It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea. So begins Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach. It begins just like life begins. This book is the beginning of a new day, just as the sun, the rooster’s crow, and a loud alarm announce that night is over. It inspires the soul and serves as a compass that leads us to question who we really are and who we want to be.
Bach, through the protagonist Jonathan Livingston Seagull, speaks about this process of recognition and appreciation. This encouragement that is a return on our investment in ourselves. Because it is truly ours, it is something worthy of passing on. It is something to be proud of, not just recently cleaned self-esteem that we could slip on. This book, already a classic, also talks about the difficulty of breaking convention. It shows us the power of faith and passion. Together, they can help us make a change on a personal or social level.
Why? There’s always a question
Great quests always begin with great questions. Jonathan Livingston Seagull didn’t understand why, for example, he could fly longer and with less effort when he flew over the water at heights less than half of his wingspan. Jonathan had a passion. His passion was to fly fast and gracefully. For him, these questions prompted him to experiment, observe, and make deductions.
All the while, Jonathan’s mother asked him why it was so hard for him to be like everyone else. The reason was that Jonathan cared more about knowing and understanding. That was more important than being like the others. I don’t want to just be bones and fathers, mama. I want to know what I can do in the air, and what I can’t. That’s it. It’s so simple, right? This is the truth, plain and simple. Forget about being more or less than others. Instead, happiness comes from the pleasure of exploring your own limits. It comes from giving yourself this opportunity, just as you offer it to others.
It is in his greatest moment of crisis that Jonathan Livingston Seagull gets his greatest inspiration. […] There were no more challenges or failures. He enjoyed no longer thinking, just flying, in the darkness, towards the lights of the beach. And as he flew, and gave in to the experience, he realized what he had done. In the darkness, alone, in silence, without the noise of everyone else, he had managed to do what no other seagull had done: fly in the darkness.
So many of the solutions that we find come to us through insight. It happens suddenly. The solution comes after a period of reflection in which we feel stuck. When it happens, it all seems so obvious. We feel like the only thing worthwhile is the moment of realization. But the truth is, all the time before was also valuable. You have to hit a lot of dead-ends before you finally choose the correct path.
After this moment of realization, everything seems to fall into place. He realized that when he moved just one feather at the end of his wing a fraction of an inch, he made a wide arc going at an incredible speed. Before learning this, he saw that when he moved more than one feather at this speed, he spun like a bullet out of a rifle… and so, Jonathan became the first seagull to do aerial acrobatics.
If you are passionate about something, you will have something to share
A few years ago, a doctor told me about how she made an important career decision. She decided not to do her medical residency at the best hospital. Instead, she chose the one where she felt she could do the most good. How many of us actually make decisions based on this idea? When do we opt for the path that allows us to help people grow and change, and not the one that helps us grow and change? What we so often miss is that when we have something offer, we will also help ourselves in the long term. Those kinds of experiences will ultimately be the most enriching.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is happy when he makes his discovery. He is happy to have found answers and to have improved himself. Not only that, but he is excited to teach other seagulls what he has learned. However, Jonathan’s idea is not well received. Changes are like insights – so often the initial reaction is resistance.
One stage is over, the time has come to start another
The doors to heaven open for one who overcomes difficulties and the misunderstanding of others. But we aren’t talking about a religious heaven. Rather, the heaven that is born when you face yourself in the mirror. This heaven comes when who you want to coincides with who you are. This, along with the independence of having achieved it.
This exercise in honesty is the reward for unbridled passion. Only then are we prepared for a new revolution. Because life, just like Jonathan, is dynamic. Because every process completes us and leaves us incomplete at the same time. The ability to move within this contradiction is what saves us from a feeling of emptiness. That emptiness comes from feeling like you are wandering aimlessly.
At the end of the day, memory helps. In the words of Jonathan Livingston Seagull “Earth had been a place where I had learned a lot, of course. But the details were already becoming fuzzy. I remembered something about fighting for food, and of being an exile.” The important thing, the truly important thing, is that Jonathan was never an exile in his own heart.