Lessons from Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”

I’ve always kept a copy of Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” within reach, for those days when it seems necessary to remind myself of Jonathan’s story – of struggle, of questions and learning, of constantly challenging himself, and of keeping true to his curiosities. I’ve re-read it a number of times in the past several years (it’s a short book, digestible in a few hours), and it has never failed to uplift my spirits. It always feels like talking to a great friend that I’ve never seen for an extended period of time.

Here are some favorite lines from the book:

  • Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through before we even got the first idea that there is more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand! And then another hundred lives until we began to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth. The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world though what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
  • Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short, and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.
  • “You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to go,” the Elder said. “I’ve gone everywhere and everywhere I can think of.” He looked across the sea. “It’s strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless.”
  • “To fly as fast as he thought, to anywhere that is,” he said, “you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived.”
  • “Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
  • “Look at Fletcher! Lowell! Charles-Roland! Judy Lee! Are they also special and gifted and divine? No more than you are, no more than I am. The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it.”
  • “Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be hard?”
  • “Oh, Fletch, you don’t love that! You don’t love hatred and evil, of course. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.”
  • We’re free to go where we wish and to be what we are.
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