Saturday, November 3, 2012

NWCU Book Talk ~ Jonathan Livingston Seagull 04.11.12

Jonathan Livingston Seagull 

by Richard Bach

"The only true law is that which leads to freedom," Jonathan said. "There is no other."

Jonathan Livingston Seagull took flight in 1970 during the age of Enlightenment. Richard David Bach is the author of the best-sellers Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah and others. Some reports claim that while he was walking on the beach, he heard a voice that told him not only to write this story but also provided the plot summary. Mr. Bach was alone and from all other indications, had not been guided to write anything by audible prompting in his life other than this book. Madness or Enlightenment? Inspiration comes from many sources and does it matter if the end result is the same? Though the voice will forever remain a mystery, the story shared with Mr. Bach is one that fascinates readers and carries a strong underlying metaphor that guides toward Enlightenment. 

“To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is,” he said, “you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived ...”

A young seagull, fascinated by the potential of flight, pushes the known limits of gulls and rejects the status quo, teaching himself more about the wonders of flight every day until one day, he is rejected by the flock and becomes an Outcast. The flock expectations were that gulls were to fly for food, not for any other purpose. Jonathan pushed the boundaries and even as an Outcast, found great pleasure in following his own pursuits. How does this approach to learning and living affect us as humans? Imagine what you can do if you push against your own boundaries and leave yourself open to possibilities. What might you learn?

Jonathan achieves a higher reality, one that he initially perceives as heaven but quickly learns that this level is another proving ground, another opportunity to learn. He seeks the wisest gull, Chiang,  to guide him and learns that the greatest teachers let us discover through our own commitment to learning.

"We can start working with time if you wish," Chiang said, "till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love."

In reading this quote, I lock on the concept of flying the past and the future. In this sense, it reminds me that yesterday, today and tomorrow are all parts of one, the self, and that accepting all parts of the whole is a major step in knowing kindness and love.

"Do you want to fly so much that you will forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day and work to help them know?"

Once Johnathan learned great truths, he returns to the flock of his previous existence. Personally, I find this the most difficult decision in the story. Most of us would avoid going where we are not accepted, where we are not wanted, where we were scorned, yet Jonathon returned to the possibility that there were other gulls like him who sought freedom and truth, faced the most uncomfortable scrutiny and appeared, offering  guidance to gulls who wanted to understand the higher truths, that the search might cast them as Outlaws but also that the word Outlaws is plural. There are others who seek the same. Love, respect, forgiveness and freedom transcend all laws and in their absence, there will be no higher truths.

"Don't be harsh on them, Fletcher Seagull. In casting you out, the other gulls have only hurt themselves and one day they will know this and one day they will see what you see. Forgive them and help them understand."

Each chapter rests upon the refusal to accept negative emotions, the acceptance of forgiveness and that greater truths will not be understood until we are willing to forgive the wrongs that are done to us.  Bitterness is a limitation and blocks the way to freedom.

Near the end of the book, Jonathan realized that his student was ready to be the teacher and that he had more to learn As he turned the teaching over to his student so he himself could search for an even greater level of existence, he begged that he be remembered for the humble gull that he was, not a god but as a gull who was free.

"One school is finished and the time has come for another to begin."

There is a wealth of knowledge in this book that contains less than 10,000 words, spent 38 weeks topping the best seller list and has over a million copies in print. Rather than try to cover it all here, I will leave some for the Book Talk discussion. Please join us at the Book Talk event (follow link) and share your thoughts on this small yet powerful novella.

If you haven't read the book or want to read it again, this free PDF Jonathan Livingston Seagull is available. It only took me 16 minutes to read. Do you have 16 minutes to spare?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to our discussion. See you at the event!




  1. My complements to you on this blog post Beth!

    It is well done and finely crafted, with a professionally presented article on Jonathan Livingston Seagull!

    One can tell that you took your time in setting up this blog and paid attention to detail!

    Kudos to you once again, Beth, for an elegant blog for our NWCU Sunday Book Talk! ☆☆☆☆☆

    Roger ☺

    1. Thank you, Roger. I hope that the blog post will spark interesting discussion.

  2. Love! Love! Love! This little book! Beth...your article is fantastic...really looking forward to this one!

    1. Thanks, Natasha, and thank you for suggesting it for the Book Talk. An easy read with a multitude of truths.

  3. I wholeheartedly echo Roger's and Natasha's praise for your choice description of this iconic book, Beth.

    I realise now, as with many wisdoms and personal reassessments that ageing brings on, that this book had a greater influence on my life and the lives of many young minds in the 70's; more so than I gave it credit at the time.

    The early 70's were a time of readjustment, following the heady, hippy, free loving, marijuana coloured era of the 60's pop culture and, during this time some lives were forever changed, some even lost to what was a culture shock for many, following the ravages of two great wars and the political upheaval that followed. Jonathan Livingston Seagull therefore blazed a trail to, well, I think you already said it, enlightenment! To the realisation that there is another way, provided you can clear your head of all the harsh realities of a material age, and get to know what's between your ears, then the potential for happiness and fulfilment is limitless.

    Well done Beth.

  4. Thanks for the intro to this book, Beth. Will be reading it for sure.