some area, was just one more step towards our true nature which is in the image of the Great Gull (God).
Jonathan taught that we must set aside all of the things which limit us in our quest for excellence. Eventually, Jonathan moves on to a higher level of consciousness and Fletcher develops enough to take Jonathan's place as an inspired, powerful teacher.