Archive for January, 2009

Posted: January 19, 2009 in hope, life, philosophy, quotes, self composed

For myself, I am an optimist –
It does not seem to be much use
being anything else.
– Winston Churchill


Posted: January 19, 2009 in hope, life, love, philosophy, quotes, self composed

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children
One is roots; the other, wings.
-by Dr. Stya Paul

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, is a fable in novel form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. First published in 1970 as “Jonathan Livingston Seagull — a story”, it became a favorite throughout the United States. By the end of 1972, over a million copies were in print, Reader’s Digest had published a condensed version, and the book reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for 38 weeks. It is still in print as of 2008.

The book was inspired by John H. Livingstone, a leading pilot during the barnstorming days of the nineteen twenties and thirties, much admired by the author. Mr. Livingston left his wife, Wavelle, two brothers and four sisters. From 1928 through 1933, Mr. Livingston won 79 first places, 43 seconds and 15 thirds in 139 races throughout the country, many of them at Cleveland. He won first place and $13,910 in 1928 in a cross-country race from New York to Los Angeles. Des Moines, Iowa, July 2 – John H. Livingston, the man who inspired the best-selling novel “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,”died Sunday at the Pompano Beach (Fla.) Airport soon after completing his last plane ride.

This allegorical fable is about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who unlike his comrades, is not happy yelling “Mine! Mine! Mine!” for food. He loves to soar, and fly. The first half of this book, only 127 pages long , takes us with Jonathan out across the empty sea by himself as he practices flight. All day and every day, while the others are feeding and doing the lesser things that seagulls do, Jonathan tries to force wings not made for speed or aerobatics to work for him in his obsession. Meanwhile he suffers the censure of his parents and the judgement of the flock. Jonathan knows that he is breaking every rule of his kind. There are times when he has doubts, when he tries to conform, but the passion does not leave him and he returns again to the wide sea and the skies. Here it is that Richard Bach absorbs the reader in the heady technicalities of flight as Jonathan finds out for himself, often at the very edge of violent death, how he can make his wings fly for him. We fear with him as he progresses through ever more hazardous errors (each with near disastrous consequences for the youngster), until he finds for himself that just the control of his wingtips can make the difference between success or being “blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull”. He discovers that the infinitesimal lift of a feather gives him a “wide sweeping turn at tremendous speed”. We exult with him as he reaches “terminal velocity” with amusing and far reaching results. When he expects appreciation from flock, he gets expelled from his flock. As an outcast he leads an idyllic life, and continues to lean new things about flying. One day, Jonathan is met by two gulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence” (reminiscent of the beliefs of Chinese, in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge), where he meets other gulls who love to fly. Here he finds that there are no limits, that he is reaching into boundless infinity in his search for further perfection. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “a gull in a million”. Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived”. Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, one of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to continue his learning.

Really, the story here is that Jonathan and Fletcher were not “special” in any way. The point is made many times that they were seagulls like any others. The difference is that they chose to strive to better themselves. They were not content to merely eat and sleep. They wanted to become really good at what they could do – fly. The elders explain that for many people, this process takes many lifetimes. If you do well in a given life, you graduate to a “higher” life where you can then work with people on your next stage of progress. If you just get by in your current life, then you get reborn into that same level, to have another chance to strive.

Flight is indeed the metaphor that makes the story soar. Ultimately this is a fable about the importance of seeking a higher purpose in life, even if your flock, tribe, or neighborhood finds your ambition threatening. (At one point our beloved gull is even banished from his flock.) By not compromising his higher vision, Jonathan gets the ultimate payoff: transcendence. Ultimately, he learns the meaning of love and kindness. Love, deserved respect, and forgiveness seem to be equally important to the freedom from the pressure to obey the rules just because they are commonly accepted.

It’s also very interesting to note how different people have interpreted this book to be a religious tome. Christians often say that Jonathan stands for Jesus. He was born “with men” – he learns his special skills, and then he returns to earth to help guide mankind to be better. There’s even a mob scene where the “normal seagulls” try to kill Jonathan for being different. On the other hand, the story clearly says there is no Heaven – that the point of life is to keep trying and trying until you figure out your own path to perfection. The reincarnation and perfection-from-within is very Buddhist. It’s not an external God that gives you this perfection. You are born with the innate ability to attain perfection – but it is up to you to find the desire and take the steps to reach it.

The dreamy seagull photographs by Russell Munson provide just the right illustrations–although the overall packaging does seem a bit dated (keep in mind that it was first published in 1970). Nonetheless, this is a spirituality classic, and an especially engaging parable for all ages.

“When a way of life has always been; when the limitations of a culture have been accepted as the norm by all the generations before, change is feared. The rare being born with the vision to see what could be possible and the faith to act on his beliefs is a heretic.” Aptly put “To the real Jonathan Seagull, who lives in within us all”