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Monday, April 19, 2010

Jonathan Livingston Seagull


The most celebrated inspirational fable of our time

This is a story for people who follow their dreams and make their own rules; a story that has inspired people for decades. 

For most seagulls, life consists simply of eating and surviving. Flying is just a means of finding food. However, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is no ordinary bird. For him, flying is life itself. Against the conventions of seagull society, he seeks to find a higher purpose and become the best at doing what he loves.

This is a fable about the importance of making the most of our lives, even if our goals run contrary to the norms of our flock, tribe or neighbourhood. Through the metaphor of flight, Jonathan’s story shows us that, if we follow our dreams, we too can soar.


It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea and the word for Breakfast Flock flashed through the air, but, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was practicing to fly.

For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. There’s so much to learn! It wasn’t long before Jonathan Gull was off by himself again, far out at sea, hungry, happy, learning.

“I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can’t, that’s all. I just want to know.” The subject was speed, and in a week’s practice he learned more about speed than the fastest gull alive.

But victory was short-lived. The instant he began his pull-out, the instant he changed the angle of his wings, he snapped into that same terrible uncontrolled disaster, and at ninety miles per hour it hit him like dynamite.

I am done with the way I was, I am done with everything I learned. I am a seagull like every other sea-gull, and I will fly like one, so he thought. There would be no ties now to force that had driven him to learn, there would be no more challenge and no more failure. And it was pretty, just to stop thinking, and fly through the dark, toward the lights above the beach.

Dark! But Seagulls never fly in the dark! By sunup, Jonathan Gull was practicing again. From five thousand feet the fishing boats were specks in the flat blue water. He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his fear was under control. He spared no time that day for talk with other gulls, but flew on past sunset. He discovered the loop, the slow roll, the point roll, the inverted spin, the gull bunt, the pinwheel.

He thought, of the Breakthrough. How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!

The years ahead hummed and glowed with promise. Who is more responsible than a gull that finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life?

“For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to live — to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me one chance; let me show you what I’ve found ...” Jonathan addressed his flock.

“The Brotherhood is broken,” the gulls intoned together, and with one accord they solemnly closed their ears and turned their backs upon him.

His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.

He learned more each day. He learned to sleep in the air, setting a course at night across the offshore wind, covering a hundred miles from sunset to sunrise. With the same inner control, he flew through heavy sea fogs and climbed above them into dazzling clear skies ... in the very times when every other gull stood on the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain. What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price that he had paid.

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 life indeed.

That day the two gulls that appeared at his wings were pure as starlight, and the glow from them was gentle and friendly in the high night air. “One school is finished, and the time has come for another to begin” said they.

They were right. He could fly higher, and it was time to go home. And Jonathan Livingston Seagull rose with the two star- bright gulls to disappear into a perfect dark sky.


So this is heaven, he thought, and he had to smile at himself. He saw that his own body was growing as bright as theirs. He began, delightedly, to learn about them, to press power into these new wings.

Sullivan was his guide. “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? The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through 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” said Sullivan.

“You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.” said the Elder Gull, the senior instructor. “The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go any- where, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless.”

To fly as fast as thought to anywhere that is you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived. The trick according to Chiang was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time.

“Forget about faith!” Chiang, trained by the Elder Gull, said it time and again. “You didn’t need faith to fly, you needed to understand flying.

“Why, that’s true! I am a perfect, unlimited gull!”

He felt a great shock of joy.

“You have less fear of learning than any gull. We can start working with time if you wish,” Chiang instructed the new learners, “till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, and the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love.”

The gull sees farthest who flies highest.

And the more Jonathan practiced his kindness lessons and the more he worked to know the nature of true love, the more he wanted to go back to earth. For, in spite of his lonely past, he was born to be an instructor and his own way of demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself. He had to go back.

“If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we’ve destroyed our own brotherhood!” said Jonathan to a sighing Sullivan as they parted ways.

Next, Jonathan finds a learner in Fletcher to fly. “ 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?” asked Jonathan to Fletcher Lynd Seagull, who was annoyed at his flock for refusing to learn to fly. Fletcher replied “ I do”.


“Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom.” Jonathan would say in the evenings on the beach to his flock, “Precision flying is a step toward expressing our real nature. Everything that limits us we have to put aside. Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, too ... you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”

Why is it, Jonathan was 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? 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 them-selves. “That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.”

Jonathan sighed and looked out to sea.

To Fletcher, he said kindly, “You don’t need me any longer. You need to keep finding yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull. He’s your instructor. You need to understand him and to practice him.”

“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.”

Jonathan Seagull had vanished into air.

Fletcher Gull had now a new brand of students. “To begin with,” Fletcher said heavily to them, “you’ve got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.”

And saying that, he understood, all at once that his friend Jonathan had quite honestly been no more divine, than Fletcher himself. He saw his students and liked what he saw. No limits Jonathan, he thought and smiled.

His race to learn had begun.

The author is a writer and pilot and has authored three books on the mystique of flying.

Condensed by Ms Harina, State Bank Learning Centre, Indore

1 comment:

  1. wondeful work and thanks madam for condensing this for the benefit of all!!