The following is a book summary of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Richard Bach wrote the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1970, and it reached the top sellers list. It is barely one hundred and twenty seven pages long, and includes many photos of our roof top companions in flight.
The author dedicates his book to “To the real Jonathan Seagull, who lives within us all”
This story has inspired many people, over decades, to make their own rules, and follow their dreams.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is no ordinary bird. Against the rules of seagull society, he seeks to find a higher purpose and become the best at doing what he loves. He shows us that, if we follow our dreams, we too can soar.
- Jonathan: “I want to fly where no seagull has flow before. I want to know what there is to know about life!”
- Father, Mother: “Son, this may not be the best life, but it’s all we know.”
- Jonathan: “There’s got to be more to life than fighting for fish heads!”
The story is about a seagull who unlike the rest of his species is not happy just yelling for food, as he loves to soar and fly, which leads him to be ridiculed and rejected because he wants to fly higher.
This book inspires us all to accomplish our goals. It is a fable about the value of making the most of our lives, even when what we want is contrary to what is considered normal by our flock, culture or family
The Elder: “You are henceforth and forever outcast!”
Jonathan: “Listen, everybody! There’s no limit to how high we can fly! We can dive for fish and never have to live on garbage again!”
Chiang is an elder seagull, he tells Jonathan that in reality there is no Heaven because heaven is the condition of being perfect.
Once Jonathon has found this state – “Heaven”, he decides to return to earth and help other seagulls learn these skills. He spends some time teaching a gull called Fletcher to fly, and he himself then becomes a teacher.
Chang: “Heaven isn’t a place; heaven is perfection.”
Chang: “Perfect speed isn’t moving fast at all; perfect speed is being there.”
Chang: “I’ve gone everywhere and everywhen I can think of…”
Chang: “To fly as fast as thought to anywhere that is now – you begin by knowing that you have already arrived…”
Chang: “I am a perfect expression of freedom, here and now.”
The main point here is that Jonathan or Fletcher were seagulls like the others and were not special in any way, but what made them different is that they chose to make every effort to better themselves, and were not content only to eat and sleep.
Jonathan: “You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now – and nothing can stand in your way!”
Jonathan: “I only wish to share what I’ve learned – the very simple fact that it is right for a gull to fly!”
The book demonstrates that it is not an external God that gives you this perfection, but that you are born with the ability to attain it, as long as you find the desire, and then take the steps to reach it.
It also prompts you to take time and consider how you spend your day, and how much better life would be if we all spent a little time each day reaching out to help others, in order to help the world become a better place to live in.
Taking the time not only to forge your own path, but also encouraging others to do the same, you can inspire them to their own unique greatness.
Jonathon Livingston Seagull teaches you that you have the ability to change your reality with the power of your own thoughts, and that when you believe in your self; you can do and be anything you want.
The book holds the timeless message that we are all spiritual beings, and when you make material things, whether it is fish or large screen televisions the end goal of our life, you totally miss the mark and the message of your life’s purpose.
Jonathan: “The only true law is that which sets us free.”
Although of a spiritual nature, this book also contains truths central to other aspects of everyday life, for example on the basis of the quotes in this book, Jonathan may ask daily questions like the following:
- Are you saying that although I have been fat all my life, I can lose weight and be thin?
I say you are free.
- Are you saying that I can be successful in my dream job, though I lack the necessary skills, if I try hard enough?
I say you are free.
- Are you saying that although I finished bottom of my class this year that I could finish the top in three years time with hard work?
I say you are free.
These answers are very different from the established model in our society, which says that most things are determined at birth, so that we are born as “clever” or “stupid”, “winners” or “losers” and “fat” or “thin”
In this way society says you shouldn’t change anything about yourself because it doesn’t work, and leaves many spending their lives bitter and unhappy because of the gifts bestowed on them at the birth lottery.
However a key turning point for Jonathan in the book is when he ignores the “strange hollow voice” in his mind that tells him that he is limited by nature, and there is no way around the fact that he doesn’t have short wings like a falcon.
Jonathan realizes that when he tucks his wings close to his body he can replicate the falcons short wings and fly fast, despite not being born with short wings.
Likewise all mental limits are untrue and unnecessary and the truth according to Jonathan is:
“Your whole body… is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your mind, and you break the chains of your body, too…”
This does not mean you have to beat the laws of nature, as not at any time does the book suppose that the seagulls are prevailing over these, but simply that they are not limited by them, and that the only things that limit any of us is ourselves.
The Story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The scene is set, the sun sparkling gold over the ripples of the calm sea in the morning, the fishing boat a mile from shore, the beginning of the day for thousands of seagulls, the breakfast flock, as they fly to dodge, dive and fight for scraps of food.
Meanwhile, away from the madding crowd, Jonathan determinedly practices his flight, until feathers ruffled, he stalls and falls, which is considered a disgrace and dishonor to a seagull.
However Jonathon Livingston Seagull remains unperturbed and unashamed, he is not like other seagulls only concerned with eating, for it is the flight that matters, as he loves to fly.
He has learnt that this is not a way to make himself popular with the other birds, and his parents are distraught the he spends every day alone experimenting with hundreds of low-level glides.
He has discovered that when he flies at altitudes lower than his wingspan above the water he can stay in the air longer, and he did not end up splashing feet down into the water.
His parents were totally dismayed as they watched him practice, and are always asking him why he doesn’t eat, and why he finds it so hard to be like the rest of the flock.
Jonathan won’t tow the line
He says that he doesn’t care about being bone and feathers, but its important for him to know what he can and can’t do in the air.
His father doesn’t mince words, and says that winter is approaching, there will be less boats, the fish will swim deeper, and if must study, it should be food and how to get, because the only reason a seagull flies is so that it can eat.
For a few days, Jonathon tried to tow the line, and act like the other gulls, but it didn’t work for him, seemingly totally pointless.
Soon he was a thousand feet in the air, flapping his wings, and about to learn why seagulls didn’t make intense steep power dives at seventy miles an hour, as he looses control.
Happy not to be just another in the flock and nothing to tie him down, he decided to try flying at night toward the lights above the beach.
A voice of warning inside, told him that seagulls don’t fly in the dark, and if he was meant to do so he would have falcon’s short wings, charts for brains and the eyes of an owl, but he did not listen.
It came to him in a flash, that’s what he needed was short wings like a falcon, so fearlessly he climbed two thousand feet, brought his forewings tight to his body, with just the tips extended, and began his dive.
As he reached one hundred and forty miles an hour, he realized that the wing strain was less than it had been at seventy, and was jubilant, musing how fast he could dive from five thousand feet.
The following morning he viewed the Breakfast Flock and the fishing boats from five thousand feet up. As he dived at two hundred and fourteen miles an hour he felt pure exhilaration, and began his pullout at a thousand feet.
However the crowds of gulls and the boat were directly in his path, he couldn’t stop, and hadn’t learn how to turn when flying that fast.
Acknowledging that collision would mean instant death, he closed his eyes. Fortunately no one was killed, as he hurtled into the flock of seagulls.
He discovered that moving a single feather on the tip of his wings gave a smooth sweeping curve when flying fast and moving more than one allowed him to perform aerobatics.
After a day of performing pinwheels, slow roles and loops etc. he joined the flock on the beach feeling tired and dizzy. He could not wait to tell the others of his breakthrough, sure they would be wild with joy that they could learn to fly and be free.
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Gull Council gathering
However when he landed the gulls had formed a Council Gathering, and had been waiting sometime for him.
One of the elders demanded that he stand to the center for shame in the sight of his fellow gulls, and to his total disbelief, and despite trying to explain that he was looking for a higher purpose in life, he was cast out from the gull society.
He was not concerned about spending the rest of his life in solitude, but utterly dismayed that the other gulls refused to open their eyes.
Day after day he learned more, finding that a slick high-speed dive could bring him a rare and tasty fish from ten feet below the surface of the ocean.
This meant he no longer relied on the fishing boats or stale bread to survive. He also learned to sleep in the air, and could cover a hundred miles between sunset and sunrise, to navigate through heavy sea fogs, and to dine on the delicate insects that could only be found far inland.
Jonathan realized that fear, boredom and anger are the reasons that a seagull’s life is so short, without such thoughts he lived his life to the full, and what he had once hoped for the flock, he had now gained for himself.
Two starlight gulls
One evening when Jonathan was peacefully gliding alone in the sky, two gulls appeared beside him, they were pure as starlight and they emitted a gentle friendly glow in the high night air.
They flew with such skill; their wingtips precise and constantly an inch from own his wings.
Jonathon put them to the test, he twisted and slowed down, they slowed with him, he folded his arms and rolled, dived at a hundred and ninety miles an hour and they dropped with him, and then followed him into a long vertical slow roll.
When he asked them who they were, they replied that they were his brothers from his flock, and had come to take him higher to his home.
Jonathon replied that he had no flock, as he was an outcast, he was old and could fly not further that a few hundred feet beyond the peak of the Great Mountain Wind.
The other gulls explained that he could indeed fly further and that one school had finished and it was time for another to begin.
Jonathon knew that they were right and it was time to go home. Ready at last he flew with the two star bright gulls and disappeared into the perfect sky.
As Jonathan flew above the clouds closely to the two gulls, he noticed that his own body grew as bright as theirs, and found that he flew with less effort than before.
He thought that this was heaven, and mused that he would get twice the speed and performance that he did on his best days on earth.
However when he reached two hundred and seventy three miles an hour, Jonathon felt he was nearing maximum speed.
This made him feel disappointed, because although he could fly much faster than ever before there seemed to be limits to how much this new body could do.
He thought to himself, surely there should be no limits in heaven. Also he could not understand why there were so few gulls, surely heaven should be flocked with gulls, and wondered why he felt so tired, surely gulls in heaven didn’t feel tired, or need to sleep.
Jonathon had notice that the other gulls managed to land without flapping their feathers, and had observed how they changed the curve of their feathers with such beautiful control, but he was too tired to try it and fell asleep.
Over the next days he found there was as much to learn about flight here as in the life he had left behind, but here the gulls thought as he did.
The most important thing in their lives was to be perfect in what they most loved to do, flying, and they all spent hour after hour each and every day practicing.
Momentarily one morning Jonathan remembered the world he had came from, the place where the Flock used their wings only as a means to find, and fight over food.
It was also different here because the gulls no longer used screes and gracks to communicate with each other, but telepathy. In this way he asked one of the other gulls Sullivan, why there weren’t more gulls.
In retort Sullivan explained that it takes most gulls ten thousand lifetimes to reach the place they were in, but that Jonathon had come on much faster than most.
He also explained that they choose their next world by what they learn in this one, if they learnt nothing, then the next world would be the same as this one with the same limitations and hurdles to overcome.
One evening when all the gulls were together, Jonathon walked over to an Elder Gull called Chiang and nervously said to him, “Chiang, this world isn’t heaven at all, is it?”
The elder told him he was learning again, so he asked what happens from here, where they were going and is there a heaven.
Chiang explains to Jonathan that heaven is not a place or a time, but is being perfect, and that he would begin to touch heaven the moment he touched the perfect speed.
He continued to say that that didn’t mean flying at a thousand or even a million miles an hour, because perfection is without limits, it is being there.
Before Jonathan could question Chiang about heaven he had disappeared, reappeared and vanished again.
Still confused when Chiang returned Jonathan asked him how he did that, what it felt like and how far he could go.
Chiang told him that he could go to any time and place he wished, and Jonathan asked him to teach him to fly in the same way.
To do this Chiang told him that he must begin by knowing that he had already arrived, and that the trick was to stop seeing himself as limited by his body.
Jonathan practice from sunrise to past midnight, day afte
r day without success Chiang told him that he didn’t need faith to fly, but he needed to understand flying and to keep trying.
One day when Jonathan was standing on the shore concentrating with his eyes closed, he all of a sudden understood what he had been told that he was a perfect unlimited gull.
He opened his eyes and was standing alone with the elder on different seashore with twin suns above, a planet with a green sky.
Chiang offered to start working with time, till Jonathan could fly to the past and the future, so that he would then be ready to fly up, and know the meaning of kindness and love.
Jonathan learned quickly, but one day when Chiang was telling them never to stop their learning, his feathers became brighter and brighter and he vanished. The last words he spoke to Jonathon were to tell him to keep working on love.
As Jonathan learned more about the nature of love, the more he wanted to go back to earth to be an instructor. Sullivan had reservations over this and explained that as he was cast out before, then the gulls would probably still not want to listen to him now.
He told him he would be better off staying and helping the gulls where he was now, which he did for a while, until finally deciding he had to go back.
Fletcher Lynd Seagull is young and is harshly and unjustly treated by the Flock. Even mosquitoes can fly, he thinks, as he soars over Cliffs.
He wonders how can gulls be too blind to see the glory of flight, but he does not care what they think.
He will show them and make them sorry. He is startled by a voice above his, and he stumbles in midair. Jonathan tells him not to be insensitive and unsympathetic towards gulls that hurt only themselves.
Forgive them so that they may understand.
Jonathan glides smoothly, an inch from Fletcher’s wingtip, brilliantly white. Fletcher fears that he has gone insane or died.
Jonathan quietly asks if he wants to fly, and if will forgive the Flock and learn, he will be able to go back and help them. Fletcher says that he wants this. Jonathan orders Fletcher to begin with level flight.
The gull council announces that anyone who risks joining Jonathan will be banned from the flock, but Jonathan wins two bold converts.
An outer circle of inquisitive but wincing listeners gather around them, and Jonathan makes it known that it is a gull’s right to fly free in spite of the claims of customs, false notions and the limitations forced on them by the Law of the Flock, and he tells them that only the law leading to freedom is valid.
After being back on Earth six months, Jonathan has gathered six followers, but he is irritated because they only want to practice their flight, and are not interested in the philosophy he learnt about their true nature.
The Flock thinks that Jonathan must be either the Son of the Great Gull or thousands of years ahead of his time.
While refuting and laughing at thought of the former, Jonathan sees the latter as a very dismal prospect.
Jonathan’s most gifted pupil, Fletcher, changes level of consciousness in a accident, when he crashes into a cliff to avoid hitting another learner who gets in the way of his high-speed dive.
Meanwhile the Elders are startled by this disaster, although they may have been hoping for this. Having chose to return to the flock, Fletcher and awakens to find him self surrounded by the whole Flock of 4,000.
Some of the Flock say he has been resurrected by the Son of the Great Gull, others state that he is a devil come to break up the Flock, and Jonathan has to transport him half a mile away to safety.
Jonathan wonders why the hardest thing for a gull to understand is that it is free, and Fletcher wonders how Jonathan did that. Like everything else, Jonathan says, it just takes practice.
Fletcher returns to teach the flock
Jonathan gives Fletcher the choice of progressing his own growth on a higher plane of reality or going back to teach the Flock. Fletcher chooses the latter.
When part of the Flock tries to kill Fletcher because they think he is evil, Jonathan carries him to safety and teaches him more.
Jonathan reminds Fletcher how he was ready to fight the Flock to the death, making a bitter hell for himself on the Far Cliffs.
However, Now he is making his own heaven instead, and pointing the Flock in its direction. Fletcher is afraid and believes that Jonathan, not him self, is the instructor.
Jonathan says he must go, as there are other flocks that need him to teach them.
Jonathan tells Fletcher to keep finding himself until he is unlimited and to practice being himself. Then Jonathan’s body glistens in the air and goes transparent.
Before disappearing, he warns Fletcher not to let the others gossip about him, a seagull that just likes to fly. Fletcher will see the way to fly if has faith in his abilities, rather than his limiting eyes.
Fletcher flies to meet a new group of keen students, and he starts by teaching about freedom and how the body is nothing more than thought, but they do not want to listen to this, only how to fly a loop.
Fletcher sighs and realizes that Jonathan was no more divine than he, and communicates telepathically with Jonathan that he will appear on his beach out of thin air and show him how to fly.
Fletcher’s race to learn has begun.
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